Silent Support Staff

Business 28 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, August 06, 2010

For eighteen days, the Kauravas and the Pandavas fought on the plains of  Kurukshetra. Hundreds of soldiers were killed on either side. In the midst, of the massacre one hears a heart-warming tale. Arjuna, the chief archer of the Pandava army, rode on a chariot pulled by four white horses. His charioteer was Krishna. At one point, in the middle of the war, Krishna said, “We have to stop Arjuna. The horses are tired. They need to rest and be refreshed. Shoot your arrow into the ground and bring out some water so that I can bathe and water the horses. Keep the enemy at bay with a volley of arrows while I do so.” Arjuna did as instructed. He shot an arrow into the ground, released water and created a small pond where Krishna was able to tend to the horses. Standing on the chariot, Arjuna shot arrows and kept the enemies at bay while the horses rested. Refreshed, they were able to pull the chariot once again with renewed vigour.

The horses pulling Arjuna’s chariot did not ask to be refreshed. Krishna sensed their exhaustion and made resources available so that they could be comforted.  Often we forget the ‘horses’ who help us navigate through our daily lives. Horses are a crude metaphor for those who make our lives comfortable but who do not have much of a voice when it comes to their own comfort. In every office, especially in India, there are a whole host of people who keep the office running – the office boy, the canteen boy, the security guard, the drivers, the peons. This is the silent support staff. They take care of the ‘little things’ that enable us to achieve the ‘big things’. A simple study of how organizations treat this silent support staff is an indicator of leadership empathy.

Randhir drives his boss to work every day negotiating through heavy highway traffic for over two hours each way. His boss, Mr. Chaudhary, is partner of a large consulting firm, responsible for over nearly fifty high net worth clients. This means a lot of travel both in the city and outside. This means early morning airport drops and late night airport pickups. This also means travelling from meetings from one end of the city to another. This also means short trips to satellite cities.

Randhir is frustrated. His boss does not know that he lives in a shanty town an hour away from Mr. Chaudhary’s swanky apartment block. To travel to the place of work, he needs to take a bus or an auto. These are not easily available early morning and late night. His travel allowance is too less to take care of this. When he raised this issue with Mr. Chaudhary, he was told, “This is what the company policy says you should be paid.” Randhir does not understand policy. He serves Mr. Chaudhary not the company. But Mr. Chaudhary does not see it that way. And then there are Sundays when Mr. Chaudhary visits his farmhouse with Mrs. Chaudhary and the little ones. No holidays for Randhir. “His family is in the village so why does he need a holiday?”

Often there is no parking space at places where Mr. Chaudhary has meetings. Often there are parking spaces but no amenities for drivers – a place to rest or a decent loo. “You cannot eat in the car; I do not like the smell,” says Mr. Chaudhary, who also disables the music system when he leaves the car, “So that he does not waste the battery.” And when Mr. Chaudhary got a huge 40% bonus over and above his 2 crore CTC, he very generously gave Randhir a 500 rupee hike. “I am being fair. That’s more than what the drivers of others got. I don’t want to disrupt the driver market.”

Mr. Chaudhary’s empathy for Randhir is much less than Krishna’s empathy for his horses. And Randhir is no horse; he is a human being. He is one of the silent support staff without a voice. If he speaks, he will be silenced, or worse, replaced. If he shouts, the management will fear ‘rise of union thinking’ and shoot him down. He is but a line item in the balance sheet, often under “outsourced services”.

One wonders, does Randhir fall in the purview of management? He is neither part of the organization nor the market. Is he responsibility of the leader or the administration team? He is neither Arjuna nor Krishna. Yes, the Kauravas have to be defeated. Yes, the Pandavas have to win. Strategies have to be thought of. Tactics have to be implemented. But surely not at the cost of the silent support staff. They are as much a part of the war, as the warriors.

  • Wonderful post


  • Wonderful post

    The analogy given is so beautiful , I like it :)


    • GuruM

      Good to see the investor investing in self-analysis too. :-) Maybe you could share these posts on your blog as well.

  • Pingback: Silent Support Staff : Devdutt Pattanaik « Nandanavana()

  • you’ve voiced a valid issue. It is certainly important for the business and organization owners to rethink why organizations and businesses exist. Each individual, organization and business lays foundation of a culture that is followed by several businesses and individuals that stem out of it. Hence, it is important to leave a healthy culture as legacy.

  • Nataraj

    Dear Devdutt,

    Very nice article…and importance of keeping whole ecosystem in top shape. I think we invariably miss out on the small things and ignore the role of back office and support systems in the organisation. A very good eye opener. Many times we don’t even know the names of the support staff…we call security guard as “:security”, even though guard and individual have spent decades in the company.

    • jayanthi ramesh

      how true.. most of us lack HR in our lives…

  • Deepak Mata

    Good one but there is an other side also; Organisations are being forced to outsource the low end jobs in view of their unfriendly attitiude, unionised lazy work culture, lack of proper thought process, lack of clarity; they are not silent staff as horses but sometimes extra vocal sometimes to the detriment of the organisation; A delicate balance is required.


    I fully support this issue at the bottom of my heart.and not only in office these silent support people are there in all kind of our daily activities like vendors of fruit/vegetables,sweepers,house maid,security guard etc etc.

  • Sir,
    You have invoked a very silent part of human feelings through this article.I will definitely look upon those people who are also employees of the same organization.Everyone deserves their due respect.

    You have made a very unique and touched upon a very abandoned professional relationship in the organization.

    Keep Writing Sir.


  • Sriharsha

    Every organisation is like the human pyramid. The face of the organisation is always appreciated. Each individual has a role to play in the success or failure of any organisation. If someone in the bottom of the pyramid moves, everyone falls.

  • Nandan R Gupta

    Very nicely voiced thought…just what Munnabhai did with a jaadu ki jhappi showing the importance of every one as an individual in the organisation.

  • This scenario repeats almost everywhere e.g. the workers who build our homes, apartments, offices,schools AND TEMPLES ! We proudly hosted the CWG at a phenomenal cost, but did not pay the workers minimum wages !
    Let us care for these ‘ drivers ‘ lest they ‘drive’ us out of our symbols of civilised living and learning !

  • Never forget the small people – they help you achieve your goal.

    If they want, they can help you achieve your goal, or, if they so wish, make your life difficult and even fail !!

    Just think what would happen to even an average Indian household if the maid goes on strike ! Hotels are busiest on Sundays because the maid takes a holiday – fact that should never be over looked.

  • Nonyameko Afiya

    Take away our so called “titles” and we are all the same.

    Everyone is important!

  • Chawla Jagjit Singh

    By way of your article you have touched the most ignored but yet most important aspect of our lives….

    Often we crib about thing yet being blessed with abunduntant resources but salute to these silent voices…they just move on day in day out giving us their services…

    Jagjit Singh Chawla

  • Mahesh

    Hi Dev,
    Brilliant article. it is true that many of the organizations do not look into this aspect of management. infact many organzations under the pretext of cost cutting try to outsource these jobs especially office cleaning, tea vending machines etc.


  • Indranath Banerjee

    GREAT …once again…

    Hope this required “sensitivity” is imbibed in the desired roles amongst leaders in the industry wherever it is required….

    Then the real value sought in the article would get manifested…and the every day “war(s) of Kurukshetra” would tend more towards the tendencies of “dharma” may be…

  • Gauri

    Very nice!

    Article indicates that Krishna made resources available for the horses. No one here is really bothered about making any kind of resources available to the silent support staff. (Of course! there are a few countable ones)

    We unfortunately are in this world of thick outer layers, that resists us to identify and respect the good soul in others too.

    I hope more n more people read your blog/articles, to get the right perspective towards life!

  • george

    i am reminded of a scene in munnabai mbbs where munnabai embraces the floor cleaner in the hospital
    the question is the Lord had to interfere on behalf of the horse.Did Arjun did anything to ease the job of the driver(charioteor)?

  • jasmine suri

    I love the analogy Devdutt…

  • dont you think the same holds true in reverse too..
    that is the silent support staffs empathy towards those who are on higher hierarchies??

    Coz many a times we see the ‘support staff’ taking advantage of boss’s emapathy and shirking from the duties. Misuse of resources is also rampant.

    An ideal situation hardly exists.

  • Shekhar

    Have experienced myself a lot of Leaders with no “Sensitivity”. Only pray to the Almighty that Dr.Devdutt succeeds in shifting the mindset.

  • Narayanaswamy

    Dear Devji,

    Possibly, Randhir and his family could still save, and still be more happy than Chaudhary, human happiness is not one-to-one on economics alone, infact is beyound for human beings.

    Human happiness as a matter of fact is independent on any thing for that matter.

    And, if Mr. Chaudhary still expects more hike given the market drive for personal/family reason alone,then this is nothing less than ignorant self-trocher,

    Randhir, and more importantly his family life would be much stable and happy and independant of the market dynamics/reforms,

    Just as most of the super intelligent (little is too much or enough, no marketing or reform can trap this intelligence), HAPPY and Contented INDIA people, who are perhaps bless to be saved from too-much-sense gratification leading self suffering!

    Let light shine everywhere

    Thank you,


  • Asha Narhire

    Dear Sir,
    This article is wonderful. Right from top to bottom each person should be valued and understood. In today’s world you will find very few people having feelings for the downer line.Sorry to say but Big organisations circulate their Corporate values (ethics) but you will find very few actually implementing it.As they grow higher, very conveniently they forget down the line people without them they are NOTHING.

  • when I read about house help killing the mistress ,I always wonder , what must have caused so much hatrate in that young mind , he also must have been abused for long!!!!!

  • In a Public Sector Bank, where I worked earlier, when a big farewell was arranged for our outgoing Zonal Head in Mumbai, the first person whom this humane outgoing executive thanked was his car driver. He called his driver on to the stage, hugged him, and announced, “He has been my saviour all these years. My life was in his hands. He was the trustee of my life, and he never betrayed the trust, even at the cost of bearing many inconveniences himself. So I thank him first, before all else.” The name of this executive was Mr Sriramachandra Murthy.

    I am presently working in a big Limited company, where our MD is required to fly very frequently. Most of the times, his flight departures are in very early hours like 3.00 am to 6.00 am and his flight arrivals in the late hours like 10.00 to 12.00pm. Despite having a fleet of cars, while going, he walks out of his house, catches an auto and leaves for the airport. While returning, catches a cab in the airport and reaches home. He never asks his drivers to come at odd hours to drop him or pick him up. When anybody falls ill in the family of the small time staff members, he foots the complete medical expenses. Incidentally his name is Mohammed. Sometimes I keep wondering, whether it is the names of these people ( Sriramachandra Murthy and Mohammed ) which make them so noble.

    But in these days of capitalistic thinking, where MONEY is GOD, the empathy and concern for co-human beings seems to be missing. It surely is not a good omen.


    choudhari’s (generosity)in DOLING out 5oo to the driver is an act of charity and bribe to forestall defiance and is no comparison to krishna’s empathy with the horses.Top Management must cultivate empathy with their employees and be generous. That is the MORAL of this episode.