Mukesh Ambani, that magnanimous soul, announced somberly that he was going to forfeit his annual salary. In tearful tune with several uber-wealthy peers, whose heart-wrenching sacrifices would certainly resurrect Nirupa Roy. On a heavier note, the salary is not a trivial matter for most folks, its timely arrival vital for economic and emotional stability.
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On this the first Monday of the month, there will be three types of salary accounts. Those with a repetitive influx at the anointed time, them with a reduced reflection and yet others with no addition to demonstrate. Truthfully, there is anxiety for all, perhaps inversely proportional to persistent liquidity, but the words of John Donne (‘ask not for whom the bell tolls’) are direly pertinent. Everybody will be affected by this new world disorder, scale and timing the only personalised variables.
Equally, as if an imperfect mirror, there will be three types of paymasters, or ringmasters if you may. The first with the funds and the intent, thus ensuring that employees get the transaction alert in cue with precedence. The second with the funds and no intent, currently scrambling for the right messaging — be it fire, cut or embargo. The third clearly without access to the funds, the role of intent frankly redundant.
On the first, those paying timely and retaining mostly, there are multiple classifications. Leading from the front expectedly are the Tatas whose principles are supported by cash reserves, big technology companies are also capable of continuity. Yet others will include the blue-blooded consultancies, accountability inwards and not to shareholding, smelling giant business post the release. While some, from all walks, are admirably diving towards the Marianas Trench, endangering personal and organisational liquidity for paying the loyal warriors.
In the second, the star act is possibly Reliance, with pockets so vast there can be no excuse for crying wolf in month two itself. Of course, there are revenue dips, but the stature of organisations is built during crises, a cultural and not a financial lacuna. There are many following this tempting pattern, including a genre of reckless startups, where integrity is designated for the dustbin or this can be an overhaul alibi. Far too many stories in the pink press about promises of normalcy overturned overnight, at times the funders, not just founders, are being selfishly sinister.
For managements of the third the situation is positively bewildering, flamboyant revenue lines facing a catastrophic drought. A truth for many in mid-ticket media, hospitality, aviation and F&B— what’s worse is that there is no happy horizon in sight, soothsayers rendered non-credible. The credit lines have turned rogue, the governmental sops barely sufficient and the personal liquidity of the ownership is severely threatened. Employees become unwilling collateral damage, nobody’s fault yet everybody’s sufferings.
As part of a vicious cycle, those with clipped cash reserves are demanding reciprocity from their creditors — be it school fees, landlords, EMI payments or grocery dues. Thus, setting in motion a further set of pay-slip debacles — soon teachers, DSAs and delivery boys will not be paid on time. Salaries are starting to resemble the flightpath of migratory birds, return tickets from Siberia currently not being issued. When and how will this problem ever end?
Now quickly subverting this depressing matter to a branding agenda, it is true that actions in these times will boost or deflate the stature of employers, impacting growth during normalcy. That glorious startup that terminated sneakily will not get a Day One campus slot ever again, whatever be the package on offer. While that pedestrian payer who manfully held on to staff strength will earn star billings, we will not forget this trouble in a raging rush. This will create a ripple to the end customer; we know well that purpose and integrity are increasingly crucial for millennials and beyond. So, managements must find a way to positively handle the employment crisis if they wish to prosper and thrive. For this, they need to communicate, communicate and communicate.
Communicate, firstly as dialogues within the management, funders and customers. To clearly understand the stretch in revenues that they can possibly achieve, perhaps though achievable imaginative offerings. Then to build interim operating plans that are disruptive yet conservative, every achievable rupee must enter the coffers. Finally, to arrive at a final achievable corpus through internal funding, state sops and every available external lifeline.
Communicate, next as the salary strategy, connected to termination and retention. A firm and abiding policy of ‘slash before you sack’, minimising pink slips while reducing the take-home, will earn loyalty and goodwill. It may offend some stars and is a cultural novelty, but such organisations will soon find other stars, integrity becoming a talent magnet. For those who have to go — prepone the full and final, give glowing recommendations and attempt a termination bonus, even grocery vouchers in tie-ups with Amazon.
Communicate, finally as constant conversations with employees, in a kind and transparent fashion — a tough but necessary equilibrium. Unlike the old saying, a well-spoken word will convey a thousand pictures, senior management must now be inordinately accessible to every card-holder. Journeys must be shared as opposed to destinations being announced, counter-intuitive management logic that will facilitate every outcome. If the news is good it will be reassuring and if the news is bad, there will be bandwidth for preparation.
One thing though, business leaders with bulbous net worth must resist publicising personal salary cuts, clearly ill-advised empathy. Apart from being unintelligent it is also insensitive — a modern-day version of Marie Antoinette recommending cake. One day soon the guillotine will be unavoidable, this peasantry as ever outnumbering the landlords.
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