Anxiety in India’s techdom: layoffs causing high levels of depression
Earlier this month, Indian IT services giant Infosys announced the opening of a center in North Carolina that will employ 2,000 tech workers. It plans to open four such centers to keep its pledge to hire 10,000 Americans, following US president Donald Trump’s pushback against non-immigrant visas that companies were using to bring tech workers to the US.
The other side of this coin is a spate of layoffs in India. The country’s top seven IT companies, including Infosys, Wipro, and Cognizant, are laying off at least 56,000 techies this year, according to media reports. Some predict 600,000 jobs in the tech and BPO sectors in India would go in the next five years.
Wipro, for example, laid off 600 employees after its performance appraisal cycle in April.
That prompted mental health startup YourDost – dost means ‘friend’ in Hindi – to launch a campaign to support professionals who lost their jobs. It hosted a toll-free helpline number, where its team of psychologists and career coaches counselled for free and also offered career guidance. In three days – between June 29 and July 1 – it received over 1,000 enquiries, including 260 calls and around 800 chats.
The insights it gathered from the campaign are startling.
- 62.5 percent of the professionals who called the helpline suffer from anxiety, depression, and related issues due to job and financial insecurity.
- 63 percent of them had savings of less than 3 months’ pay.
- 57 percent of the callers had not sought help from family or friends.
- Most of them had less than two years of work experience and had been unemployed for 3 months or more.
- Most of the callers were men in the age group of 24-29.
- Bangalore’s home state Karnataka topped the share of calls at 15 percent, followed by Maharashtra at 12 percent, and Delhi at 11 percent.
The sudden loss of a job can have an emotional impact that takes time to overcome. It ranges from the initial shock and disbelief to sadness, anger, and low self-esteem. And even if well-wishers advise people to use it as an opportunity to open new doors, it’s easier said than done.
According to an independent study by the University of East Anglia and the What Works Center for Wellbeing, losing a job can be an emotional blow sharper than being widowed or getting divorced. Those who experience it are most likely to recover only if they find a job that comes with higher pay and/or higher prestige.
Even the messengers who have to give away pink slips tend to take a body blow and run a high risk of burnout. An HBR report says HR managers who had to lay off employees felt stigmatized, “like the grim reaper,” and personally responsible for negatively impacting people’s lives.
The IT services field has the added complication of being itself in a state of flux, with the rise of automation. The bulk of Indian engineering colleges, except for a few premier ones, have been churning out low-skilled tech workers, many of whom got absorbed and trained in the IT services industry. It’s a tough ask to get into higher value tech jobs, which require a different training and mindset.
Some see a positive fallout from the IT industry’s layoffs on the emerging tech startup ecosystem in India, with more tech workers being available to startups. But the nature of jobs in IT services is different from the requirements in most tech startups. The next few years will be a painful process of transition for many.
The tech startup space, meanwhile, is emerging from a corrective phase, which saw a steep fall in funding and a spate of shutdowns last year. The funding level has rebounded to some extent in 2017, thanks to a steady flow of early stage investments and a few mega deals.
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