It was back in 2008 when the subprime mortgage crisis hit the world. Its tremors were felt across the globe. Jamie lost his job. He was one among the scores of middle-class people whose lives were turned topsy turvy due to the meltdown. Unable to face his family and reveal the truth, he continued to dress up in his formal clothes, strung his laptop bag and left for work at the usual time. He spent the day at a friend’s place or at a cafe and returned home at the usual time. His widowed mother never realized something was amiss.
A tragic accident which claimed his life sent his mother scurrying to the multinational corporation (MNC) she believed he worked in, in the hope of claiming insurance. To her utter shock and dismay, she was informed that her son was thrown out of his job three months ago. The grief of losing her only offspring coupled with the fact that he had lied to her for so many months was too much for her to bear. She wondered where she had erred in bringing him up.
Nisha, one of my brightest friends, works as a vice president in a multinational corporation. Of late, I noticed she is always tense and fidgety. The once chirpy, overzealous girl is lost somewhere. In her place, I see this troubled, worried and aged woman.
On prodding, she tells me, “Yaar, the industry is going through a tough time. The firms are no longer minting money. The other option to maintain their profit margins is cost cutting. All of us working offshore in a low-cost country thought we will be insulated from these job cuts but we were wrong. People are being laid off and not just at the entry level jobs. In fact, there is a fear of people in senior positions being asked to resign. No one is indispensable. The cost saved by foregoing one senior person and getting those below him to pick up his job or even hiring two people at mid-level is still a win for the organisation. I fear I may lose my job any day. My family members and I have gotten used to a certain kind of lifestyle – branded clothes, foreign trips, and the best of everything. I know I am intelligent and that I can get a job elsewhere if the inevitable happens. But I may have to compromise on the salary part and I dread to think of what will happen to the ‘high life’ we are currently living. How will the kids react?”
Madhusudan was euphoric – a lower middle class boy who secured a seat to one of the top engineering colleges and he now had a job in one of the leading IT companies. His parents and three siblings lived in a village. His father was a farmer who was already reeling under the burden of debt. By getting the job, he had hoped to change their destinies.
It’s been almost nine months now but he hasn’t joined the IT Company. As per the placement offer, the MNC gave a verbal undertaking that all students would get the joining date within three months. However, it’s been almost a year and he still awaits the letter. Numerous calls and emails to the company go unanswered. Scores of students like him await the offer letter, a look of fear in their eyes and a silent prayer on their lips. Madhusudan went into depression and even tried taking his life. He couldn’t bear the thought of facing his poor father and breaking this news to him.
RK Sharma, a 50-year-old senior HR manager didn’t seem like his usual cheerful self. He was agitated, drawn into a shell and was often found staring into oblivion. His wife and daughter caught the signs early and despite his protests, they took him to a psychiatrist. The reasons behind his withdrawal were quite a revelation.
The IT industry was reeling under the pressure of layoffs and being an HR manager, Mr Sharma was assigned the task of communicating this news to the employees concerned. He was forced to keep a poker face, devoid of any emotions, as he rattled off the rehearsed speech to one employee after another. “The company is going through a tough time. You will be paid two months of severance pay and be given an experience certificate. Unfortunately, you will have to leave in a week.”
The look of despair and utter helplessness on the faces of the employees – their shock, rage and resentment, as some burst into tears and pleaded, a few just left without a word and others threatened to commit suicide or go the media – is what stayed with him. He remained calm and undeterred on the exterior but the gnawing ache was eating him up, bit by bit.
The IT boom in the late 90s and the outsourcing of financial services and call centres brought about a paradigm shift in the lives of middle-class Indians. Five figure salaries, higher purchasing power, better lifestyle, mall culture and the mushrooming of real estate – the great Indian dream was finally being lived by the masses. The dream of migrating to greener pastures was no longer wishful thinking – scores of people working in the IT industry found opportunities to migrate to the US and European countries.
But every boom will be followed by a spiral. The 2008 crisis, the growing protectionist policies by super powers to cater to the interests of their own people first, the strict immigration laws and now robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to leave an air of uncertainty for scores of Indians. We hear of so many people losing jobs and for others, the looming fear of an imminent job cut is what is leading them to depression and suicidal tendencies.
A young man in his mid-twenties jumped to his death at a hotel in Pune. He feared losing his job and couldn’t bear the thought of facing his family. Candle marches and silent protests followed. Many helplines for those in the IT sector reported receiving an increased number of distress calls.
Losing a job is no doubt a difficult situation to be in and one is bound to go through feelings of dismay, negativity, hurt and sadness but the bigger question is how does one come out of it? It is not the end of life. It is an unfortunate event which occurred all of a sudden and left you in the lurch but does that mean one should have to remain plunged in darkness for eternity. How can we make ourselves resilient enough to overcome such adversities and emerge victorious?
Survival of the fittest is what Darwin propagated and times are only going to get tougher. It’s time we braced ourselves and developed resilience to combat the challenges thrown at us by life. Who knows, a job cut may turn out to be a blessing in disguise? It may pave the way to take up that passion you secretly nurtured as a full-time profession.