If you didn’t make money on the stock market this year, you shouldn’t complain about money anymore,” quipped my friend. It’s hard to ignore the year-to-date Sensex gain of 17 per cent, which has been one of the bright spots of 2023 for people invested in equity markets. How about the rest of us who missed it ?

How will you reflect on 2023 as you put in a new calendar on your desk? Depending on your industry, role, employer, personal context, or maybe the parameters you choose to analyse, 2023 may be a year of gain, loss or just a zero-sum game where nothing substantial happened.

If you have had a lengthy work-life like me, you will likely remember the years you got promoted, changed employers for larger roles, got huge bonuses, were sent on overseas assignments, or won best employee awards. If you are a founder, you might like to recall the years you raised significant capital, went public, or acquired companies. But we also know the brain’s negativity bias. It tends to remind us of unpleasant memories more. Are you more likely to remember the years when you were fired, took a salary cut or had to lay off many of your colleagues?

The bitter pill

Let’s start with what’s still hurting the most and will linger on in 2024. 2023 was one of the worst years for engineering freshers as many bellwether IT companies chose to avoid campus hiring. A few lucky graduates who got placed are still dealing with postponements on their joining date from marquee brands. One has to admit that the IT companies in India had big problems to deal with in 2023 when they let go of about 1,10,000 employees. The top eight Indian IT services companies reduced their headcount by 60,000 over the previous year. The Unicorns in Bengaluru shrunk their headcounts by 50,000.

Of the 9 lakh engineers who passed out in 2023, only about 1 lakh people got tech jobs. From the peak of 2021, where six lakh graduate engineers got placed, 2023 was quite a nightmare. Some enterprises took the indirect reduction path by asking their workforce to return to the office. This had unintended consequences, making them lose a more significant percentage of the women workforce.

Silver lining

If Bengaluru-based start-up Unicorns shrunk their headcounts, the Delhi-based Unicorns added 60K to their workforce. In 2023, every working day saw two CXO appointments. One-fourth of these were first-time CXOs. If the IT sector had a net reduction in its workforce, the Indian banking sector added 1,22,000 people. The top eight banks, unlike their top eight IT counterparts, added 76,000 people. About 50 MNCs set up their Global Capability Centres or GCCs in India to access the country’s ever-growing diverse technology talent. About 1,600 GCCs in India, employing nearly 1.6 million professionals, have steadily grown their workforce thanks to the 100-plus new centres that have opened in the last two years.

The zero-sum game?

There were sufficient new opportunities for senior leaders willing to explore new horizons. Bengaluru saw 3,600 senior leaders moving from other States of India. At the same time, 3,000-plus similar corporate leaders relocated from Bengaluru, with top three preferences being Maharashtra, Telangana and Delhi in pursuit of new corporate roles. Most IT companies had 10-14 per cent attrition, and interestingly, they refilled 95 per cent of those roles, indicating that specialist and revenue-generating roles were still in demand. If you worked in a company that neither commercially performed nor gave any hikes to you but still held on to you, would you be grateful that you survived or complain that it was a zero-sum game for you?

The bravehearts

Yes, only two start-ups turned Unicorns in 2023, but still, there were about 955 new enterprises that got funded. But these funding rounds paled in comparison to the year before. Should we not, however, be lauding the fact that about 1,000 brave entrepreneurs still convinced VCs to write cheques and influenced new employees to join them? With 240 IPOs hitting the bourses, the action was difficult to miss, and the promoters, their employees and the institutions who backed them need to be applauded for being resilient and optimistic during a choppy year.

Many enterprises gloat with their ‘best places to work’ certificates every year. However, it seems that the best place to work is overseas, as proven by lakhs of Indians who emigrate every year. In terms of inward forex remittances, 2023 was a record year for India; non-residents working overseas remitted a whopping $125 billion.


Is there a spring or summer after a year of winter waiting for us as we enter 2024? Many in the hiring market are still unsure if recruitment and increments will be any better for the next two quarters. Nevertheless, the latest BCG report that surveyed 11,000 people in eight countries, including India, says 26 per cent of Indians are looking to switch jobs next year. So there are more bravehearts out there than cynics. With two large democracies that matter to us heading to an election year, and another bumper year for Indian IPOs predicted, one can be more hopeful after a mixed 2023!

The optimists have been saying, “This is not the time to bet against India.” Should we also add that one shouldn’t bet against the youngest workforce in the world?

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carrol sums up: “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast! Else, if you are only running fast, it will keep you in the same place.”

I hope that is not true for 2024!

(Kamal Karanth is co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm)