Corporate India, work stress and employee dissatisfaction

Image courtesy: The Economic TImes

Now add one or two other little tit-bits of information that make the picture complete... first, the rising incidence of stress and mental ill-health, as was brought out on a recent report on the IT industry - and second, the rising family tensions and divorce rates. Add the two - and you have the makings of a shakespearean tragedy. I am making an extremely bold move in this article - openly criticizing these matters while being a member of corporate India. But something will have to be done; I dont know whether this small contribution will help or not...

Look at the data: this is the company perspective presented. Employees are facing excessive work pressure and longer hours - and 36-38% of companies accept this. If you ask the employees  - especially in private- this number is likely to double - or more. This is also far higher in India than elsewhere. Thus, this is a local phenomenon. Most critically, look at the most damning comparison of all: the employee perspective clearly mentions that they value job security; this is totally absent from the employer perspective

Rising stress levels, lower job security, ever-tighter deadlines and targets are now a business reality. This is borne out of the competitive environment we find ourselves in - at least the first and the third parameters. The second - job-security is simply a function of internal priorities, processes, checks and balances. Quite a few corporates in India still do not value the employee as much as the numbers. The effect on the employee and his family is totally ignored - and - as I shall delve upon in a follow-up article - the effect on norms, best practices, law and ethics is also a victim of this.

Let me take telecom, for example. Where there were 6 competitors, now there are 12 in the mobile services space. Where there were only Nokia, Sony and Motorola, now there are Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn, Lava, Spice, IBall, Xolo to name but a few. Competition has risen exponentially; this is a business reality and cannot be wished away. This has placed tremendous pressure on the existing players to maintain and grow their toplines and bottomlines. Similarly, the hold on the market of the market leaders has placed equally heavy pressure on the new players to make a mark and win themselves a niche. The other source of pressure is the increasing focus on profitability and revenue growth. This seemingly straightforward focus - eminently sensible- is fine in a system with defined humane processes,  humane systems, proper procedures and acceptable ethics. But when even one of the three is missing - it leads to what you see above. And if more than one is missing, then... 

This is not a factor of the recessionary market phase we are in; in my 14 years experience, this has always been present. Yes, this has risen in levels off late; but it would be wrong to state that this is a phenomenon born out of the larger economic problems facing the world economy. And this is probably present even in the older industries (it has been 9 years since I moved into telecom). The data above seems to indicate that. In those industries, some of the reasons are different.

My point is that this is not going away. Competition is rising and will continue to rise, and focus on topline and bottomline is the way to conduct business. We are, after all, in a business - not philanthropy. It is the way we go about tackling the competition and the daily grind of conducting the business that is the issue. And in that, we are found wanting - as the numbers above, as well as the stress surveys and mental and physical health issues, divorces etc show. 

This is indicative of a deeper systemic malaise: the internal systems and processes are not coping up with the changed business reality that is confronting the corporate scenario. And that, to my mind, is the core reason for what we have seen above. HR systems, fist of all, need to be strengthened to cope with the new reality. This has to go hand-in-hand with a more humane treatment to employees, with a receptive ear to their manifest and genuine concerns. The employee is primarily concerned with Job Security as can be seen above; corporates would do well to move away from the stupid and self-defeating hire-and-fire systems currently in vogue for a start. An assurance of stability would go a long way in tackling attrition, as well as make the employee a happier person. 

The current impression of managers that the employee is driven by fear needs to change; employees are driven more by desire than by fear. Fear incapacitates a person and erodes his competitiveness. The key is to find a set of drivers and focus on them; job security need not mean a drop in performance. Quite the reverse, in fact: performance will shoot up over the short term; and it is the task of the manager to engage with and drive his team to derive performance over the mid to long term. 

Performance measurement, retention policies, promotion and increment policies, office times - in fact - all employee centric policies need to be overhauled. The manager needs to ensure that the emplyee is not spending 6 days a week late at office. Yes, at times staying may be mandated - but this should not be the norm. Make the work-space comfortable for the employee - and spot the difference. KRA do not mean only the end-result; measure the process as well as the end-result. I understand that performance has to be maintained: but what I cannot understand is the assumption that performance can only happen by placing the employee under stress. The key should be to finding the motivators for each employee, and driving him or her accordingly. That is why we have managers: to engage with and drive employees. If the employee  has failed, somewhere along the line even the manager has failed. Simple truth. Do current systems reflect this?

No, they dont. Also simple truth.

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