I happened to meet my cousin and a friend of his for dinner the other night. My cousin had recently extricated himself from his 10 year sojourn in the BPO industry, now working in Insurance. His friend, who was also his ex-colleague, was narrating some of the changes happening in his company.
With a straight face he said that the target for next month is to add 500 more heads. Scaling of teams this rapidly and in such huge numbers happened frequently in the BPO sector, especially in it’s champagne years of 2005-06. It also rarely happened with such urgency, without the need, having already knocked on the door twice, made itself present. I wondered how they were coping with their workload now. Pat came the answer, ‘OT’.
Overtime pay is not common in the BPO sector but it’s known to happen when the stench of desperation is in the air. IT industry, in contrast, has always been at the forefront of eliminating the concept of OT even though most of it’s workers are regularly asked to stretch the 40hr/week into 60 and more. Even during it’s desperate times the IT industry has rarely succumbed to OT pay as an incentive. There would be free pizzas and soft drinks, additional devices for in-office recreation, special transportation incentives, but never OT pay. Unless, if you are hired as a consultant, in which case you may bill your actual hours. Those were the heydays for IT consultants.
In his company, my cousin’s friend continued, some people are putting in 40hrs/week as OT. There was one person who had put in north-of 100 hours in OT. The OT incentives must be quite lucrative to give rise to such zealots I wondered. Employees of BPO could not be lured into additional work without substantial benefits. My guess was 1.5 times their regular pay. I was not even close. OT pay started at two times but there was an additional slab based incentive. Anybody putting in excess of 20hrs/week in overtime would be paid 2.5 times. That explained such dedication.
So I asked him if he was shoring up his share of OT when he mumbled in disgust that he is not entitled to OT pay. OT pay is only applicable to the drones, not those in the “management”. This is typical of large construction, manufacturing and any other labour intensive companies too. While the labour class is entitled to substantial OT – easily explained by strong unions – and the higher management is pampered with pay and incentives even in benign times, it’s the entry level and mid-level executives doing yeoman’s work.
My next question was, thinking still in logical terms, why would he not choose to work as an operator and become eligible for OT. Still mumbling, his quick reply was ‘It took me many years to get out of that’. I failed to understand the logic in that answer but the psychology behind it was apparent. A fall in designation at work is equated to a fall in social standing. Even if it meant precluding oneself from a better paying opportunity. Trapping an employee’s ambition in designation is a prevalent psychological tact which most companies have employed with considerable success over this decade. I have known companies where 3 year experienced are Senior Managers and certain 5+ year experienced are entitled to directorship. From the company’s perspective this comes with 2 benefits. i. Remuneration to employees may be maintained at below par levels and ii. It makes it more difficult for employees to find a better job since nobody else in the market is willing to hire at their current or better designation. Regularly promoting the person with no real promotion in knowledge and skill-set works in the company’s favour. The insecurity which this phenomenon ferments is noticeable. Eventually this person becomes a liability to the company because of his over inflated title-to-utility ratio. Acquaintances, having worked for 10+ years find themselves ‘under-saved’, ‘over-titled’ and most critically, left resuscitating a marooned spirit.
Behold the age of middle-aged unemployment.
18th February, 2011. Mumbai.