Written by Sumeet Iyer
As part of a recent Poocho study aimed at Unpacking the Great Resignation, I spoke to professionals who switched jobs during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The interviews focussed on understanding their motivations and considerations for a job change, challenges they faced, and expectations and experiences at their new job. I spoke to Kinnari*, a young IT professional serving her notice period at a multinational IT services and consulting company. Kinnari’s experiences with HR teams and recruiters highlighted some of the inherent challenges and roadblocks in current HR policies in large organisations. It also brought out interesting perspectives on a young Millennial’s view of work and career, especially relevant in what seems like the beginning of a long winter.
- 27 years old
- Living with parents / family
- Personal income ₹ 10.1 lakhs - 20 lakh
Back to the starting point
Kinnari had moved to a multinational IT services and consulting company in 2021. At the time of this conversation, she was already looking for her next job, less than a year into the job. I asked her why.
“So previously when I switched, that was due to (work) becoming mundane, the work was becoming monotonous for me…I worked only from home. I've seen the pattern of companies after working from home, it was difficult for everyone to grasp work, do the work from home and balance work and life because that was very challenging. So when we started doing that (WFH), the work hours were stretched...from nine hours to some 10 to 11 hours. In offices, we don't even work for nine hours completely, we have multiple breaks, tea breaks, snack breaks, lunch breaks. That pattern, I would say, became the culture, that you have to be here for nine hours at least, then you may have to stretch.” It sounded like a culture Kim Kardashian would approve of. So what led to the decision to look out this time, I asked. That sounded familiar too.
“I'm currently living in Delhi with my parents for the last two years. But my location was Pune. They started opening the offices in November, they sent us an email saying that they’re following a hybrid model, you have to come to the office for two or three days, on alternate days… It was not easy for me to relocate in that short a span of time…I asked for a transfer, but (with that) there are chances that I might lose my project..the whole team is in Pune...they are not allowing transfers, so I may need to change projects.”
There seemed to be a consideration of convenience on the face of it, but her reasons were more strategic and well-considered. “In these companies, there’s a policy of bench, wherein, if you are moving from a project, you will be ‘on bench,’ and then someone from another project will hire you. That is very uncertain, and in this case, there are chances that you might very much get laid off from the company. They might terminate you without giving any reason because you are on bench and these things affect hikes and performance incentives. So that was the reason I didn't want to be on bench. I’ve seen these companies lay off 50,000, 30,000 people during the pandemic. So I decided to switch to a nearby location, so that it would be easy for me if the offices reopen, I would be able to go to the office and then come home. I don't feel that I should go to Pune, for alternate days. If it’s completely re-opening then it's good…”
The game of poker begins
The wheels of The Great Resignation had been set in motion. Moving was the only option for Kinnari. I wanted to delve into her transition plan. ‘Have you put in your papers already?’, I asked. Her instant reply was, “Yes, in the month of December...I put in my papers on December 15th.” We were already a couple of months into 2022 when we spoke. She continued, “These companies have a policy of three months of notice period.” There it was, that pesky 90-day notice period again, I thought. “But due to the pandemic, this is a trend going on, most people are switching right now, a lot of people have switched...a lot of people have lost their jobs and they have switched. Now the company has started making policies to retain people, because with three months of notice period I don't think a lot of companies would hire people.”
Kinnari was looking for options in the Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida area that allowed remote working. She seemed hyper-aware of its practical implications for someone in the IT industry. “This relocation is the reason why I'm (having to) narrow down my opportunities myself, because there are a lot of opportunities outside the city, like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune. At the same time, people were providing permanent work-from-home, so I thought, let's give it a try...maybe I can get a permanent work-from-home or maybe I can get Gurgaon. So it was more difficult for me than the previous one.”
I tried to dig deeper into her job-hunt experience, especially her interactions with prospective employers. “The biggest challenge that I faced was because of my notice period, which is three months. Most companies don't give jobs to people with three months notice period, they directly deny...they don't even schedule a first round of interview.” But what she said next nearly knocked my socks off. “Another thing when I have three months of notice is...suppose in the month of December when I started, when I got the first offer, they told me, ‘You don't have any offer in hand and you have three months of notice period, so we can only offer you this much compensation’. They told me, ‘If you have any counter-offer, then we are ready to offer you beyond this’. That’s a challenge, because, if I have a one-month notice period, I will get calls from a lot of companies and because of this three-month notice period, most people don’t hire. This is actually the main motto of companies to retain people, because if they don't get an offer, they won't leave the company.”
Both sides – Kinnari and the companies she was talking to – were going all in, seeing who’d blink first.
What people are doing is that they are resigning and then starting to search for companies. I was also going to do that if I didn't get any offer…I have seen most people are facing a challenge because of the notice period.
This game of jobswitch poker was cascading into a new behavioural shift – it was fundamentally altering notions of security and stability, and in the process leading to a significant increase in the risk-taking appetite of working professionals. This seemed rather counterintuitive, especially during a period of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But there we were.
The ‘Raja Beta Syndrome’?
I couldn’t help but think that Kinnari wasn’t one of a kind – for choosing to prioritise remote working whilst staying with family or for taking the seemingly risky path of putting in her papers without an offer because she did not want to be on bench. But it did remind me of something that you would’ve likely come across in the comments sections on LinkedIn and Instagram. Among the plethora of young Millennial and GenZ bashing on social media is the ‘raja beta syndrome’ – a rather over-generous application of what was a critique of toxic male entitlement. These new hot takes often, rather problematically, suggest that young Millennials and GenZ ‘want things the easy way,’ that ‘they don’t want to burn the midnight oil’ as it were, or that their expectations of work and compensation are not commensurate with their years of experience. Or rather that their flat-out rejection of normalised toxic work culture and prioritising mental health is an indication of their desire to be treated with kid gloves – hence the ‘raja beta.’ It’s the good ol’ “...back in my day…” generational tussle.
I, for one, couldn't disagree more with this broad brush interpretation of this cohort. Take Kinnari, for example. She was hyper-aware of the fact that HR recruiters and hiring managers would quiz her on the quick move. “In every interview, they asked me the same question - ‘Why are you switching in this short span of time? What is the reason? Why are you doing that? Is it because of the compensation? Is it because of the work culture?’ So this concern was always there. This time, while making my resume, I put in...different tools that I worked on, links to where I've got certifications, links to some projects directly...I put in (all these) in my resume so that they can see what I was doing.”
She also seemed conscious of the fact that she would be required to reorient herself to adapt to product-based companies. “In terms of my skillset...I have to do (some) changes. Another thing I understood during this switch is that I have to be ready to take up responsibilities now. Three years have gone (by), you are not in the early professional phase. Now, during interviews, they ask questions like, ‘Have you managed this team? Have you led this team? Have you ever got the chance or the exposure to lead these many people?’ I had to change this...what I felt was, in my current organisation I lead four to five people, so that gave me the chance to present myself better in the interviews. I changed - ‘Yes I am leading (a team).’ I have to showcase (myself as) the responsible person I am, (something) that I was not doing previously.”
Spoilt for choice
As I reflected on the transcript, I felt that Kinnari was what many in her generation were – clear-headed and forthright, highly self-aware, willing to learn and adapt, but most definitely not open to ‘putting up’ with the status quo just because previous generations did.
Stories of The Great Resignation suggest that managers and hiring teams, especially in large organisations, have been struggling to deal with this. What’s more, it has even set off the next wave of the Great Resignation – with the push back to companies enforcing ‘return to work.’
Just weeks until her 90-day notice period ended, I asked Kinnari where she stood in her job hunt. She seemed to be having to deal with ‘the problem of plenty.’ “I'm still figuring it out...like how will I refuse the first offer if I get this one, because this is in line with my interest...there are technical areas which I got to know during the interview. So now I have two options and I have to weigh them both. Not only considering the compensation...the second one will have better (compensation)...so, that is why I have some inclination towards it. Apart from that, I’m considering the work-life balance, working hours and then the perks and incentives we can get.”
She seemed very sure of what her top considerations were, and she wanted to make sure she was making the right decision. “I read this on LinkedIn, I connected with people from both companies...I have sent connection (requests) to around four to five people from both companies. I have asked them these questions...’How are the working hours? How's the workload? What kind of projects are you getting from my field?’ Apart from that, there are websites like AmbitionBox, Glassdoor, Fishbowl, where I can get to know...I can discuss my queries about compensation, PF, tax, allowances, incentives, perks. (All) that is going to be more in the second company, so that is the reason I'm going to (go with it).”
Kinnari, unintentionally, also offered some words of wisdom. “You should be ready to take that challenge, that even if you don't have a job (yet), you should believe in yourself. Start working on yourself, (in areas) you have not worked on, that you feel is lacking in you and stopping you from switching…stopping you from getting the best opportunity. So there is a personality thing there and we have to come out of our comfort zone.”
Money can’t buy me love
HR teams may have to park ‘Friday Fun’ for now; they sure have their work cut out. Big brands and perks don’t seem enough to lure this generation, they want real and lasting change. Many of these challenges have prevailed for a long time, but the pandemic seemed to be the tipping point. The ‘new normal’ is not likely to ever be the same as the world before, so there are opportunities for companies, especially large companies, to refocus and reprioritise people management policies and hiring processes and become more agile and nimble in a fast changing world.
I spoke to Kinnari again recently. She was happy to report that she had found the opportunity she was looking for, at a mid-sized product-based company.
I thought to myself, that companies, managers and hiring teams must really adapt quickly to these shifting sands. This is not just the usual generational shift. The world around us is changing rather rapidly. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all off our autopilot modes, the other grave challenges that face us – environmental and ecological, social, political and economic – require us to fundamentally change, and quickly. No one is more aware of this, than this generation that is walking into those uncertain times, with significant years ahead of them.
I feel we are already struggling to get into a good job, or to get an interview at least. Then we have to struggle over the notice period as well, which is not in our hands. Then we have to struggle for compensation. These things should be systematic and ‘one for all’...That is a lack in the system and should be changed…they should treat everyone the same.
We hope not just for equality, but equity. No one is free until all of us are free! Onwards.
*Name changed to maintain privacy of the participant.