What will you remember the most when you put away this year’s calendar? I would possibly say: “we did it all.” It was that kind of a year when people were asked to look for another job but within a few months were being paid hefty retention bonuses.
A visiting global CEO of a large tech company during his town hall in India noticed that many of his colleagues were missing from the office. He promptly sent an email the next day mandating his 7,000 mostly remote employees to come for three days a week to the office. It’s been that kind of a year where enterprises and employees have been doing flip-flops based on various triggers. Let’s chronicle them:
Third wave? never mind
Most enterprises entered the year with the hope that the chaos of great resignation was behind them and some sanity would set in. The year also started with the anxiety of the Omicron peaking in Jan with all the scars of the second Covid wave that many of us carried. However, many organisations started the year with a hiring frenzy with a combination of excitement and nervousness.
As one of the IT Leaders shared with me then, “I hope we wouldn’t have to regret that we hired thousands of people paying astronomical salaries without even meeting them. In the January-March quarter, enterprises grudgingly paid 50-100 per cent hikes and joining bonuses even as talent dropped offers and ghosted their potential employers. But then, towards the end of February, Putin attacked Ukraine and Better.com fired the first salvo when it axed about 3,000 employees, paving the way for a cautionary April to May quarter.
The April-June quarter started with the S&P 500 companies’ stock price slide, and then the VCs in India started to tighten their wallets resulting in a massive 42 per cent decline in investments over the first three months of the year. Picture this: the top four IT services firms in India — TCS, Infy, Wipro, and HCL — had added 2.4 lakh people going into April and had to reduce their lateral hiring from then on.
This was the start of the slide in customer demand and margin pressure in their financial results. It was too early for the IT companies and the talent community to feel the pinch of Ukraine or the impending slowdown in the US Tech world. Attrition continued to hover around the 20 per cent mark for large Indian tech enterprises.
To counter this and buffer for the future, the top 10 India IT services firms added a net of over 63,000 full-time employees. Quiet quitting became a fashionable word to explain productivity dip and sustained attrition.
The July-September quarter saw co-employment rear its ugly head from remote working and WFH. People called it moonlighting for want of a better description, but technically, techies were found working simultaneously for multiple competing employers. The quiet quitting of employees and refusal to return to office gave away their cover for employers to become suspicious. Enterprises hit back strongly, though only Wipro admitted it had found large-scale moonlighting. Industry put out that one in 20 employees were indulging in co-employment.
This was largely driven by many jobs chasing very few specialist techies. The “no-regret millennials” who were in demand tried to make hay with co-employment till they were caught and fired. When moonlighting snowballed into a crisis, uncertain organisations felt the silver bullet was to get employees back to the office.
Herein the debate of what the employees do after the mandated eight hours started and continues to be unresolved. Interestingly the top eight IT Services showed their resilience by adding about 45,000 net employees when the whole world had started to caution about the future.
Let the winter pass
By the time we entered the October-December quarter, it was clear that the reduced consumer demand, future recessionary headwinds, and funding winter were here to stay. October and November 2022 have seen marquee brands like Phillips, Seagate, Byjus, Meta, Amazon, and Twitter lay off thousands, and the news about Cisco considering a 5 per cent reduction has just trickled in.
Indian start-ups led by the Unicorns have reportedly shed over 20,000 employees. Ironically, at the end of November, there were close to 13,000 active job openings in the start-up ecosystem, highlighting the labour friction.
The new VUCA
The headwinds this year spared no one, even the FAANG (big five tech companies) experienced Vulnerability and cut about 40,000 jobs in a single year. Founders like Elon Musk and Byjus showed how Unattached enterprises can be when they axed thousands of jobs and justified that with their business needs. Despite BharatPe going legal and accusing Ashneer of wrongdoings, the public at large seems to be impervious to those allegations and is making his book a best seller. He continues to be popular on social media.
In the December town hall, when apparently Sundar Pichai was asked by his Google colleagues about future layoffs, he was Candid. He offered no assurance on future commitments, nor did Rishad Premji of Wipro hold back when asked about moonlighting.
The Indian IT bellwethers demonstrated what Agility is when they steadily added headcounts and adjusted their attrition to reinforce the fungibility of their business model. Moreover, close to 50 new MNCs quietly set up their Global Capability Centres (GCCs) in India, and the existing 1,500 GCCs added a lakh to the workforce in contrast to the over 90,000 plus tech jobs losses in the US.
So that’s our new VUCA world of being Vulnerable, Unattached, Candid and Agile to survive — irrespective of whether you are a bellwether or a fledgling start-up. Maybe, 2022 can be best remembered as “experiencing VUCA in a single calendar year.”