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Taming the Job Hopper

Shorter employee stints is a new reality. Here is what managements are doing to build loyalty and get teams to deliver
twitter-logoE Kumar Sharma | Print Edition: December 29, 2019
Taming the Job Hopper
Illustration by Raj Verma

Profile, package and location. It is what a job offers on these three counts that matters, says Ayesha, a 27-year-old freshly minted management graduate. In June this year, she thought she had got all three when she landed herself a job at a leading aerospace company in Bengaluru. But it was not to be. "I joined as a programme manager but the project I was to be a part of was shelved, and here I was, far removed from what I was hired for."

Today, she is working in Mumbai at a leading private sector bank as a product manager. "It is a marketing job and I have to stretch myself, putting in 11 hours at work. Despite compromising on the location, this at least suits my profile requirements." But Ayesha (not her real name) is far from settled. In three years, she expects to move on from here as she says that location will matter yet again due to family compulsions.

While her quest for a happy career continues, Anirudh, 25, is getting his "exit plan" ready even before he joins a leading Indian company. "I need an exit plan as it is a great organisation but still a lala company. I may have to keep my options open." He is not enthused by his mother's plan to celebrate the start of his career.

A cursory look at LinkedIn profiles is enough to realise that the young are switching jobs faster than any time in history. A global study on multi-generation workforce management conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has found that on an average, Gen Z (born after 1995) professionals are likely to switch jobs 15 times during their career in comparison to their grandparents, who changed jobs only four times in their career. Achal Khanna, CEO, SHRM India and Business Head, APAC & MENA, says, "This is a reality today." Giving the India numbers, T. Muralidharan, Chairman of HR services firm TMI Group, says, "On a like-to-like basis (same sector, function and job role), the residency period (time between joining and leaving) within an organisation has clearly come down by 25-30 per cent in the last decade." He has concluded this from the three lakh resumes that his firm sees every year.

As employee retention becomes a growing challenge, companies are finding cures with a number of old and new antidotes. From engaging more deeply with employees, opening up communication channels wider and seeking new ways to align their business interests with the aspirations of the current day talent to reviewing hiring, reward and recognition metrics and allowing employee self-growth, the companies are doing everything they can to find win-win solutions for their own as well as their employees' growth.

The question is - can all this work, considering that the nature of jobs itself has changed (high prevalence of project-based and gig work), as has the nature of employees (younger, looking for faster growth and fewer things to tie them up in one place)?

Honing Hour

"It is important to satiate the need of the young to learn more. In October last year (2018), we started an Invest-in-Yourself-Hour (9.30 am to 10.30 am) that people use to learn and get better at what they do," says C.K. Ranganathan, Chairman and Managing Director of CavinKare. After a pilot, it is being rolled out across 30 per cent of the organisation. The aim to cover the entire company in the next year or two to reach between 550 and 600 employees (other than the field force, which is trained separately). At frequent intervals, the company asks people to give presentations on what they have learnt and how they can deploy this new knowledge. In April this year, the company restated its values and to the "core pillars" of ethical behaviour, innovation, excellence and ownership added 'openness' and 'thinking big.' Over the last three years, it has also put in a system to ensure exposure and freedom of expression. Ranganathan says a range of people, from formulators to packaging people, participate in business review meetings. "All of these have brought down our attrition level to almost half of what it was three years ago." Now, efforts are on to look at peer mentoring, he says.

Hiring Metrics

Hiring policies have a key role to play. "We hire from leading business schools but look for attitude and not domain knowledge," says Ranganathan. The key is emotional quotient that covers both managing self and others. A 'can do' attitude, perseverance, motivation and empathy matter, so does the ability to handle rejection.

These issues have bothered many industry veterans and management thinkers. "An engaged employee who is coached, mentored and given the right job will deliver outstanding results and that is how the company triggers a virtuous cycle and grows," says S. Sivakumar, Head of agri and IT businesses at ITC. Seeing it as a subject that has got the attention of management gurus, he refers to the work of Sumantra Ghoshal and Lynda Gratton nearly two decades ago and his own conversations with Ghoshal. He says much of ITC's approach is in tune with the three elements of human capital the two gurus talked about - intellectual capital, social capital and emotional capital. At ITC, he says, the focus is on all three areas - be it building intellectual capital or skills, tools, techniques and ability to solve managerial problems; social capital, where an employee is encouraged to build and harness his or her social network; and finally, emotional capital, building, among other things, a bias for action. Sivakumar says the concept of loyalty today is not really about staying with a company but more about the extent to which a person sees his or her human capital getting enhanced.

Expansion of job bandwidth can play a crucial role in motivating employees. He gives an example from the agri business. "Someone into buying agri commodities in one state could become a manager covering activities beyond commodities, including rural marketing and financial services and, eventually, grow into a regional head role leading multiple branches." While this may happen in other companies too, a growing organisation such as ITC creates many more such opportunities, he says. And while ITC is a behemoth spread across businesses, he says, "We are far more entrepreneurial than others of this size." In fact, he says, the company believes in professional entrepreneurs and also has a term for it - "Proneurs", involved in each business and its start-up initiatives. "At any given point in time, there would be about 200 such start-ups at ITC, and this has been a growing trend over the years," he says.

So, has all this lowered attrition? "On a like-to-like basis, our attrition will be at about 70 per cent of the average industry attrition in the peer group in the different industries that we operate. However, I must add that relative attrition is higher than in the past, say 10-15 years ago, but is still better than others."

To R. Anandakrishnan, Executive Vice President, HR & IT, TVS Motor Company, "It is all about career development of people and that alone will help people stay in an organisation." It is about the kind of learning they can get by working in multiple areas. The idea is to align interests of the individual with that of the business. What about attrition? "Our attrition levels are no more than 5.5 to 6 per cent."

"Talent management will always be a work in progress and evolving. In keeping with this, TVS Motor has put in place a series of measures, including a five-day week since April, greater focus on diversity, moving people around for greater all-round growth, and sponsor higher studies in some cases."

The Company Story

Manu N. Wadhwa, Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) at Sony Pictures Networks India, says high mobility is usually seen among the new recruits. If five years ago, the usual tenure was five-seven years, it is now two-three years. Sony Pictures, which she joined from Coke in April, has been alive to this and has started several initiatives to become an organisation people would love to join. For instance, it has opted for an agile POD format where people with skill sets that complement each other are put together for a task, and at the end of the project, the team is not dismantled but is allotted to yet another project. Here, people come together to work on business solutions - such as dealing with the new tariff order which was released in April this year - rather than focus only on issues of their respective departments. Also, she says, collaboration is the new mantra. The company has also launched a new performance management system that is more about continuous discussion and dialogue. Earlier this year, it put in place a programme to facilitate co-creation of strategy wherein people from different functions work on critical priorities. When asked what makes senior leaders like herself move, she says the key reasons for job change in her case have centered around learning and opportunity to solve new and complex problems while operating at scale. This has made her work with companies like GE, American Express, Coke and, now, Sony.

There is a sector component too, says Balaji Uppala, a former student of IIM-A. In consulting, for instance, he points to an "Up-or-out" environment as most expect a jump every two years.

"Building loyalty is a two-way street," says S. Ramnarayan, Professor at Indian School of Business and expert on organisational behaviour. Giving examples of players such as the Rs 2,000 crore Chennai-based FMCG player CavinKare to construction behemoth L&T, he says there are a host of things that companies can do to ensure that the employee is engaged. Critical to these efforts is creating an environment of trust and keeping channels of communication open. "Conversations with new recruits on what they expect and the drivers that go into analysing their individual performance are very important," says the professor.

"You have to pay the market price and need not wait for year-end review to reward high performance," says Ranganathan of CavinKare. This, he says, is as important as the other aspects, especially employee self-growth.

Digital Dive, New Ways

With the nature of work changing - as companies depend more on gig workers and project-based work and take their businesses on the digital route - the challenges can only rise. "The danger lies in keeping the focus more on digital rather than leading and transformation," says S. Ramnarayan, cautioning that while digital teams getting higher compensation may be the new workplace reality, perhaps because of short talent supply, it is important that adequate investment is made to ensure that enough is done for proper integration between digital and business units.

What about the new ways of doing business that the companies are adopting and the new kinds of work that is getting created as a result? Arun Sundararajan, professor at New Yorks NYU Stern School of Business and author of the book "The Sharing Economy- The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism", says, "Full-time employment is still an excellent work arrangement in many contexts, and I expect it will continue to be a dominant work arrangement for many years. Thus, the core group of an organisation will not shrink excessively." However, the role of managers will shift and expand, he says. "Managers in the future will need much greater expertise in project management and design thinking to successfully orchestrate teams with mixed work arrangements. Thinking like an entrepreneur will be another advantageous capability."

@EKumarSharma

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