Not working from office might lead to job loss, Cognizant tells employees

Earlier, Cognizant did not have a standard return-to-office policy for all employees. (Photo: Mint)
Earlier, Cognizant did not have a standard return-to-office policy for all employees. (Photo: Mint)


  • In April, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. asked those who have not returned despite warnings to refer to earlier communications from business leaders on in-office expectations

For Cognizant workers refusing to return to office, the axe may be about to fall.

The Nasdaq-listed company has warned defiant employees that they may be fired for not turning up, becoming the first large IT firm to invoke termination to repopulate office spaces. In a letter to employees in mid-April, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. asked those who have not returned despite warnings to refer to earlier communications from business leaders on in-office expectations.

“Please note that failure to adhere to the directions will amount to serious misconduct as per company policies and accordingly, appropriate disciplinary action will be initiated against you, which may lead up to termination," said the letter to an employee, a copy of which was seen by Mint. 

According to a person aware of the matter, the employee in question had received several back-to-office directives from the project manager, human resources team and the team manager.

Earlier this year, the Teaneck, New Jersey-based company had asked workers in India to attend office thrice a week.

A second executive said that in February, Cognizant emailed its employees, especially those on the bench, that their work time at office is being tracked and shared with top executives. Bench refers to employees who have not been assigned a project or a client to work with.

Cognizant did not respond to queries on both letters.

Also read: Growth jitters for Cognizant in 2024

Until the beginning of the year, Cognizant did not have a standard return-to-office policy, allowing teams to decide office days based on the project they were working on.

“Many of my colleagues across cities in India have received verbal warnings by HR to return to office for work if their project demands them to work from office for a certain number of days. Things are getting back to its previous state, as before covid," a second employee said on condition of anonymity.

Cognizant set up a new system to track employees' office hours and manage seat allocation after CEO S. Ravi Kumar wrote to India employees in February, asking them to work in office for an average three days a week. As much as 73%, or 254,000 of Cognizant’s 347,700 employees are in India.

“We had not been asked to work from office from a fixed date since it depended on the project," said a third employee, adding the company began asking staff to work from office around February.

Measures to bring back employees also included benching defiant employees.

Also read: Work-from-office mandates see flexi space providers catching up with tech firms

“A person reporting to me was benched for not coming to office despite receiving warnings by HR, me and the project manager. This has been happening to multiple people not working from office for the said number of days," the employee said on condition of anonymity. “These benched employees have to work from their base office locations for nine hours all five days a week." 

Sunil Chemmankotil, country manager of Zurich-based HR provider and temporary staffing firm Adecco India, said IT companies have realised there is a larger challenge in keeping so many systems to monitor multiple models of working, be it work-from-home or work-from-anywhere. Additionally, people are also losing the company value system because they have no connection with the company.  

“During Covid, employee productivity went up because the focus of employees was on putting in extra work hours and they could not step out so distractions were low," said Chemmankotil. "Now post-covid, there are distractions such as less focus amongst employees that is bringing productivity down, which is another reason why IT companies want more and more employees to work from office." 

This sentiment appears to reflect in a larger drive by India’s biggest IT firms to bring employees back to office.

Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) lowered pay hikes for those employees who failed to turn up in office, making India’s biggest IT company the first to use office check-ins as a metric to determine pay hikes. In April, TCS in an internal memo said employees working in office for less than three days a week would not receive a performance bonus.

Also read: Poor office attendance? Forget performance bonus, TCS tells employees

Peers HCL Technologies Ltd, Wipro Ltd, and Tech Mahindra Ltd had mandated its employees from November 2023 to work from office for three days a week, whereas Infosys Ltd had asked its employees to work from office for a minimum 10 days a month.

Cognizant ended the March 2024 quarter with 344,400 employees, sequentially down by 3,300 from the December 2023 quarter. Cognizant follows a January-December financial year.

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