“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
– Peter Drucker
For many, 2020 felt like the most chaotic year of their lives after a series of Covid-19 induced shutdowns brought the world to a grinding halt and upended everything. Then 2021 happened, which has been a year of ups and downs. The pandemic dominated our work lives since day one.
We’ve all had to adapt to a “new normal”, organisations everywhere had to reexamine their risk-management strategies and redefine office experience, employees felt profound digital burnout which made them focus more acutely on all aspects of employee well-being and innovate new methods to keep them engaged, new technologies enabled work from anywhere but it also pushed workers to switch jobs or pursue entirely new careers, the hybrid mode of working emerged as employees slowly started returning to work, only to be disrupted with the latest emergence of the omicron variant that could put much of the global return to the office on hold.
This year was a reminder that the future is uncertain and we can better prepare ourselves to contribute meaningfully to the next year by recognising and addressing the opportunities and challenges from the previous year. As we wrap up this year, we take a look at our magazine’s top read articles/interviews that have dominated the year. While these articles were published in 2021, it’ll be interesting to witness how they might evolve in 2022.
The Best and Worst of the Times for India’s Tech Talent
Tech hirings remained insular to India’s tryst with the virus in 2021. The hiring activity for tech roles rapidly increased and was even more than the pre-Covid times. In July, the annual growth rate for IT software rose by 212 percent, followed by ITes with annual growth of 46 percent (July Naukri JobSpeak Report). However, as the demand for jobs rose, the wages also skyrocketed, retaining existing talent became a challenge, companies faced higher attrition rates compared to 2020, and the dropout rates following offers got higher. A part of the reason was startup hiring as the funding boom left many new-age startups flush with funds who wooed high-quality talent that was in short supply. Also, demand for new-age technology skills and remote work becoming the status quo led to an increasing demand for tech professionals. Experts feel that this demand and talent crunch is short-term in nature and is likely to stabilise by mid-2022.
Why Do Employees Jump Ship?
As the Covid-19 pandemic began to subside in the second half of 2021, life and work also started to get back to normal, or at least the ‘new normal’. However, organisations were faced with the problem of ‘The Great Resignation’ where employees kept jumping ship for better opportunities, putting the businesses in a tricky position. Employees were still not sure if they wished to return to work – full-time, or in the same organisation. They demanded flexible work options, simply offering a pay increase or a promotion wasn’t enough to get good people to stay. Organisations acknowledged that it was more important than ever before to train, empower, and treat employees as valuable assets to create a culture of employee retention. Manavi Pathak, Head, Talent and Leadership Development, TATA Trent in this article explored how organisations could find the best employee retention tactics to keep the most talented workers at their jobs in 2021 and beyond.
Recruiting Tech Talent
Richard Lobo, Executive Vice President & Head Human Resources at Infosys thinks that a push for technical and digital skills across industries, insufficient future investments in terms of skilling, and a reasonable amount of talent supply disruptions across the world, both in terms of the shift toward remote working and many people moving out of the workforce due to the pandemic fuelled the rush for talent in the IT sector. He, therefore, elaborated on the importance of investing in talent sustainability, and skilling and upskilling. Regarding intriguing salary trends and exorbitant perks, he commented on the turbulence in the market which leads to a new equilibrium or a new normal, but at some point in time, eventually evens out. Talking about the ‘back to office’ journey at Infosys, Richard shares how their offices are open across the world but they haven’t forced anybody to come daily or relocate.
The workforce is the metaphorical brick and mortar to any business and startups are no exception. If anything, there is an even more direct correlation between scaling and workforce quality in the startup ecosystem. ESOPs can be an ideal business transition solution for many early-stage startups, providing a way to preserve their legacy with employees and the community, get a fair price, retain a role in the company if they like, and get unmatched tax benefits in the process. Ankita Singh, Founder, Sarvaank Associates and Yash Vardhan, Singh Senior Associate, Sarvaank Associates delves into the misconceptions and the common myths around ESOPs that can trigger some bad beliefs about ESOPs and keep startups from taking the leap.
Decision Tree for Employee Benefits
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that employees want the organisations to be more human. Nothing can take the place of pay, bonuses, and benefits. But the employees crave shared identity and purpose, wealth creation, a sense of belonging, and interactions. Employee-employer relations have always been ‘transactional’, but things are changing faster. To keep up with the change, businesses need to rethink work, employment, and people. Abraham George, Chief People Officer at Ennoventure and Founder Partner at Peoplsense explains how by making use of “Employee ownership” organisations can ensure that employees remain invested in the company, benefit from its success, and create long-term wealth. The key here is to create a plan that is in sync with the company’s vision, strategy, expectations, and financial parameters which can attract and retain the right people, and ultimately increase economic value for both shareholders and participants.
Soonicorn on Building Passionate Talent
“While for an early-stage startup, it is very important to add high quality, passionate talent to the team, typically when there’s a shortage of funds to be able to afford the premium talent. At this stage, it is important to focus on quality over quantity and identify individuals that would be a good culture fit, and most importantly, the ones who believe in the mission and goals of the company,” says Sankar Bora, Founder and COO, DealShare.in, as he talked about the key challenges in terms of talent availability. Sankar in this interview also sheds light on the value of ESOP and the role it plays in early hiring. He further elaborated how DealShare has a huge focus on on-the-job learning and is giving diverse, stretch opportunities to individuals to learn and grow.
Employee Burnout is a Rampant Workplace Problem
COVER STORY: Is Remote Working Leading to Employee Burnout?
Initially, when people started working from home, most of them got really excited about the idea of working by being their “own boss”. However, with time, the drastic shift from physical offices to virtual offices took a toll on employees’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being making them more prone to burnout. This was due to many reasons: there was no face-to-face interaction among the employees; it was tough to conduct any employee engagement activities through virtual modes; as the line between work and life started getting blurred, work hours became an issue; and due to the pandemic, people generally also started feeling low and were in seek of some social support or some upliftment in the mood. Akanksha Awasthi, Senior Manager, Human Resources, Adda52.com shared a few insights into how the employers or the HR can help eliminate this emotional, physical, and mental state of exhaustion and adapt their work culture in a manner that promotes employee sensitivity and empathy, especially in a virtual setup.
Mainstreaming Health and Happiness
The pandemic gave impetus to the topic of well-being. It brought significant focus on employee mental health both inside and across organisations around the world. As Covid-19 exacerbated employee burnout, employee well-being became more mainstream and organisations started thinking more expansively about many elements that impact the health and happiness of their employees – well beyond physical and even mental and emotional health. Organisations realised that anxious, stressed out, and mentally unwell workers are not engaged and productive. Mental and emotional health concerns began to lose the stigma and proactive mental health support started becoming more mainstream. In 2020, more organisations and leaders opened up genuine dialogues on mental health. Manavi Pathak, Head, Talent and Leadership Development, TATA Trent explains how investing in employee mental well-being can become a silver lining to the unfortunate realities brought about by increased stress, anxiety stemming from social isolation, financial insecurities, and increased workload.
Sreenivas Potukuchi, Head of HR Business Partner, Fidelity Investments India says offering a career rather than a job helped Fidelity Investments to build a large pool of tenured employees and maintain a low attrition rate. With the qualified talent exiting at an early phase in their careers, offering robust learning and development opportunities focused on technology, leadership and professional development, functional and domain learning became crucial for Fidelity. Also, they evolved their approach according to the dynamic needs of the situation and finetuned their policies and benefits to suit a hybrid working model. He also discussed how Fidelity has been investing in building a talent brand for seamless hiring and key talent acquisition trends he foresees in the near future.
Return to Work
COVER STORY: Bringing Back the Workforce – Insights into the New Normal Office Space November 2021 Edition
As the quarantines and restrictions loosened, companies around the world started bringing their people back to the office. As a business leader, it became imperative to understand the challenges and hindrances that an ordinary employee had to face while working through the post-Covid scenario. Employers were required to carefully plan how to safely reintroduce employees to the workplace – from zero-touch sanitiser dispensers at every entry and exit in the office premises to taking temperatures of all the staff to adhere to strict social distancing practices to sanitising office from time to time – the article by Apu Pavithran, Founder, CEO of Hexnode (Mitsogo) gave a peek into the strategies Mitsogo implemented for the employees’ safe return to the office and their plans to navigate in a post-Covid world.
Future of Work
COVER STORY: Return to the Office Will Take Longer or Maybe Never
In this eye-opening article, Dr. Ankita Singh, Senior Vice President & Global Head of HR, IT, Travel & Admin at CIGNEX Datamatics explains why employers who are nudging their workers to return into offices may not find themselves compatible with employees who have welcomed remote as the new normal. Employees sensed the freedom to work from anywhere at their own pace which is why they found valid reasons to justify working from home. The default model for years ahead will remain as remote working/working from anywhere, and the designed model will keep changing, with the help of data leaders, continuously to meet the needs of the time, business, and people. While nobody is sure what the future has in store for us, organisations and employees are experimenting and exploring to find the best workable equation for their requirements. The trial and testing will not stop any sooner. It will take much longer than businesses thought to decide what will be the most feasible model. Back to office will take much longer to be back as a full-fledged model for any business. For many sectors; maybe never.
Future of Work
Deloitte India carried out the return to work in a phased approach for its employees. From allowing only those employees who were fully vaccinated into the office premises to monitoring Covid-19 social distancing protocols through apps, Deloitte followed a 70:30 work model where 70 percent of people still worked from home and the rest transitioned to a hybrid model, where workers came to the office two or three days a week. Here, S.V Nathan, Partner, and Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte India, explains the importance of the office environment for culture building and collaboration. He talked in detail about the mental health issues that arise majorly due to burnout and why reaching out to employees to address such issues virtually doesn’t always work. He also shared insights on how Deloitte committed to dropping carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and how the increasing need for flexibility and culture-building at the workplace will play a crucial role in the hybrid future of employee experience.
Diversity & Inclusion
Though several organisations have come up with culture labs, inclusive policies, sensitisation workshops, and allyship programs, the fact remains that much needs to be done to make the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe enough to “come out of the closet” and embrace their identities at the workplace. While several “progressive” organisations have made ‘discrimination on the basis of sexuality’ punishable, subtle sexuality-based discrimination remains prevalent. Danish Shaikh, Vice President and Head – Human Resources at Quadrific Media Pvt. Ltd. explains how leadership plays an important role here. If leaders go out of their way to advocate inclusivity, it is natural that their followers would follow suit and slowly but steadily the culture of the organisation would change. Hence, it is crucial that leaders come out of their shells and accept everyone as they are take a step forward, and celebrate what’s unique in the individual.
Diversity & Inclusion
Women in the workforce had to bear a disproportionate burden of hurt during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many studies and surveys revealed that on various grounds, including rates of unemployment, lay-offs, and pay gaps, women had been adversely impacted. On top of these, the burden of dual workload, in the domestic and professional spheres was overwhelming. For the women who had been able to sustain somehow, had been equally, if not more, exacerbating in terms of physical and mental well-being, explains Tanya Singh, Director, IPE Global in this insightful article. Conversely, while the signals indicated pressing causes of concern, others also signified the increasing capacity of women to bounce back in these times of crisis. The times of the pandemic not just encouraged but rather compelled women to adjust to the shifting technological paradigm. Flexible work from home and hybrid work models came as a boon to women allowing them to plan their day as per their varying levels of flexibility and use this opportunity to turn into makers and regulators of their own professional destinies.
Manmeet Sandhu, Head of HR, PhonePe talks about the organisation’s experimentation with different models for hiring people with disabilities into different roles at PhonePe. She further offers glimpses into the company’s D&I goals pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. “We have completed an internal review of our policies and ensured that they are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. We have also conducted a detailed survey to understand the current awareness of LGBTQ+ issues within the organisation. While the results of the survey are still awaited, we have had strong positive engagement with the topic within the organization,” she said.