Life Lessons from the Workplace Watercooler


Life Lessons from the Workplace Watercooler

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

What’s more important than a bean bag at the workplace? A watercooler.

The beanbag, while comfortable, is divisive. It pits the young against the old, and has the tendency to induce long rants about aching legs, uncomfortable chairs and the inability to pick yourself up from the floor. The watercooler, meanwhile, brings the whole room together. It unites.

Very few things get the action going other than the sight of a 20-litre Bisleri can on a dispenser. In the evenings, this mere provider of water turns into a hangout spot for bored employees, a contemplation zone for pensive ones, and a hangover nursing zone for the degenerates. Eavesdropping on a watercooler conversation can teach you important life lessons that no shrink or ageing grandfather can offer.

To give you a small idea of the wealth of information it stores, sample some of these lessons I have learnt over months of slowly sipping water in a corner.

Don’t steal the dabba

“There was a slimy chicken sub in the fridge so I ate a bit of it. I am SUCH a badass! Haha… I think someone put it there a week ago. The girl who ate the first half hasn’t come back to work since. That must be a new record.”

You’d expect a story that starts with “slimy chicken sub” to end on a good note. Unfortunately, for our sandwich enthusiast, it ends in explosive diarrhoea and a lifelong aversion to six-inch sandwiches. Hidden in this short and messy story is our first lesson: Don’t steal anyone’s lunch. No matter how appetising it looks, or how hungry you are, it’s been in the fridge for two days for a reason. And that reason is not an abundance of nutrition.  

Don’t do office romance

“Dude, I have a crush on that girl from accounting. Do you know if she’s single? I heard an intern asked her out and now he’s out of work. Do you think she’ll like me back?”

Sometimes it’s best not to force an office romance, no matter how many movies have encouraged you into doing it. Even if you do find yourself in a situation where you consider asking a colleague out, it’s best to refrain from blurting it out at the watercooler. What starts out as a casual statement can soon escalate into several hours of entertainment for the workplace at your expense, and a number of remarks about how hard you’ve been working of late (winky face).

Be an opportunist

“X’s boyfriend dumped her because his wife found out about their weekend getaway to Lonavala… Looks like X is the only one who got away! Hahahahahah.”

Talk about throwing shade. A woman had let out her dirty dark secrets, hoping to get a sliver of sympathy from her colleague, and got instead a poorly phrased pun and a hearty laugh at the watercooler. All I’ll say here is that one of these women saw an opportunity and went for it, while the other really needs to reconsider her life choices.

Don’t ask the IT department any questions

“She wanted me to fix the WiFi, so I turned my chair and said, ‘Error 404 IT guy not found’. She left after 20 minutes.”

No one likes being asked for favours. The head of the IT department in this case thought it would be funny to use computer language to avoid solving a problem, and boasted about it over a cup of water with his second-in-command. As the digital magazine functioning around him went offline for two hours, he decided to take the evening off to watch a movie with his wife. The IT guy, as you see, does what he wants. He has access to all our internet histories.

Interns are savage

“I swear, I didn’t know his grandmother had died when I reminded him that he was getting fired!”

Interns can rarely be relied upon to do their job or show up on time. But you can always count on them to have a sarcastic one-liner ready, especially when they aren’t required to open their mouths. Interns are not as good at reading rooms as they are at reading Facebook.