The big shift

The big shift

Younger people have reset the priorities of life where they are no longer working for survival, unlike their parents – forcing organisations to adopt a new work culture

  • “The organisation cannot be my family. They will throw me under the bus the moment 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 organisations I have worked for, and not the time I spent there.”
  • “Going to 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 the 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 organisation.

A torrent of resignations

India’s US$200-billion information technology (IT) industry has been rocked by a torrent of resignations with attrition reaching historic highs of 25% on an average, and some companies even reporting 36% of its people quitting. The immediate response of organisations has been to increase salaries and perks to keep back employees, but that has backfired as costs have risen, hitting profits. They are now slashing variable pay and rationalising salaries to control spiralling costs.

Meanwhile, employees and employers are clashing over work-from-home or return-to-office. Management seems to have lost their way in deciding the right mix of ‘in-office’ and ‘work-from-anywhere’ workforce. Organisations which announced policies of hybrid work are now asking people to come back to offices as employees hired during pandemic, using remote onboarding processes, are quitting in large numbers.

The management seems to think that this is because the new recruits were not properly imbibed in the organisation culture. Employees on the other hand are questioning, is culture at all necessary? There is a huge pushback from employees, who are now used to working from anywhere, to return to office. People are not afraid to quit if forced to return to 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 for framing new rules to manage this workforce. HR is trying to use its legacy approach to find answers to an entirely new situation which the corporate world hasn’t faced before.

An HR professional was quick to label employees who went on a ‘Quiet Quitting’ mode aslazy, 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 organisational pressure on return-to-office or slashing perks. They are doing just enough to maintain their performance without taking the effort to walk the extra mile. They are employees who know exactly how much to deliver that will help them keep their jobs.

Why people are quitting

Speaking to project managers on the frontlines of IT organisations, responsible for managing teams to deliver on customer projects, reveals shocking truths about why people are quitting. There is a generational shift that has happened, which COVID-19 has brought to the fore. Younger people have reset the priorities of life where they are no longer working for survival, unlike people who entered the workforce in the 1980s. Youth today seeks work that matters, work that is enjoyable, and environment that is creative. Life is no longer centred around work alone;instead, 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 organisations with impressive brand images, earn respectable salaries to be invested in houses and good things in life and gave quality education to their children. These children, born in the social media age, have now entered the workforce and seek quality of life as they no longer must 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 organisation 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, and employees who sought brands, looked at security and good salaries.Loyalty was perhaps a secondary factor. Today’s generation is calling it out and questioning the need for loyalty or organisation culture. They don’t think anything of changing jobs even if a good offer comes from a start-up with an uncertain future– and that’s what bothering the Project Managers.

A job that matters & Power Skills

Employees are today looking for learning opportunities, and have a job that matters to them and makes a difference to the society as well. Organisations, 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 is PowerSkills – teaching people how to lead, work in teams, collaborate, communicate, tell stories, and think strategically.

Perhaps the most significant change that organisations 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-rewards-incentives, the shift is towards a new people-centric design built around alignment, inspiration, skills, empowerment, and relationships. Organisation must transition from a culture driven by financial success and job promotions to a culture that is driven by purpose, mission, grit, and passion.

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