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Change Management: Outsourcing’s Dark Shadow Looms on Indian Society

Outsourcing is creating ripples – not just in global business, but in the social fabric of India. As more Indian youth turn to outsourcing work, a relatively easy career option, cracks are beginning to show in youth culture and lifestyles.

Outsourcing is creating ripples – not just in global business, but in the social fabric of India. As more Indian youth turn to outsourcing work, a relatively easy career option, cracks are beginning to show in youth culture and lifestyles.

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In the last decade India has established itself as the leading destination for offshore outsourced work. In India, the outsourcing industry has had a profound impact not only on the Indian economy, but also on the Indian society. Every middle class Indian is separated by one or two degrees from someone in the outsourcing industry. Several homes in the large metropolitan cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and recently even smaller cities like Vizag, Cochin, Chandigarh are buoyed by fat starting salaries characteristic of the outsourcing industry. It is not unusual for a father to have finished his career at the salary that his son or daughter has begun his or hers with. Urban centers teem with bright clusters of call center or data management executives chasing the good life – buying big and staying hip.

However, in this warm glow of the success of outsourcing, it is easy to overlook the long term implications of this industry on the Indian youth, the Indian social fabric and, ultimately, it’s impact on the outsourcing model altogether.

Easy, and big, money at a young age has created disproportionate expectations and whittled away desires to pursue higher education and / or other challenging opportunities. ‘Lucrative’ is a dangerous concept for youth. Many youngsters working in the outsourcing industry spend all their earnings on his rent and lifestyle. Spending up to Rs.2500 ($62.5) on a weekend binge is pedestrian. And changing cell phones every alternate month is the order of the day.

To people of an earlier generation, this attitude is difficult to digest. While they take pride in the prosperity of their children, there is a pinch that they cannot ignore. The pinch that most parents feel is the silent recognition that the outsourcing industry is an assault on the Indian value system – with its penchant respect for higher education, sexual reticence and conservative spending.

The pace of change in Indian society is hard to miss. Pre-marital sex among young people, virtually unheard of in India a generation ago, is not a taboo anymore with a third of India’s young indulging in it, as per a study conducted by National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. Since 1990, when India opened up its economy, divorce rates have increased by 50%.

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Coupled with a lack of maturity to deal with large earnings, is an unhealthy lifestyle. The combination of bad dietary and sleep patterns with weekend binging is extremely harmful physically, emotionally and mentally.

A more long term concern stems from the nature of skills acquired while working at call centers. While attrition rates are high, most movements are within the industry and very few [even if desirous] are able to exit the industry. To break it down, while workers often shift for better salaries and better work hours and are able to find an alternative within the ever-thirsty industry, those seeking a recognition or appreciation of acquired skills are unsuccessful. The problem is simply ‘the work is often repetitive and one skill is used repeatedly’. It follows that the ability to do different things, think out of the box and learn sharply is diminished somewhere along the line. Employers outside the call center industry tend to look at them as worker ants in a highly specialised supply chain.

As per Nasscom, India’s leading association of IT and BPO companies, the Indian BPO industry employs 415,000 people. 100,000 of these were hired in the last 12 months. With the increasing trend of hiring from smaller cities, certain questions need to be answered with some degree of conviction. Firstly, is this industry facing up to the responsibilities of hiring youth not yet over the threshold of adult maturity? Secondly, are present industry practices exploitative? Thirdly and finally, while the industry brings in huge revenues and gains for India in the short run, is it unwittingly creating a generation of zombie-like workers incapable of being employed elsewhere?

Anupam Mukerji & Sachin Malhan • Bangalore, Mumbai; India • www.mmi-india.com