The Fear Young Indians Face In A Corporate World With Shrinking Job Security

Posted by Akshata Ram in Business and Economy, Society
July 28, 2017

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.

Image Credit: Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images

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?

  • First of all, it’s important to remember that a job which provides us with our livelihood is no doubt important but it’s not everything. Like someone said, a job is a slice of the pizza, not the whole pizza. Personally, I knew someone who was given the pink slip. It was quite a shocker as he was known to be quite decent at his job. It didn’t even happen during a period of layoffs. It was so sudden that many of us were left feeling sad for the guy. I was tempted to say something to him in a private conversation but fell short of words and decided to stay quiet. Two months down the line, his social media profile showed he had secured another job in a reputed company. It’s been a few years now and I see his happy posts on my newsfeed. So it was not the end of the line for him. Losing a job does not mean you are doomed forever. Or that you will never get another job. Yes, I have known many people who had to take a cut in their salary but few years down the line, they always catch up on that.
  • With good money comes a good lifestyle. I am a sucker for branded clothes and handbags. I love to splurge money and add new things to my overflowing wardrobe and savouring on multiple cuisines. But I am mindful of not getting into unwanted debt and I make sure my savings are well invested for a rainy day. It’s important to be careful with money, to assume that nothing will ever go awry is foolish.
  • It’s absolutely okay to say you need help. In our country, where mental health is considered a taboo, it takes a lot of courage to talk about it in the open. Keeping things buried in one’s heart and stifling emotions is detrimental. Open up, confide in your near and dear ones. Hiding things and pretending that everything is fine won’t work forever as people are bound to find out someday. Seek professional help. There are many help lines and qualified doctors available. You need to have the courage to take that first step.
  • The industry is witnessing rapid transformation with artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. One can be fearful of imminent job losses or decide to take the challenge head on. Stop getting complacent, improve your skills and I bet you will never be redundant.
  • Last but not the least, what can we do as parents to prepare our kids to survive – not just survive but thrive in a fiercely competitive world? We need to stop shielding them, let them taste failure, let them fall and get up with a scraped knee and learn to run again. Teaching them resilience is one of the core skills which can only be imbibed by letting them taste failure. For without tasting failure, one can never truly relish the sweetness of success.

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.