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India: Retaining Talent Amid the Great Resignation

A man is holding a cardboard box full of items.

When India's major information technology companies, such as Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys, reported their quarterly corporate earnings recently, one common theme was high attrition. Employees in the IT industry have been in great demand, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the adoption of additional technology by organizations around the world.

In India, that's been a key driver behind a stream of employees quitting jobs, leading to the so-called Great Resignation. How should HR manage talent in these times? Experts discussed this question during the recent SHRM India Annual Conference, which was held virtually.

"I think we're seeing this Great Resignation because we haven't personalized. We haven't made something that works for you," said Dave Ulrich, director of the HR executive program at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Inadequate compensation, poor work/life balance and burnout are top reasons why people are thinking of quitting, according to a spontaneous poll of the audience attending the SHRM India conference.

"People are not just moving on for money," said Anil Santhapuri, head of learning and development at CGI, an IT and consulting services firm in Bengaluru, India. "In the pandemic, something else is happening. It's called YOLO - 'You Only Live Once.' "

Employees are re-evaluating their values, priorities and career choices, especially in the IT and knowledge industry, where work can be done effectively from anywhere, Santhapuri said. But he added that people quitting jobs isn't necessarily all bad.

Santhapuri explained that global research over the past decade has shown that only one-third of employees are actively engaged with their organizations, while another third of workers are moderately engaged and the rest aren't engaged at all.

"Maybe the Great Resignation is not so bad for organizations if you're losing not-so-actively-engaged employees," he said.

People charting offbeat career paths are even helping some organizations, such as startup enterprises that look to hire people with a higher risk appetite.

"We're getting a lot more people who are experimenting, leaving very comfortable corporate jobs, who can step into high-growth jobs and at the same time say, 'I want flexibility, and these are my terms to get in,' " said Nupur Mehta, vice president of human resources at Nium, a startup firm that provides payment technology solutions in Mumbai. Mehta said her company has hired 60 percent of its now 700-person staff during the pandemic.

Encouraging Employees to Stay

To retain talent in these times, experts said, organizations must first ensure that employee compensation is competitive.

"One of the key tenets of modern HR is to take the issue of money off the table," Santhapuri said. Next, take a comprehensive look at the benefits and rewards being offered to employees.

Companies can look to understand the differing priorities of each employee and then tailor their benefits accordingly.

For instance, new recruits starting out their careers may value coming to a physical workplace and bonding with their colleagues to collaborate and innovate. However, young mothers who have to find day care for their children, which has been tricky amid the pandemic, may be more interested in remote work.

"There's going to be a huge customization … in terms of benefits for various personas," said Chandrashekarr B S, head of total rewards in India for Adobe, a Bengaluru software maker, where health benefits are a big priority. The company has increased its wellness reimbursement by $50 a year to $600 and is offering employees wellness apps, including one that provides guided meditation, Chandrashekarr said.

Flexibility Is Key

At startup companies, which tend to hire younger employees, flexibility can be the most valued benefit because most new employees want guidelines but not policies, Mehta said. At the same time, HR has to navigate the "always on" culture of startups and still offer work/life balance to employees.

"Being in a hyper-growth company, burnout is my biggest challenge," Mehta said.

In addition to benefits, rewards and compensation, experts said, employees gravitate to organizations that offer career growth. At Nium, for instance, Mehta said she has seen top talent joining with the idea that they will launch their own startup companies three years down the line.

"They're looking at the experience that you're giving, and they're OK to compromise on the compensation," Mehta said.

At large organizations, existing employees say they seek a clear road map for their career development over the next 12 to 18 months.

"Nobody is going to talk about a three-year and five-year plan," Chandrashekarr said. "Everyone wants a near line of sight."

Training employees in new skills is one way to keep employees engaged. "If you can show them what they're doing here is also going to help them build a long-term career, that's a great way to retain them," Santhapuri said.

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.


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