A young woman committed suicide in Hyderabad on Tuesday after being told she could be laid off by her employers. Pogaku Harini, a 24-year-old software professional, left a note in her diary before she killed herself, asking for her organs to be donated.
As the year draws to a close IT sector employees are on tenterhooks. This is the time of annual appraisals and they spend hours worrying they might be on a list of people who receive formal warnings or, worse still, are asked to leave. Such fears are why the Telangana Information Technology Association has come out in support of employees struggling to cope with the pressure of an economic recession that is eating up jobs.
"About 18 per cent of employees in every project are being put in rating 4... this means they will be given 45-60 days to improve their performance. If they do not improve they will be asked to leave. This is much higher than the usual 10 per cent or less," Sundeep Kumar Makthana, a member of the association, said.
The Telangana Information Technology Association is a platform providing employees an opportunity to talk about their fears and their job situations. It offers counseling and chances to upskill as well as requests support from the industry and the government.
However, membership to such organisations is not allowed by corporate firms.
"We are not allowed any kind of union activity. Even this kind of meeting, where we make statements, can be used against us," a mid-career IT professional, who refused to be named for fear of repercussions, told NDTV.
"Very often we are in ivory towers with no contact with the outside world or even our peers. So we get very isolated and when things go bad, there is no one to turn to for help," Harika, an IT professional, added.
Most IT employees who lose their jobs are mid-career professionals. However, the support organisation says young recruits pose problems too, albeit of a different nature.
Concerns over the welfare and mental health of IT workers assumes significance after US-based Cognizant announced what could be the biggest ever job cut in the country - as many as 13,000 people could be let go. Of this number between 10,000 and 20,000 are in mid-to-senior positions.
A similar trend is evident in other IT companies... a trend that takes a toll on financial, physical and emotional well-being of their employees, who quote a study by NIMHANS that says IT professionals report higher levels of substance abuse, depression and suicide.
Employees say using "poor appraisals" as a way to meet lay off targets is a common tactic. They say corporates should be open about projects that have closed or downsized instead of blaming employees, which can "shatter confidence of individuals".
Among their demands is that IT firms must give six months' pay instead of two, as is now the case during severance. The companies must also, they say, provide for training so laid off employees can be hired elsewhere.
The other issue is to transfer from involuntary to voluntary exits. Companies never use the term layoff, employees say, adding that it is they who must live with the "poor performance" tag.
There are over five lakh IT employees in Telangana; it is a pyramid structure meaning mid-level jobs are the worst hit.
"These are often people with EMIs to pay and children and parents to support. Even health and life insurance is gone when the job is gone," employees say.
Last year 7 people who were let go by Cognizant went to the Labour Commissioner; they managed to get six months' salary but employees believe they were black-marked in their hunt for a new job.
(If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist.)
- AASRA: 91-22-27546669 (24 hours)
- Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (24 hours)
- Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 1860-2662-345 and 1800-2333-330 (24 hours)
- iCall: 022-25521111 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
- Connecting NGO: 18002094353 (Available from 12 pm - 8 pm)