Several years ago, when we were visiting the US to do a story on Silicon Valley stars, a successful entrepreneur came up with a strange reason for not being featured. “My family stays in a village in Bihar,” he said. “If news spreads of how much I am worth, someone may kidnap them and demand a ransom.” We convinced him in the end and there were no kidnappings. But it is the negative thinking that deserves mention.
Almost every survey in recent times has put India on top of the world. In salaries, the country is expected to see the maximum hikes. In job and consumer confidence it is ruling near the top. Even the number crunchers say that the growth rate is likely to overtake China’s soon, though catching up in absolute terms may take a little longer.
Yet if you look at the newspapers, they talk only of how Infosys has frozen salaries. There are jobs aplenty, but we pay more heed to the Cassandras who now say that Indians are not job ready. A few years ago, overpopulation was the issue and the perpetual pessimists (practically everybody seems to be one) said that the country would implode as the jobless engineered a revolution. Tomorrow, the problem will be de-growth in population numbers — as is happening in Japan and Europe — and we will talk about the good old days when labour was aplenty.
Consider a most mundane occupation — the housemaid or man servant. There was a time when Orissa and Bihar used to supply the needs of the rest of the country. Then came Nepal. Now it's Bangladesh. Already, Man Fridays have vanished; maids are still available but at exorbitant rates. Tomorrow every housewife will have to fend for herself. In the UK, domestic labour used to be the second-biggest occupational category after agriculture. Today, the butler for one is on the verge of extinction.
Times change. Progress and technology makes certain occupations obsolete. It's a safe prediction that 10 years later, information technology (IT) will no longer be what it is now. Will IT companies fade away? Certainly not; they will evolve the way they have from body-shoppers to knowledge partners. But they certainly won’t need the huge number of cubicle warmers they employ today. For those unable to change, pessimism is the only option.
But there is a curious side to the polls that throw up fewer pessimists while anecdotal evidence seems to indicate fewer jobs, reduced pay hikes and pressure to outperform. Every survey — by a variety of global pollsters — indicates a double digit salary increase in 2012 for Indians across most sectors. Every unrelated media report indicates a wage freeze. So what's going on?
One view is that the reports are rigged. It is easier for companies to get away with lower pay hikes if the Cassandras are in full cry. It is simple for the folks in the HR department to give interviews and talk about hard times.
Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh now has a different theory. He feels that Indians as individuals are very optimistic; in a group they turn pessimists. Around the water cooler they talk about a slowdown and how changing jobs is becoming more difficult. Back at their desk, they make up their minds that if they don’t get a 50 per cent hike this year, they will jump ship.
Is there is any logical reason for this happening? Singh cites several. First, your company won't think you are planning to leave. Second, your colleagues won’t surface as competition for the new job. Thirdly, the fates won’t gang up on you; the evil eye is very active in this country.
All this needs research to verify. India, however, is very data challenged. An interesting piece of research that has just landed up in my email is on which urinal a person should go to in a men’s loo to ensure the maximum chances of privacy. The results suggest that he should choose the urinal furthest from the door. Profound? Not necessarily. But all we do in India is loose talk around the water cooler.
A happy state?
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