NYTimes India Ink carries a lot of nice things. Sometimes though, it does not. As an example, this hectoring “An Open Letter to India’s Graduate Classes” delivered from a position of moral, ethical and overall-I-am-awesome-and-you-are-not superiority. Here is my response.
Dear Prospective Indian employer,
This is your prospective/current employee. We are your Indian workforce,the worker-ants who build the vaunted “brand name”.You make us work 12 hour-work-days day in and day out. Weekends, for you, are just weekdays with different names. You call us at one in the night and if we do not pick up, you write in our annual evaluation “Does not go beyond the call of duty”. Our low hourly rates are the givers of your dividends. We are asked to guarantee our employment by signing bonds while you, as the company, retain the right to fire at will. And finally, we are the ones who are supposed to feel blessed that you have given us the opportunity to build India’s economic might by writing Java code.
Life is good—except that it’s not. Many of us don’t know it yet though. Having freshly graduated, we are kind of naive. Plus that presentation your HR lady gave us during campus recruitment, the one that had taken-off-the-Net stock images of smiling happy white people, was rather impressive. “Growing together with the company”, “work-life-balance”, “family”, “we reward performance” . Nice. We should have been gearing ourselves up for broken promises and unmet expectations but then as we said, we are naive. If we were not, we would put greater faith in “I am a Nigerian widow with 10 million dolllars to give you” emails than in that corporate presentation.
Today, we regret to inform you that you are spoiled. You have been spoiled by the “India growth story”, by an illusion that you can continue to make money by relying on cheap Indian skilled labor forever. You have been spolied by a subservient work-force historically conditioned to tremble in front of authority.You have also, it seems, started believing the PR you peddle. As a great man once said “Never get high on your own supply”. So a bit of detox is needed.
So why this letter, and why should you read on, seeing that I am making gross generalizations about “Indian employers”, affixing stereotypical labels on a heterogeneous group. Well if you can make generalizations, so can we. And we are after all 15-to-20-year olds (or have brains like them), so we are sure we can be excused for a bit of counter-ranting.
Well, because based on collective experience of working for Indian employers, some truths have become apparent. Read on to understand what your employees really want, besides leeching office supplies.
There are five key attributes Indian employees typically seek and, in fact, will value more and more in the future. Unfortunately, these are often lacking in you and your fellow Indian companies.
1. You treat your employees like human beings.
A rather basic requirement really. And yet you are unable to satisfy even this. For starters, kindly get rid of the whole “going above the call of duty” thing. No one should be expected to “stretch yourself to work longer hours”. When a large number of people are expected to work over-time, it means that proper allocation of tasks to resources has not been done. Which means a big fail for you, dear Indian employers. It is not ok to call us while we are having dinner or sitting in the hospital waiting room at one at night. Understand the concept of “work-life” balance. If you cannot, take a good look at “global” employer practices, like those in the US and Europe. There people come at 9, go home at 5 oclock and stay home.
2. You pay your employees on time.
Another rather basic requirement isnt it? Someone works for a month and gets paid at the end of it. Except Indian employers do not exactly believe in that simple, time-tested global model. That’s why we hear of big corporations not providing salaries for months and then deriving positive PR when they actually do settle accounts of the lowest-paid of their workers. A friend recently left a job with another big “Indian employer”. They withheld a few days of her pay. Why? Cause they could.
3. You allow people to ask questions, engage deeply and dissent.
If you want to have your employees be original, encourage that activity. Instead what you do is pat on the back the yes-men, those who pitch in to help when boss’s son gets married or drive him to the airport. If you want “out of the box’performance, first of all come up with a word that is more “out of the box” than “out of the box”. Once that is done, kindly devise a corporate strategy that focuses on innovation. Because you see, if you bid for “by-rote” jobs, then you cannot expect your employees to express themselves creatively while still following “processes”. Not that they don’t do so, performing 80 hours of work in 40 does require a lot of intelligence, focus and brains. But if you want Google and Apple-type employees, change your business model first. Maybe, then perhaps maybe, the employees shall follow.
4. You devote resources to building skill-sets rather than “training”.
Dogs get trained. People develop skill-sets. If you really want “great” employees, and yes our educational system does do a lousy job of making graduates, then why don’t you do things right? Exhibit: A friend who, working for a major Indian IT firm, was kept in “training” for a year. This constituted mostly of sitting in meetings where he stayed silent cause he had only a vague idea of what was going on). For variety, he would be asked to read prescribed books and manuals (ramp-up module was what HR called it). He quit a year later, went to the US, got a Masters and now works at a Silicon Valley start-up “thinking outside the box”. The same dumb kaamchor Indian employee. The benefits of good training, I tell you.
5. You are honest and professional.
If you expect your new employees to be honest and professional, set the standard yourself, dear Indian employer. That means no Satyam Shivam Sunderam, no immigrant visa hera-pheri, no cooking of books, no housing five developers in one single room in New Jersey, and other assorted kindly-adjusts that we know happen. If you want to say “Everyone does it” then don’t single out your employees.
So what can we conclude Indian employers?
We, the Indian employee, do not want to send you a message. After all who are you, Indian employer? You are also, individually, Indian employees. Also a product of the same system, with your strategies and ways of doing business mirroring the system’s faults and limitations.
No problem there. Just stop the sanctimonious finger-pointing claptrap.