There’s a movement resolutely gathering momentum. It probably started with pandemic related layoffs that affected millions. And with it came the WFH phase — when people realised that they could add value from anywhere, even from their native cities and towns, without having to don formal wear or suffer commute-related tribulations. They discovered soon enough that they could even find better paying jobs, or monetise their time doing work they love.

The spreading contagion

In the U.S., it’s taken the shape of ‘The Great Resignation’ — voluntary en masse resignations of unprecedented proportions, touching almost 48 million people last year, signaling very high levels of job dissatisfaction. The figures for the U.K., Australia and France indicate similar, though milder, trends. What about India? Michael Page, a recruitment services company says that 86% of India’s professionals will seek new jobs in the next 6 months. Deloitte forecasts that half of the new engineers from the 2021 and 2022 batches will quit before their first work anniversary.

Indian IT companies, whose share of global IT spend is 19% and dominate the global BPM market with a share in excess of 55%, are facing the brunt, suffering unprecedented attrition rates. In the quarter ended March 2022, it was 17.4% at TCS, 21.9% at HCL, 23.8% at Wipro and 27.7% at Infosys.

That digital transformation is central to the change agenda at many international corporations exacerbates the situation — with the business opportunity itself increasing substantially. Not surprisingly, the $200 billion Indian IT industry faces its highest attrition levels in digital skills — big data, cloud, IoT, cybersecurity, blockchain and AI, with even 40-120% hikes not improving the trend line.

Controlling rising attrition

What are companies doing to stem the flow and preclude ‘counteroffer’ situations? Let’s look at some of the hygiene measures already in play, some of which are defining the new normal.

The hurry to get people back to office can be slowed down. WFH can be allowed for the many who prefer it. After all, it worked well during the pandemic. Stern diktats and ultimatums to return to office must be eschewed.

Organisations can consider extending their footprint to smaller cities to take advantage of the talent pools there and lower costs. Hubs closer home are the next best thing to WFH, while some feel it’s actually the best of both worlds.

People who’ve proved themselves can be moved up the hierarchy faster. Increments can be more generous, especially for the movers and shakers.

Sub-contracting is gaining favor. Staffing firms are reporting double the demand for temp staff across industries. And contract hires who prove themselves are becoming employees.

Companies are also creating effective partner networks, so non-core jobs can be hived off, knowing they will be accomplished on time, without compromising quality. They also become a source for personnel, provided the companies agree and the candidates meet hiring criteria.

Campus hiring is getting bigger. Unearthinsight estimates that the Indian IT services industry will absorb 360,000 freshers in FY22. Some aspects, however, need a longer-term view. The choice of institutes is critical and engaging only with those whose students consistently meet quality thresholds is an imperative. Hired students should be ambassadors who can go back to their alma mater in subsequent years and be the bridge. Complaints about students taking time to adapt when they commence work can be addressed by organising augmented training for willing students at these select institutes. The induction curriculum for new hires can then emphasise hands-on productivity aspects.

Regular upskilling is an incentive not just for early-in-career hires, but for those with a longer tenure, as it is monetisable.

Of course, stock options and longer-term financial incentives discourage short-termism and help in reducing attrition.

A bigger need

And then there is the matter of how companies serve their own people.

At entities with a large workforce for instance, the people function is outsourced for the most part. Rightly so, because needs are many, and the sheer volume demands such treatment for quicker fulfilment. Whether it’s your phone, laptop, desktop application, travel, provident fund, access badge or stock options, there’s a designated outsourced agency and you have to register a ticket to get a response. When you want clarifications, it’s not uncommon to encounter agents who are terse, because they have so many tickets to close. Self-service is the usual SOP for other services sought. Smart organisations are creating an accessible desk, manned by trained, approachable people, to handle the more obstinate escalations. That makes the system much more effective, reducing work interruptions and alleviating friction.

Elevating performance

Some organisations get it — that connecting with people at a human level can enhance their engagement. When the chasm of just being a resource to becoming a comrade in arms happens, the desire to contribute gets heightened substantially. Genpact has created an employee mood assessment chatbot that connects with all employees periodically. HCL has a team based at Noida dedicated to creating potent people engagement solutions. And NetApp has a platform that helps employees design their career journey. In the age of ‘Glassdoor’, ‘Vault’ and social media, nurturing people power will always yield huge dividends.

Globally, the final frontier is going to be closer alignment of people with the company they work for. People now actively seek out companies with purpose, led by CEOs who personify clear values, in industries that are greener, with a social reputation, who offer greater flexibility for other pursuits, or for taking care of children and the elderly. And discussions about a 4-day week now figure on the agenda. Arguably, a powershift is underway.

The author is the former MD, Country Digitisation, Cisco APJC, and the founder of Thinkstreet.

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