CXO

Downturn means fewer outsourcing workers saying 'I do'

Would-be bridegrooms beg for raises to win brides

Economic hard times are causing Indian outsourcing workers to put off tying the knot, says Saritha Rai.

What's Bangalore's hottest outsourcing trend? It's got nothing to with high-value services or cost savings - but rather the marriage prospects of outsourcing workers.

Employees are asking for salary raises and fancy job titles so they can snag better alliances in India's highly competitive marriage market.

So earnest are some employees that they label outsourcing firms "heartless" for holding out and "ruining" their chances of conjugal bliss in an already tough market, one HR exec at a Bangalore firm tells me.

The downturn has certainly diminished the matrimonial prospects of employees in a recession-hit outsourcing industry, and many are calling off searches and delaying wedding celebrations.

Indeed, there is no better barometer to assess the state of India's outsourcing industry than measuring the demand for bridegrooms with jobs in this area.

In a country where the overwhelming majority of weddings are arranged by parents or family elders who match caste, social and material status, time was when a job at an outsourcing company notched several bonus points for the prospective bridegroom.

No longer. The craze for a suitable software engineer son-in-law to bring in to the family has evaporated with the economic recession and the ensuing pink slips, pay cuts and depressed job market.

Girls' parents worry about the salary and career projections of young men employed in the software industry, says Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO of Head Hunters India, a Bangalore-based hiring firm.

These changes can be seen in the state of Andhra Pradesh, north east of Bangalore, known for its supply of talent and where the practice of taking dowry from the bride's family is as prevalent as in some other parts of India. Here the 'price' that a software engineer commands has dipped from millions of rupees to a recessionary low of a fraction of that, says Lakshmikanth.

Not long ago, the human resources departments of outsourcing firms were inundated with 'reference check' requests but not of the routine kind.

The checks came not from prospective employers but from the families of prospective brides wishing to verify the pay, perks, character and any so-called bad habits of the employee such as smoking and drinking.

Industry veteran Sridhar Mitta, formerly Wipro's CTO and head of Global R&D and currently a venture adviser at e4e, recalls the days when his HR team had to field queries ranging from work experience and salary and attest to the 'good character' of employees. The idea of 'confidential' or 'extremely personal' simply escaped the understanding of the prospectives, recounts Mitta.

Some callers even went to the extent of demanding a complete breakdown of the pay package. They were not to be fobbed off with mere generalities and hints that the candidate was 'eligible'.

These days, reverse ripples being felt in the matrimonial industry. Such verification checks have dropped in number.

Searches for software engineers and other outsourcing industry on leading Indian matrimonial portal Shaadi.com have fallen, says its business head Gourav Rakshit.

Still, this has led to added pressure of a different kind at some outsourcing firms. At one Bangalore-based outsourcing company, the HR department recently fielded a 'background verification' call for an employee from a prospective bride's family.

The next day an upset employee and his manager confronted the HR head saying the alliance had been called off because wrong details were provided. Only after much persuasion was the employee convinced that the only details held back were confidential.

It took a while before it dawned on the employee that the bride's family could have concocted the story just to wriggle out of the alliance.

However, the story ended happily: he later found another alliance whose family did not demand such stringent background investigation. He is slated to wed this December much to the relief of his employer.

About Saritha Rai

Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.

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