Commitment-phobics at work

Commitment-phobics at work

Time was when Surf’s Lalitaji and the Lijjat Papad rabbit were the only two celebrities on Indian television. When Bata was the only shoe brand you bought, and Tata the only job you sought. And once you actually had that job, you hung on to it for dear life. Well, almost.

While the employment scenario in the 1970s and 1980s was about landing a great job (actually, just landing the job covered the “great" bit) after college and staying on until retirement, this perhaps isn’t even a theoretical possibility in today’s context. “Nowadays, you work two-three years and plan your next move. This is simply because the kind of opportunities available post the country’s liberalization are immense. Plus, it’s also about the changing social norm of seeing everyone around you change jobs every few years," says E. Balaji, CEO and director, Ma Foi Ranstad, an HR service firm in Chennai.

Open economy, open opportunities

When the economy opened up in 1991, it brought an influx of new jobs and opportunities that changed the employment landscape. Multinational companies had no time to train and invest in fresh talent. They chose to do the next best thing: purchase it. “These companies needed a trained, ready-made workforce. They started throwing money and hiking salaries by 50-100%. This was a huge change from the earlier culture of companies hiring and grooming fresh talent, giving them steady growth, increments of 5-6% every year, and a promotion every four-five years," says Balaji.

The information technology (IT) sector was one of the first to report this trend. “Globally, India was being viewed as a country that could provide certain services and there was increasing demand for these. What this did was cause a gap between demand and supply, as the few trained professionals were being aggressively headhunted by companies. This is what led to high rates of attrition," says Sachin Tikekar, chief of people operations and executive sponsor of the Pune-based IT firm KPIT Cummins.

It’s been almost 20 years since the shift in the economy, and the number of professionals being produced each year is staggering, but there continues to be a demand-supply gap.

Besides, industries such as IT have seen constant upgradation of services, so in comparison with other developing economies such as China or Korea, which offer equally cheap services, India offers more. “We move on to the next level on the value chain," says Tikekar.

The entire ecosystem

While the trend of attrition started in the IT and IT-enabled services industries—which is where the highest rates of attrition can be found still—the IT model has only become a microcosm for the larger “ecosystem", and all industries now report similar trends, according to Tikekar.

So fresh graduates brought up in such an environment don’t identify with the “womb-to-tomb" employment scenario of their predecessors, says P. Dwarkanath, director, group human capital, Max India Ltd, Delhi. “Earlier, job-hopping had loyalty issues attached to it. Nowadays, loyalty is defined differently: You are loyal to your organization as long as you’re in it, it has nothing to do with how long you stay on," he says. In fact, staying on for too long in one organization even has a stigma attached to it because “people think it means you are unemployable", he adds.

All this has led to a behavioural shift among young professionals, says professor Sunita Singh Sengupta, who teaches organizational behaviour at Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi. “There is restlessness. Earlier, you waited an entire lifetime to buy a house or car; nowadays, you can buy these within the first few years of your working life. After these milestones have been achieved, there is frustration about what next to do. You change your job," she says.

The second change is a more pronounced individualistic streak. “People aren’t willing to work in an organization where they are just cogs in a wheel but are constantly looking at self-gain, and want progress on a daily basis. The moment they find that is not happening, they want to move," she says.

Not only about money

Money has a huge role to play in attracting and retaining talent—but it is not the only factor. “If I’m giving Rs100 more, someone else will give Rs200 more. You have to offer something beyond the money," adds Dwarkanath.

The “beyond" comes from organizations taking a long-term view, and investing in people. “You have to build their loyalty, show them a road map for the future. People need to see purpose in their job and that they are contributing to the company," says Balaji.

In fact, every age group has a different priority, says Tikekar. While the 21-25 age group has a cash-is-king view of things, someone in their late 20s or early 30s, about to get married perhaps, is looking at stability. For someone with eight or more years of experience, money is not really a concern. “They are the ones looking for reward and recognition and organizations must make it their business to retain the top 5% from every category," he says.