Six jobs down in his 33 years, it’s the bookends to each one that Vipul Malviya dreads: his first day of work —and the last.
“You’re a mess in terms of what you need to say,” says the Delhi-based manager for an advertising company. “The farewells are embarrassing.”
Perhaps never before in India’s 60-year history have so many workers had so many last days. Yet, so delicate is the issue that quitting our jobs often boils down to euphemism. Giving notice. Moving on. Taking leave.
What we don’t have are enough mechanisms to make sure the end goes smoothly, from exit interviews to assurance of a final pay cheque. That strikes me as both ironic and unproductive in an economy and workplace increasingly defined by attrition and a labour shortage.
In the high-technology sector, last quarter’s attrition rates were so bad that several companies said they would award bonuses early as incentive to keep people around. According to a report by industry body National Association of Software and Service Companies, attrition in India spans 12% to a whopping 70%, depending on the subsector.
Generally, notice periods in India are two months prior to the actual last day, although some companies go as high as six months and as little as one day. In the US, quitting usually means telling the boss two weeks before.
Indian managers are rightfully rethinking the notice period, trying to adopt individualized scenarios, depending on why the worker has quit. This shift is critical in our acceptance of a candidates’ market—and to keep the door open.
Given this hunger for talent, human resources managers themselves concede they have been reacting to the quitters in exactly the wrong way.
If exiting employees want to serve the notice period, their company wants them to leave quickly. If they don’t want to, employers try to hang on, observed Vinod Nair, vice-president for operations at Artech Infosystems Pvt. Ltd.
“We make him a total alien in the notice period,” Nair said at a recent workplace summit. “Maybe he’s very happy in the organization, but we’re shutting all doors for him to come back. There’s so much damage done that he can’t even think about it.”
Especially in sectors such as technology and consulting, where employees are essentially playing career checkers—TCS to Wipro to Accenture, then maybe back again—and former colleagues tend to resurface at work, wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to just make the last few weeks short and sweet? Shouldn’t a manager being given notice simply say, “Is there anything we can do to keep you?” and wish the candidate luck if there isn’t?
In the process of letting go, some companies act instead like jilted, jealous lovers. They practise silent treatments and withhold final salaries; this latter act is of great annoyance to candidates (and their new employers) who waste countless hours and energies for that last cheque, time that should be devoted to the new role.
Some human resources firms are practising what they preach. The newly launched Helix HR, a design and resources company, has asked departees for a month’s notice. Although director Nidhi Kalra admits she is still having a hard time extracting herself from her last job. Her previous employer, a research firm, wouldn’t allow vacation to be counted as part of the period and won’t release final pay.
“They don’t want everybody to get an impression it’s easy to leave,” said Kalra, 26, who has had three jobs. “Sometimes you start thinking that you should just collect the last pay cheque and say ‘bye’.”
Managers, of course, point out that notice periods serve to avoid exactly that situation, that workers certainly have their share of flaws in the equation. Nearly everyone recounted a story of an employee who just didn’t show up for work one day—and never did again. Calls to mobiles go unanswered. A friend of a friend hears he’s got a new job. Someone else hears a mysterious aunt died.
“Unfortunately, the culture that has been built in the India market is that jobs are so plentiful that prospective employees are indifferent to the phrase ‘what goes around, comes around’,” said Reggie Aggarwal, the chief executive officer of Cvent Inc., an online events manager with offices in Gurgaon. “I wish they would just be straightforward and tell us the truth. It is okay to change your mind. It is not okay to not communicate it.”
Candidates say they often don’t even know the leave policy until, well, it’s time to leave. Malviya, who has just started a new job, says he hasn’t bothered to find out. “When you’re joining an organization, to ask what the leave policy is just doesn’t make a good impression,” he said.
True, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the saying goes. But in this tight labour market, it’s time for employers and employees to focus just as much on their last.
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