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Bangalore IT’s pink slip is showing

June 19, 2009

Last month my friend Thirunellai Viswanathan Mahalingam visited Bangalore to research a story on the pink slip phenomenon that has swept through most of this city’s IT industry like a California wildfire – please excuse that offshore simile, but it’s the lightest possible repartee when the US media reports so many jobs have been Bangalored.

That story has now been published in Outlook Business (the June 27 issue), and among the things I liked about it is that it does not hesitate to name companies. Infosys and Wipro – mostly darlings of the get-fat-quickly business and IT media – have been named as themselves, and it can be discerned how their respective media relations folks must have scrambled to assemble a “statement”.

There’s this thing about IT media departments (where I have worked as an insider) that is befuddling. While it may sometimes be easier to speak the truth and be damned, they weave such a web of lies that entangles them in the end. But that’s corporate culture for you. Way back in 2002, when I was researching a 9/11 story on two Indian employees who had perished at the offices of a Wipro client, I encountered the same stiffness from the Wipro PR department. Their statement – a flaky, antiseptic string of touch-me-not phrases – did them more harm than good in the end.

Back to the layoffs story. I asked the journalist some casual questions about how he went about the story, and here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to do this story?

Well, it’s the fact that everybody in the media and the IT industry talks of layoffs and the scale at which it is happening, but nobody has written about it. Also, there is this new and callous assumption that “layoffs are good and a must for survival” for most of the companies. Fact: these are some of the most cash-rich companies in the world. And most importantly, the constant denial by IT companies that they had not laid off a single employee because of the slowdown. Thousands of them suddenly were becoming non-performers this year.

What difficulties did you encounter doing this story? Were people ready to speak? Did any of your sources chicken out and ask you not to publish their story?

It was very tough to get to speak to people, on the record. They were very worried about their future prospects. They asked their names and a few details to be changed.

What do you hope this story will accomplish?

That IT companies, especially the large ones, [would] develop a modicum of honesty and tell employees that they are getting laid off because of the recessionary market rather than thrusting bad appraisals down their throats.

What reaction did you get from companies that had laid off employees?

Most companies, off the record, said that others were laying off people. But in their own case, not one person was laid-off for “business reasons” i.e. everbody who lost a job was a non-performer.

Mahalingam’s story is empathetic, so much so that I had to ask him if he had ever been laid off himself.

“Laid yes, laid off no,” was the lad’s pithy reply.

Ah, to be choleric about love in the time of loss.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Harsha permalink
    July 5, 2009 6:44 am

    Excellent article. The companies must tell that they have laid off employees for business reasons rather than branding the employee as a non-performer. That does make a big difference. It gives dignity to the software engineer. Software engineers are human beings not resources. Even US companies do say that they have laid off because of recession.

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