On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Changing manners

File pic

File pic

CALL me old-school if you want, but I was brought up in a generation where I am expected to address somebody older than me as “sir” or “tuan”. If it is a lady, then it has to be “madam” or “puan”, “cik” or “kak”.

If the person happens to be your boss, then it will definitely be “sir” or “boss”. Our teachers too retain their formal titles and continue to be addressed as such long after we leave school. I remain in touch with some of my teachers who have since become friends and although they want me to call them by their names, I still address them as Sir or Mister.

Fast forward to the present and we get the feeling that the young generation of today do not care too much about how they address their elders. Some of us can sense a lack of civility, respect and reverence, which these youths probably consider unimportant values in today’s fast-moving world.

I do not know if it is just poor upbringing, indifference, apathy or just plain laziness. But one contributory factor, especially among the urban young, must surely be the handphone. They seem totally incapable of disconnecting themselves from their mobile devices for even just a minute. Well, to be fair, some mature adults also fall into this category.

We often come across scenarios, in the workplace for example, when young workers simply ignore the presence of their bosses as they remain fixated on their phones. The older colleagues will normally put on a smile and exchange greetings with one another.

So if you are caught in the lift with them, you can forget about them even looking up, let alone wishing you a good morning. And from conversations with friends at different management and corporate levels in various companies, one can conclude that such behaviour is fairly widespread.

I doubt that this is something they pick up only when they start work. Our character development begins much earlier, during our most formative years at home and in school. That is why a common term we use in Malaysia is kurang ajar, which basically means that we have not been taught properly from young.

Some of the more colourful individuals in Malaysia have shown us their true colours in the public sphere in the way they treat their elders and authority. The moment they speak, we begin to wonder if their parents ever taught them anything right.

Maybe my expectations are too high, but I have been advised that the days of according respect to authority are over.

It’s the same with the politicians, I am told. They no longer debate with one another with a certain degree of decorum like the politicians of the past.

Many do not fear our men in blue, the police, and this happens every day on the roads when motorists ignore traffic rules and motorcyclists ride with impunity without helmets and even licences. When I was young, the mere mention of the word mata-mata was enough to get us to behave.

Back to the working world – at the risk of sounding like an old fart, which is a term no longer used that much, the young are simply not worried about losing their jobs. In fact, many do not even want to get a job!

After all, many of these middle-class, urban kids know that their parents will take care of their expenses.

Even before they earn their own money, they already have a car to drive to college. Their parents probably had to borrow money just to afford the downpayment for their first motorcycle or car, and it was usually a used car. The popular Malaysian phrase is second-hand and even third-hand.

When we moved to the Klang Valley to start our careers, we would share a rented house or even a room to keep our expenses down. Some of us would still faithfully send back a small sum of money each month from our pay cheques to our parents back in our hometowns.

I had a former boss who told me he never had a room of his own all his life. Coming from a big family, he had to share his room with his siblings.

At university he had to share a room in the hostel and when he started work, he shared a room to reduce the expenses. When he got married, he had to share the room with his wife, of course. He never had his own bedroom – and when he was away on work, alone, he was in heaven with his rare moment of privacy.

Keeping our jobs has always remained our obsession from the day we walked out of campuses. I have stayed in my job with the same employer for 32 years. No, I don’t work at Jurassic World and neither am I a fossil specimen.

I believe in loyalty and commitment to my employer and these days, such values are rare and maybe even odd. No one stays in the same job for more than two or three years. In fact, my younger colleagues say it’s actually bad for their resumes!

Many young graduates also prefer to take a year or at least three months off before they begin their first job.

Studying in a local university, there was no such thing as a gap year where one takes time off, usually for a year, from classes.

But the local graduates also have their own version of the gap year, which is to take a year off before they start looking for a job. Their parents are very understanding, I am told.

The usual excuse is that they need to find space or explore themselves first before committing themselves to full time employment. It’s some Zen kind of thing.

People used to leave their jobs for greener pastures, as they put it, which may sometimes be nothing more than a slight increment in their salaries. But these days, it is not unusual for longer serving staff to leave even without an alternative job in hand. They simply want to head to places like Tibet or Bhutan to think about their future.

I am all for the young seeking out alternative careers, but I am stumped when just about every young person I meet wants to be chef. They have never cooked a single meal in their lives. In fact, they don’t even bother to put their plates in the kitchen sink after a meal, assuming it is what the maid is paid to do.

Many also tell me that they want to be online entrepreneurs. “Hello uncle, nobody goes to the office anymore,” they say.

But I don’t know if anything has actually been sold online. I have never seen any real revenue or profits from such geniuses as they lock themselves in their rooms. After all, why worry about a regular income when all their needs are taken care of?

I suppose these are new challenges that today’s employers, apart from worrying about running their company, have to face as they look at how their workforce is being transformed.