Diary of An Employee
All the days of my life before have only served to lead me to this day. I couldn’t be happier. My parents are overjoyed. Today, I can finally proudly proclaim to the world: I’m a permanent employee of The Institute! How much I’ve toiled to achieve this aim. The long years of study and sacrifice. The rounds of interviews I had to go through before the offer finally came. But now, at last, I have arrived.
My first day went splendidly, though I haven’t had the chance to meet my Manager or any of the colleagues from my department. They’re all travelling for business, addressing critical, urgent matters. I can’t help feeling excited, imagining the day that I, too, would be granted the opportunity to represent The Institute and participate in important meetings abroad. The time will come, of this I’m sure. Until then, I shall give my all and prove
I’m slightly embarrassed to put this down in writing, but before stepping into the office this morning, I made a stop at the café on the ground level of The Institute’s building. The one with the full-length windows, fluted furnishings and exuberant baristas who seem to know most patrons by name. As I waited in line, I wondered how many visits it would take before they would remember mine too. I ordered a long black, as it seemed to be the most similar to my usual choice of Kopi-O. When the barista asked if I’d like to have a loyalty card, I could barely contain my excitement. By the time I made my way up to the thirty-first level, waved my employee identification card by the scanner, walked to my cubicle (replete with a stunning view of the cityscape), sat myself down in my Herman Miller office chair and took a sip of freshly-brewed handcrafted coffee from the brown paper cup bearing the café’s name, I felt my sense of legitimacy instantly elevated. I’d seen some other colleagues yesterday doing the same.
I stepped into the office this morning with a second stamp on my loyalty card. There weren’t many people around when I walked by my Manager’s office, so I took a quick look inside. The door was closed as my Manager is still travelling for work and will only be back next Monday. But I could peer in through the glass panels when no one was looking. There were shelves filled with books, files and awards. On the table stood framed photographs of his family. A whiteboard mounted on one side of the wall displayed three stick figures, accompanied by the words ‘I love you Daddy xoxo’ written in a child’s script.
Although I have yet to meet my Manager in person, it was endearing to see glimpses of his professional and personal life merging within the space of his office. I honestly can’t wait to work with him. He’s made such a name for himself in the industry, having accomplished feat after professional feat. I wouldn’t tell this to the rest of my colleagues, but even before I applied to The Institute, I’d already started following my Manager’s career trajectory - reading every report that mentioned his name, watching every interview he’s given, buying every book he’s authored and devouring his insights. Now that I finally have the opportunity to work with him, there’s nothing more I could ask for. Four days until Monday comes.
Thursday mornings are when our weekly departmental meetings are held. I found out about this today. It’s a good thing I am the first person to arrive at work each morning. This stood in my favour today, for at half past six in the morning, I received a call from my Manager. He only had a few minutes to speak as he was on a short layover in Seoul, but had kindly reached out to check how I was settling in. He informed me about a videoconference meeting that was to take place in half an hour, which he unfortunately couldn’t attend—quite understandably, as he would be on his flight then—but would nonetheless like me to attend. He said it’d be a great opportunity for me to get to know the rest of the team and start working on some projects. After we hung up, I felt a rush of gratitude to have a supervisor who is not only incredibly talented, but also so thoughtful to his subordinates.
The stacks of documents on my desk are piling up and I’m trying my best to plough through them as quickly and as thoroughly as I can. I need to show them that The Institute’s decision to hire me was a good one. That’s why I stayed at my cubicle, conscientiously highlighting salient lines in neon green and making notes in a separate document to summarise my key learning points, even after the lights went off automatically at eight.
I noticed there are certain words and phrases that are commonly used here. Low-hanging fruit. Raise the bar. Deep dive. Paradigm shift. Create synergies. Silver bullet. Circle back. In order to demonstrate the alignment of my ideas with that of The Institute, I’ve made a mental note to start using these expressions too. Apart from this observation, I believe I’m developing a deeper understanding of The Institute’s work. This enlivens me and makes me feel all the more inspired to be contributing to the mission of The Institute, whose values are so closely aligned to my own.
After nine long days, I finally got to meet my Manager! He was supposed to be in yesterday, but something came up and he had to work from home. I cannot even begin to describe how thrilled I am to see him today. He took the entire team out for lunch to welcome me to the department, and I even got to attend my first external meeting with him. I have to thank the colleague who couldn’t make it at the last minute, for it prompted my Manager to take me along for my learning instead. While I didn’t fully understand what was going on, I took six pages of notes. I figured I could decipher them later and piece together what was discussed. One surprising thing I learned from that meeting was that my Manager loves durian. The two Swiss directors we met were visiting Singapore for the first time and asked us about the king of fruits. My Manager laughed and told them that one either loved or hated it. As he readily professed himself a lover of durian, I smiled and nodded eagerly to show my support.
The last month has flown by in a blur. I’m on my third loyalty card and the baristas at the ground-level café now know my name and order. I return home each night feeling gainfully employed, as if my life has been made all the richer simply by working at The Institute. There’s so much to learn, so much to discover. There are meetings to participate in each day, minutes to be written for each one. Sometimes, as I document these discussions, the thought that I’m contributing to the work and legacy of The Institute fills me with a giddy pride.
My Manager is so supportive and nurturing, I cannot imagine having a better boss. He’s been sending me a series of courses, seminars and certification programmes that he suggested I register myself for, so as to deepen my industry knowledge and technical skills. I’ve signed up for every single one and am proud to be spending my weekends very productively. I’m grateful to have a manager who cares so much about my professional development. Under his guidance, I’m certain many new opportunities will open up for me.
I’ve made it! I’ll be going on my first business trip next Monday with my Manager, for two weeks, to Switzerland. Clearly, successfully completing those courses and obtaining those certifications helped. Weeks of sleepless nights in exchange for this? I only have my Manager to thank for that.
Since jet lag has taken hold of me, I shall briefly pen my first impressions of the trip. I didn’t manage to get much rest during the flight from Singapore to Zurich. I had initially put on my eye mask, planning to get some sleep after an intense work week and before the trip officially began, when I heard my Manager’s voice. At first, I thought I was imagining things. But the voice grew louder, more urgent. I removed my mask to see my Manager standing at the aisle. He had a request. Another meeting had just been secured, and he needed me to prepare a new deck of presentation slides before we landed. He mentioned he had some other urgent matters to see to. I was happy to comply and was inwardly thrilled that he’d entrusted me to handle such an important task. A few hours later, when I passed by his seat to go to the restroom, I saw him engrossed in a film, or more likely, a documentary. He was probably doing additional research to learn more about the topic pertaining to our current project. His holistic approach reminded me of how much more I still had to learn. I’m blessed to have such an extraordinary role model.
The last two weeks have been an eye-opening experience. I got to witness first-hand how my Manager single-handedly cultivated dozens of new connections, advanced complex negotiations and forged strategic partnerships. I’ve summarised his accomplishments in the trip report which I’ve since completed and sent to him for approval within eight hours of the final meeting of the trip. Each time I think about how my Manager introduced me as ‘the new, rising star’ of his team, I can’t help blushing. I’m so thankful to have had this invaluable opportunity and look forward to more to come.
My sister confirmed today that she’ll be holding her wedding solemnisation in Bali in three months, and I’ve been appointed to be her maid of honour! It’ll be an intimate celebration with family and close friends. I already know it’s going to be a beautiful celebration and am so looking forward to it. I need to remember to apply for leave tomorrow.
My leave application of three days has unfortunately been rejected. My Manager said it’s too close to the internal conference that my department is in charge of organising, which is taking place in November. Unlike the rest of my family, I understand his decision. It’s of paramount importance for everyone to be around to contribute to the preparations needed to ensure the success of the event. After all, that’s how The Institute has achieved its remarkable standing in the industry. Isn’t it admirable, how much dedication its employees put into their work?
I need to learn to work faster. Before leaving the office at 17:30 today, my Manager asked me why I haven’t yet sent over the 50-page report for which the team brainstormed ideas yesterday. I was only at 30 pages. I promised him that I would send it out before the end of the day. Thankfully, I managed to keep my word and sent him the draft at 23:58. I realise now that I haven’t had dinner yet, but I better go to bed. There’s a team meeting first thing tomorrow and I don’t want to be late.
My Manager hasn’t gotten back to me on the report I submitted yesterday. He didn’t mention it during today’s team meeting either. I hope he’ll be satisfied with it. He came by my cubicle today just before lunch, asking me to send him a list of tasks I’m working on this week. He said it’d help him help me better plan my time.
I jumped at the opportunity to enhance my time management skills. I wanted to better position myself to contribute to the team’s work in the most efficient and effective way possible. Within 15 minutes, I sent him my plan for the week. I added a daily breakdown of the tasks I would be working on and colour-coded them according to their level of priority, though I wasn’t sure if it was too much detail. I thought it was better to err on the side of caution.
Shortly after my Manager returned from lunch with a brown paper cup in hand, he called me over to his office. Rather than a daily breakdown of tasks, he said he’d prefer a half-hourly breakdown. I was impressed by his level of commitment to detail. When I returned to my desk, I opened up the document immediately and did as he requested. This time, I also scheduled in my bathroom breaks, just in case he wanted to look for me then.
My revised to-do list from yesterday has earned the approval of my Manager. From now on, I am to send him such plans, outlining my half-hourly activities in detail, for his review and comments each day. I count myself lucky to have a manager so devoted to helping me become the best I can be.
The past weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye. Meetings. Reports. Presentations. My to-do list with the half-hourly breakdown of tasks that I send to my Manager daily is getting so long, I hesitated for a moment earlier before clicking send. In other news, my sister’s wedding took place today. The photos my mother sent in our family group chat look great. It’d be nice if I could have been there too, but work needs to be done. There’s so much to prepare for the upcoming conference, which is happening in just three weeks. I’ve barely gotten any sleep recently, but I know it’ll all be worth it in the end.
The deadline for the 50-page report is in two days. We need to finalise it as soon as possible so that we can get copies printed in time for the conference. I was hoping my manager would have time today to review the draft I’d sent him three months ago, but he looked so preoccupied all day that I didn’t dare to disturb him. I have faith that he’s on top of things. There’s a reason why The Institute assigned him to be the Manager of our department. He’s a great leader. He trusts his subordinates, cares for his people and builds camaraderie within the team.
I can justify this with an example from today. He called me into his office in the afternoon, looking somewhat bothered. He explained that he had been scrolling through various websites all day but still couldn’t find a suitable gift for his niece, whose university graduation ceremony was happening on Friday. Could I please help, he asked. I was young and would probably share similar tastes with his niece, he said.
Of course, I was eager to oblige. I was pleasantly surprised that he would divulge details of his personal life with me. It made me feel as if we were more than colleagues, as if we were friends. How many people could claim to have such a strong rapport with their managers? I only hope it wasn’t an issue that I hadn’t included this particular task in my to-do list for the day. But now that we’re practically friends, I’m sure he would understand.
The conference is happening in a week and things are extremely hectic at work. There is some kind of…chaos - no, I wouldn’t say chaos, it’s more like confusion, or rather, miscommunication - within the team. There are people taking on tasks that have already been done. There are tasks that have been picked up by no one. This only goes to emphasise the importance of our Manager and his ability to keep things under control. I’m sure everything will be sorted out by tomorrow, when my Manager is back from his week-long yoga and meditation retreat in Koh Samui. He can be counted on to handle such situations.
I still can’t believe what happened today. I arrived early at the conference venue this morning - two hours before it officially started, just to be safe. There was a presentation my Manager was going to make right after the opening address, and I didn’t want to miss any part of it. Since no one was around when I got there, I took the time to check if there was a copy of our 50-page report placed on every chair. Registration began at eight, and by half past eight, most of the participants had already arrived, mingling over coffee and breakfast canapes. The opening address was scheduled to begin at nine, and my Manager’s presentation, at ten.
At 09:45, my Manager was nowhere in sight. We had called and sent him multiple text messages, but received no reply. The team started to get worried, and I must admit that I did too. At 09:51, a WhatsApp message notification popped up on my phone. It was from my Manager. As everyone was looking expectantly at me, I read out his message as quietly as I could: “Feeling unwell. Pls go ahead to present on my behalf. Tks.”
Everyone panicked and started whispering over each other. We didn’t have much time left. 09:58. The opening address was coming to an end. I gulped down my apprehension and made my way to the front of the room. In retrospect, I don’t know how I did it but I somehow managed to successfully deliver the presentation. I was familiar with the material, as I had been the one preparing the slides and talking points. It just felt rather odd for me to be standing there, in place of my Manager, addressing the audience.
Afterwards, I remember colleagues whom I didn’t know coming up to congratulate me on a job well done. I remember business cards being exchanged, lunch and coffee appointments being made. It was all so surreal. But the most surreal part of the day? That was seeing my Manager drop by after the conference, when the participants had long dispersed, bearing artisan chocolates from the new French confectionary in town.
I realise as I write this now that I’d forgotten to ask my Manager if he was feeling better. I was just so glad to see him that I immediately began updating him on what had happened at the conference. I wonder what I’ve done to deserve this overwhelming trust from him. But instead of pondering over the why, I shall revel in the now.
With the festive season approaching, my Manager invited the entire team to his place for a celebration. Shortly after confirming my attendance two weeks ago, I placed an order for what’s said to be the best durian log cake in town.
I picked up the pungent cake earlier today and arrived on the dot at my Manager’s place. At first, I was taken aback by its sheer size. The house was three storeys high with a private pool and jacuzzi for the family, and a third separate pool for their dog, Lottie. When I saw the lavish spread on the table, alongside the festive decorations, I began to feel unsure about the cake box in my hands. There were exquisite charcuterie boards filled with cured meat and cheese, platters of sushi and sashimi, legs of glazed ham, an assortment of grilled sausages and even a fresh noodle station, where bowls of ramen were laid out, waiting to be bathed in piping
My initial hesitation aside, it was an enjoyable evening for the most part. Colleagues brought their partners and children. Food was eaten. Drinks were had. Good-natured banter was made. Everyone was in high spirits. As the evening went on, my colleagues, and especially my Manager, started becoming more loquacious, taking on quite a different demeanour from that in the office. In the midst of the merrymaking, my Manager made a startling announcement: while he’s enjoyed working at The Institute for the past fourteen years, he would soon be leaving us. His last day would officially be on 19 February. On hearing the news, I immediately did the math in my head. Only two months left of being able to work with him! Less, if I were to factor in the upcoming holidays. I must confess I felt quite distraught upon realising this and had to go to the bathroom after the announcement was made.
Now, sitting at my desk back home, I feel much calmer. While my Manager’s departure would certainly be a loss for me and the team, I’m sincerely happy for him. He’ll be starting a new role at The Agency, which sounds very exciting and prestigious. He’ll definitely go on to reach even greater heights. Although it’s a real pity that I wouldn’t be able to work with him at The Institute past February, I’m tremendously thankful to have had the chance to cross paths with him at the start of my career and to have learnt so immensely much from him.
My Manager is truly the most accomplished and inspiring person I have ever met, and undoubtedly the best mentor I would ever have. Among so many things, he’s taught me to be future-ready - which is why I subscribed to The Agency’s newsletter immediately after leaving the party, trusting that sooner or later, a vacancy would open up in the department he would be heading.
Agnes Chew is the author of The Desire for Elsewhere (Math Paper Press, 2016) and Eternal Summer of My Homeland (forthcoming from Epigram Books). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Wildness Journal, Litbreak Magazine, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ricepaper and Bosphorus Review of Books, among others. Born and raised in Singapore, she currently lives in Germany.
Of the story featured here, Agnes states:
‘Diary of An Employee explores the underlying tension faced by a female corporate worker, and is aligned to the theme of Shortage in terms of the lack of boundaries that is prevalent in the capitalist workplace today.’