How have organisations been changing themselves from the customer-first to people-first approach? A deep dive.
“The organization cannot be my family. They will throw me under the bus the moment the bottom line takes a hit if there is a downturn.”
“I have changed jobs frequently. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. The issue should be whether I have been able to contribute to the organizations I have worked for, and not the time I spent there.”
“Going to the office every day is totally unnecessary if we are able to deliver remotely without being micromanaged by supervisors.”
These are some of the sharply worded statements delivered by a new generation of employees in their early twenties or even mid-thirties. Human Resources (HR) teams are struggling to come to terms with these brutally candid professionals who think nothing of quitting if they are not happy with the work or the organization.
A torrent of resignations
India’s US$200-billion information technology (IT) industry has been rocked by a torrent of resignations, with attrition reaching historical highs of 25% on average and some companies even reporting 36% of their people quitting. The immediate response of organizations has been to increase salaries and perks to keep back employees, but that has backfired as costs have risen to hit profits. They are now slashing variable pay and rationalizing salaries to control spiralling costs.
Meanwhile, employees and employers are clashing over work-from-home or return-to-office. Management seems to have lost its way in deciding the right mix of in-office and work-from-anywhere workforce. Organizations which announced policies of hybrid work are now asking people to come back to offices as employees hired during the pandemic, using remote onboarding processes, are quitting in large numbers.
The management seems to think that this is because the recruits were not imbibed correctly in the organization’s culture. Employees, on the other hand, are questioning culture at all necessary. There is a massive pushback from employees, who are now used to working from anywhere, to return to the office. People are not afraid to quit if forced to return to the office.
During the pandemic, employees have left the big cities where most of the IT offices are located and returned home, thereby saving on rent and food, besides having the psychological comfort of being with family and friends. They are no longer prepared to give up these social gains and significant improvement in their quality of life. Companies are now likely to respond with a cutback on house-rent-allowances which are given for living in Tier-1 or Tier-2 cities.
Old solutions won’t work & new rules aren’t ready
The employee-employer relationship has undergone a dramatic change in the last two years, paving the way for a new kind of social contract between them. The challenge is that there is no template to follow to frame the new rules to manage this workforce. HR is trying to use its legacy approach to find answers to an entirely new situation that the corporate world hasn’t faced before.
An HR professional was quick to label employees who went on a ‘Quiet Quitting’ mode as those who were lazy, without pausing to think why they were behaving the way they were. Quiet Quitting is a passive resistance being put up by employees fighting the organizational pressure on return-to-office or slashing perks. They are doing just enough to maintain their performance without making an effort to walk the extra mile. They are employees who know precisely how much to deliver that will help them keep their jobs.
Why are people quitting
Speaking to project managers in the frontline of IT organizations responsible for managing teams to deliver on customer projects, on the other hand, reveals shocking truths about why people are quitting. There is a generational shift that has happened, which Covid19 has brought to the fore. Younger people have reset the priorities of life when they are no longer working for survival, like people who entered the workforce in the 1980s. People today seek work that matters; enjoyable work; and a creative environment. Life today is not centred around work alone, but work is just one of the many slices of an individual’s life.
The industrial age witnessed employees holding on to jobs for survival. They wouldn’t quit even if the boss was ruthless or the environment toxic. The information age saw the children of these employees reap the benefit of knowledge. They wanted to work in organizations with impressive brand images, earn respectable salaries to be invested in houses and good things in life and give quality education to their children.
These children, born in the social media age, who have now entered the workforce, now seek a quality of life as they no longer have to work for survival or think about a roof over their heads which has been taken care of. Equipped with quality education and an abundance of career opportunities, they are not driven by organization loyalty or brand names.
There never was any corporate loyalty
Senior corporate leaders who are trying to understand this trend feel that there never was loyalty. Employees who worked for survival couldn’t have been driven by loyalty; employees who sought brands looked at security and good salaries, and loyalty was perhaps a secondary factor. Today’s generation is calling it out and questioning the need for loyalty or organisational culture. According to project managers, they don’t think anything of changing jobs, even if a good offer comes from a start-up with an uncertain future.
A job that matters & PowerSkills
Employees are today looking for learning opportunities, have a job that matters to them and make a difference to society at the same time. Organizations, therefore, need to craft these jobs carefully to deliver employee satisfaction. This has become as central as customer satisfaction. Learning & Development (L&D) teams need to build capability academies (end-to-end learning strategies led by the business), clean up and integrate all L&D technologies and tools and work to implement a skills taxonomy for the future. Of all the L&D issues companies face, one of the hottest of all is PowerSkills—teaching people how to lead, work in teams, collaborate, communicate, tell stories, and think strategically.
Perhaps the most significant change that organizations need to understand is that the old ways of Business-First-People-Second, where “people were a means to an end”, must be replaced with People-First-Business-Second, where people are the purpose of the business. From an approach designed around goals and rewards incentives to a new people-centric design built around alignment, Inspiration, skills, empowerment, and relationships. Organizations must transition from a culture driven by financial success and job promotion to one that is driven by purpose, mission, grit, and passion.
(Abhijit Roy is a technology explainer and business journalist. He has worked with Strait Times of Singapore, Business Today, Economic Times and The Telegraph. Also worked with PwC, IBM, Wipro, Ericsson.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)