HR heads on respectful ‘aap’ over friendly ‘tu’


Despite people trying to maintain professionalism at the workplace, local languages and dialects do impact the overall work environment in many ways.

While in the English language it is generally easy to address people as ‘you’, when it comes to Hindi, things get a little tricky. In Hindi, addressing someone as aap is respectful, while the use of tu or tum may seem derogatory to some, depending on the kind of relationship they share with the other person. Despite people trying to maintain their professional selves at the workplace, local languages and dialects do take up a lot of prominence, and that impacts the overall work environment in many ways. Unfortunately, this is something that remains out of the radar of formal workplace policies.

Ashwani Lohani, chairman of Indian Railways, just set a new mandate asking the DRMs, GMs and PHODs to address their juniors as aap and not as tu or tum, and has also made this applicable for other Indian languages as well. Having done this, Indian Railways has set a benchmark by taking note of the smallest of aspects, to preserve employee morale. This has certainly proved that even little initiatives go a long way in forming a great culture.

Indian culture is such that despite putting on professional masks, people generally tend to get friendly with others around. Indians are known to be more approachable, emotionally expressive and social in their demeanour. More so, because a majority of us are born and brought up in close- knit families and since childhood we learn to value extended relationships—be it with our cousins in our personal lives or our colleagues at the workplace. It is because of this, that at times people cross the thin line between being professional and being pally in the workplace.

Gajendra Chandel

While at times, a senior may address a subordinate as tu or tum considering the difference in years —of experience or age or level of expertise—an employee may not necessarily take it in a positive stride. Gajendra Chandel, CHRO, Tata Motors suggests that it’s better to keep personal and professional lives separate. He shares a realistic situation saying, “You don’t know how the other person may perceive the way you address her/him. At times a senior may address a subordinate as tu considering they are close and friendly, unaware of the fact that the other person may be feeling offended by it and sees it as unfair.”

In the fast-changing and dynamic times that we live in, senior leaders even in the organisations that have a paternalistic culture or a family-driven business also refrain from using the words tu or tum nowadays. While all this largely also depends on the overall organisational culture, Chandel strongly suggests that anything that impacts the overall functioning of the organisation needs to be controlled.

Amitav Mukherjee

In line with the thought, Amitav Mukherjee, vice president-HR, foods division, ITC, is also of the view that the aap culture is strongly recommended until people mutually reach a certain comfort level and understanding. Additionally, he says, “At times some people who are addressed by their seniors as tu may not really like it but may be unable to say something or do something about it.” A situation such as this ominously pulls down the self-esteem and morale of the person concerned.

Mukherjee recommends that organisations have a strong code of conduct and effective ways to communicate the right behaviours in the workplace, if such anomalies need to be kept at bay. To put it up in the best way possible, Chandel says, “When in the workplace, your approach towards others should be personalised and not personal!”

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