Why 2009-2019 is the decade of the employee

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on December 18, 2019 Published on December 18, 2019

Three trends — social media, technology and start-ups — have rewritten the power equation in enterprises

The first year of a new decade, 2020, is knocking at our doors. However, I can’t help but rewind to 2009 when I hesitantly created a LinkedIn account.

It wasn’t a good day. We were in the middle of a merger, and my boss was exiting. I concluded an unpleasant call with him and left my office at Kuala Lumpur. By the time I reached home, my Yahoo email had flagged a new message from a Detroit-based recruiter asking for my phone number. So, in about eight hours after debuting on LinkedIn, a Fortune 500 Company was interviewing me for a Country GM role.

That was the first time I realised the power of this new media in hiring.

Fast forward to 2019; my HR head asked a departing colleague to write a review about the company on Glassdoor. I believe the employee cheekily responded, “I can only give a negative review. If you can stomach that, tell me do you want me to write that?” My HR head went quiet and never followed up with her ex-colleague again. Do you need more evidence about the power of employee-voice now amplified by a public platform?

In my view, social media has had the maximum impact on talent and enterprises in the last decade. However, my colleagues have passionately argued with me that technology has holistically changed talent and enterprise behaviour.

I can’t help but add the impact of start-ups on the world of work. Let me start with start-ups.

Start-ups, the new status symbol?

In the previous decade, we were mostly romanticising the extraordinary growth story of Infosys as there were far and few examples. This decade has thrown at least 50 such stories to celebrate. Picture the following three scenarios: A fresh graduate joining a start-up over a large corporate offer; Experienced corporate professionals joining enthusiastic entrepreneurs and talented senior executives dumping their comfortable CXO roles to become founders. We take these significant trends for granted today; weren’t these movements considered a big risk ten years ago?

Today, when I tell people that I am a struggling entrepreneur, I see an approving smile.

If I had said that during my CEO days, I possibly would have got sacked by my then employer. Yes, it would be an exaggeration to claim that working for a start-up or being an entrepreneur is the new status symbol.

However, we can’t deny that during this decade, start-ups have gained acceptance and seamlessly integrated into our lives. If you are still a cynic, try ignoring the thousands of start-ups with unbelievable growth and valuations that have created millions of jobs this decade.

Tech — Invasion or facilitation?

We have seen rapid adoption of technology — from hiring to the exit employee lifecycle — in this decade. Though the jury is out whether technology has increased employee experience or productivity, it has allowed organisations to scale faster. Online assessment tools, video interviews, learning tools, and employee engagement apps have enabled organisations to multiply their people-centric efforts manifold.

Yes, technology has increased the possibilities of remote working and increased the participation of the workforce, which otherwise would have got excluded.

However, technology also has made people work round the clock or take work home, and this struggle to balance work and personal life has further increased the stress.

Organisations who owned and controlled technology access to employees now have to eat humble pie as cheaper mobile phones, and broadband access have democratised the tools via technology. Employees are also judging and choosing their employers based on the technology tools they adopt, forcing organisations to be in sync with the rapidly changing tech landscape.

Towards the end of the decade, we also saw the initial impact of the automation of jobs. Though the extent of automation resulting in job losses will only be felt in the next decade, automation has already given a glimpse of what work would look like.

With digital being at the forefront for all organisations, more MNCs have set up or scaled up their India technology centres who collectively employ a million workers today.

On the positive side, technology expansion has created many specialised jobs leading to highly paid employment for the deserved.

There hasn’t been a better time to pass out of the IITs than this decade, thanks to the start-ups and MNC Tech centres.

Social media: Distraction or elevation?

Enterprises are undecided on whether they have benefited or been affected adversely by social media. On the one hand, they have got better visibility of their future hires, whereas, on the other, their most visible employees are likely to be poached more often. LinkedIn, FB, Instagram, Twitter have given a broader pool to hire.

However, the same platforms and Glassdoor have put additional pressure on employers to take care of their employees to enhance their employer brand. Employers are forced to increase their rewards and recognition efforts internally and externally. If they don’t, they will be left behind watching their employees celebrate career milestones on social media appreciated by their colleagues and competitors.

Some employers moan that the WhatsApp generation has got increasingly distracted, lowering productivity, whereas many have used WhatsApp for collaboration and recognition. Some smart enterprises have also increased their brand visibility by engaging their employees as a brand. Social media is acting as an additional incentive for many employees to voluntarily participate in CSR initiatives. In a nutshell, social media has democratised personal branding for employees.

Additionally, the competitive pressure of real-time social media is influencing the workforce. We see talent becoming more aspirational and competitive after observing their peer group on social media announcing their new, coveted roles. It is difficult to deny that social media pressure is also causing a shorter tenure among working professionals due to their increased access to competitors and their vulnerability to peer pressure.

New realities

The latter part of the decade saw organisations adopting HR Tech tools like never before. The #MeToo movement saw employers becoming more sensitive towards workplace sexual harassment, and also new regulations like POSH. The awareness and efforts towards diversity hiring have intensified this decade.

On the appraisal front, many progressive organisations have already moved to real-time feedback mode and eliminated the dated annual review systems. The freelancing model or gig work is raising its head as employees with niche skills are choosing the time and work they want to be part of. It’s also true that we are experiencing and accepting more layoffs due to changes in technology and macro-economic situations. The workforce is now proudly declaring their vacations like a badge of honour; Unlike the past decade, employees now declare leave than applying for it.

We entered this decade when employers chose their employees and are ending it where employees are choosing their employers.

Even a pessimist would admit that talent has been winning this decade!

Kamal Karanth is co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing solutions company

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Published on December 18, 2019
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