2009 may not be good for the salaried class

If you are a salaried professional, don’t expect the New Year to be a ‘great’, or even a ‘good’ year. For those of us who are already employed, here is what we can expect in 2009.

Most of your companies are likely to tighten the screws on performance. This may mean longer work hours, work which is not up to your choice, lower tolerance towards non/weak performance.

With organisations cutting down on their expansion plans, or faced with lower business growth, forget about the promotion you were expecting.

More and more organisations will adopt the Jack Welch model of purging the bottom 10 per cent (asking the bottom performers to go). In some sectors, such as retail, realty, textiles and apparel, this figure may be higher.

Don’t be surprised if you are transferred suddenly to a department/location, which is not of your choice.

Companies are likely to have a conservative approach on the per cent increments, and some sectors could see single-digit increments.

Employees in the top quartile of performers in their organisation may earn similar increases to previous years. However, the rest may see a drop in per cent increments. We are likely to see a few cases of ‘increment holidays’ and isolated instances of pay reductions.

Variable bonuses will be subdued, but I reckon that sales employees may see stronger incentive schemes since organisations will try hard to shore up their revenues.

The silver lining in all this is that with organisations going slow on external hiring, they will look for internal candidates. The external job market will also contract, but that does not mean there will be no job opportunities. Job opportunities will be largely fuelled by employee attrition/ turnover.

The demand for freshers will see an acute drop. The practice of fat signing-on bonuses are likely to be suspended. Largely, it is going to be a clear case of higher supply and lower demand. The only exception in the external job market is going to be for the ‘star performers’.

Here are some pointers for those of us who will get impacted by the above scenario:

  • The first priority should be to secure your job and ensure that your name does not figure in the list of out placed employees. Pull up your socks and ensure that you do not belong to the bottom quartile of performers.
  • Be patient. Do not get upset at the lower increment, or delayed promotion.
  • Be extra cautious while taking a decision to change jobs. Unless the reason is compelling, you are possibly better off staying in your current organisation. If you do choose to make a change, negotiate hard with your new employer for a good hike and, if possible, a ‘parachute mechanism’ in case you are a victim of a layoff in the first year of your joining. This means you must be given 3-6 months compensation in case you are laid off.
  • If you are in one of the highly volatile industries (retail, realty, finance, or banking) and if you feel that your organisation is showing signs of vulnerability, proactively scan the external job market.
  • If you get an opportunity with a more reliable and stable brand, make the shift (even at the same salary). Look for signs of distress in your organisation (delayed salaries, vendors not being paid, senior managers leaving).
  • In your existing organisation, take a lot of initiative and be seen as a solid contributor in your team. If you have time, upgrade your skills. Try and be in the good books of your boss without compromising your conscience.
  • Salaried professionals have to wake up to the reality of what a downturn really means and 2009 is going to showcase enough of it. So far the situation is not as severe as to drop the ‘oxygen masks’, but yes, the ‘seat belt’ sign has been switched on.

Brace yourself for some turbulent times in 2009 and let’s hope we have a smooth landing as we come out of the downturn in 2010.

Shabbir Merchant