'No dignity': Widespread layoffs in India; lack of transparency and support leaves employees shaken

Downsizing in companies across the board raises concerns about employee well-being and communication strategy in times of distress.

By  Storyboard18Apr 16, 2024 9:26 AM
'No dignity': Widespread layoffs in India; lack of transparency and support leaves employees shaken
Distress groups on WhatsApp are on the rise where employees are connecting to share stories and highlight the lack of empathy in organisations. Meanwhile, job search groups on WhatsApp are seeing a surge in CVs.

“I am one of the employees who got laid off over a call without any proper reason stating role redundancy and company restructuring. I have been a part of this team for 3 years and more, as an employee I do understand the situation of the company. My only question is- When am I going to receive salary for the month of February?,” read an excerpt from Aliviya Das’s last week’s post on LinkedIn.

Das was the sales team lead at embattled edtech company Byju’s. She was laid off in March 2024 as a part of the company’s massive downsizing drive.

According to her social media post, her emails have been deactivated and there has been no communication on promised compensation, pay slips or anything else. “For past 15 days and I haven’t heard anything from them,” she wrote in the public post.

The edtech firm recently laid off 500 staffers. The overall number is much higher after multiple rounds of layoff. However, Byju's is not an isolated example. With varying reasons for mass layoffs and job cuts, Google, Amazon, ebay, Meta, Swiggy, Flipkart, Paytm, Cult.fit and many more, have all handed out pink slips to employees over 2023 and 2024.

Many companies are labelling these developments as ‘rationalisation of costs’. Employees are being told they have lost their jobs over calls or emails without any roadmap or guidance or compensation packages. Distress groups on WhatsApp are on the rise, where employees are connecting to share stories and highlight the lack of empathy in organisations. Meanwhile, job search groups on WhatsApp are seeing a surge in CVs.

Furthermore, crisis-hit edtech and fintech firms Byju's and Paytm have seen a surge in their employees who are looking for safer pastures and going on job hunts, instead of waiting to be cut. A 5X jump was reported in jobseekers from Paytm in the days that followed the RBI crackdown on the company.

Usually, the typical active count of accessible talent from Paytm was in the 800 to 1,200 range. However, the job market currently has over 6,000 active and accessible talent from Paytm and over 7000 employees at Byju's are currently active and accessible in the job market, as per reports from earlier this year.

Storyboard18 spoke to people who have the experience of being laid off in the recent past. Besides the financial strain and "crippling anxiety", laid off workers' grouses are the lack of empathy and support (wellbeing, career and financial - in terms of severance pay or other assistance) and "callous" handling of employees - sending termination emails without warning, emails going out in the night or the night before long weekends, employers not being reachable, etc.

"Being laid off is a horrific experience to begin with," said a former executive at a startup who was let go. The individual, requesting anonymity, said, "But imagine the insult to the injury when the organisation treats you like less than human."

"We have learnt nothing from the pandemic years! Everyone today talks about empathy, company culture and leadership and announces all sorts of wellbeing policies and whatnot. All that goes out the window at these times," said an employee of a large organization who recently saw their colleagues being laid off. They did not wish to be named.

Another individual who had lost their job at a media company a few months ago and is now settled in a new job, said, "The financial aspect everyone speaks of, but no one talks about how an organisation's actions during layoff drives causes psychological trauma that never goes away."

"There is no dignity," they said.

But is the way companies handle layoffs hurting the employees alone?

Perhaps not said experts.

“In today's digital age, any wrong step taken by organisations can quickly escalate into a public relations disaster. The fallout from such incidents not only impacts the organisation's image but also results in loss of trust among stakeholders. Hence, it is important for companies to exercise caution and meticulous planning in their decision-making processes, particularly when it comes to sensitive matters like layoffs,” said Rajneesh Singh, CEO, Simpli Group, an HR solutions firm in India.

Singh, who has led teams at prominent media companies, suggests that even when an employee's contract stipulates a one-month notice period, a severance package of at least 90 days should be provided.

"This extended financial security would allow employees to focus on their job search without the immediate pressure of financial hardship,” he said.

According to him, clear and transparent communication is key in navigating such situations effectively. By keeping employees informed and engaged throughout the process, organizations can not only mitigate uncertainty but also minimize backlash.

“Moreover, proactive communication helps build trust and fosters a sense of solidarity among employees, even in challenging times.

Unfortunately, instances of abrupt layoffs only serve to amplify tension and fuel speculation. These not only reflect poorly on the organisation's leadership but also undermine employee morale and loyalty,” Singh added.

Do companies prioritise employee morale and loyalty?

Jury’s out on whether buzz words like ‘culture’ and ‘empathy’ are "empty promises". One recently laid off marketer asked, "Is it just a PR tool that is only preached but never practiced?"

“Empathy and a supportive company culture are not just lofty ideals; they are essential for fostering a positive work environment and maintaining trust between employers and employees. By prioritising these values, businesses not only demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of their staff but also safeguard their own reputation and long-term success,” said Lokesh Nigam, co-founder and CEO at Konverz.ai, an AI-driven hiring solution platform.

During periods of organisational restructuring or downsizing, businesses are faced with difficult decisions that profoundly impact the lives of their employees, as well as the financial stability of the company.

According to Nigam, it’s imperative for businesses to prioritise empathy, transparency, and effective communication during such transitions.

Nigam has a solution. In navigating these challenging times, HR consulting organisations play a crucial role in guiding businesses with empathy and adherence to best practices.

“They help companies navigate the complexities of organisational change while preserving trust and fostering resilience. Ultimately, upholding honesty and treating employees with compassion are not just ethical imperatives but essential components of sustainable and empathetic business practices,” he said.

Some even pointed out that blue-collar employees at least have unions and the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA) of 1947 to help resolve disagreements over salary, incentives, benefits, and other issues.

In the most recent global layoffs announced, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said 10 percent of Tesla's global workforce would lose their jobs as he strives to make Tesla 'lean, innovative and hungry'. As per reports, the internal memo went out over the weekend.

Describing his state of mind, a former employee at an Indian company who was recently laid off said on the condition of anonymity, "I didn't see it coming. I was told that I had lost my job on a Friday. No one could do anything. My access was revoked and I was shut out. That weekend was hell."

First Published on Apr 16, 2024 8:54 AM

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