Techie's Suicide: Is Performance Improvement Plan a new way of firing employees?

By Amritha Mohan  Published on  24 Nov 2019 3:13 PM GMT
Techies Suicide: Is Performance Improvement Plan a new way of firing employees?

Hyderabad: It has been only four days since techie Pugaku Harini had committed suicide after her company gave her the pink slip. As IT employees reel amidst rumours of potential lay-offs, things have been getting serious in terms of companies serving retrenchment notices to employees.

The most recent victim is Pugaku Harini, a native of Mahabubnagar district. Put on retrenchment notice by her employer in Gachibowli, Golden Hills Capital, she hung herself in her private hostel on November 20. Harini had been working as a junior software developer for the last two and a half years.

Harini’s company had recently decided to lay off a few employees, which included her, and her last working day was December 1. Upset over losing her job in the future, she decided to take her life.

Potential lay-offs pushing IT employees to the edge

Harini’s suicide is not a case to be seen in isolation but needs to be read along with the dangerous work practices marring IT companies for the past few years. As the end of another year approaches, it is the turn of IT employees to brace themselves. Come December, they will be badgered with year-end appraisals, leading to more PIPs and firing.

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a rating given to an employee at the end of a year if they have not been performing as per company standards. “The employee is given time ranging between 30 to 60 days. A performance evaluation will be done, with a score from 1-4. Most employees are given a 4th rating by the company with the motive to fire them. Even Harini was given a rating of 4. We have seen that the rate of poorly grading employees has increased to 18% from the 7% last year. The issue is that the company decides these standards and their choices can be very arbitrary. Even senior employees are liable to come under this,” said Sandeep Kumar Makthala, President of Telangana Information Technology Association (TITA).

Experts working in the software field opine that it is a strategy of IT companies to call an employee a non-performer and put them under the Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). It hampers their confidence and instils fear in them about losing their jobs. Kiran Chandra, president for Forum of IT Professionals, Hyderabad, said, “IT companies burden employees with the additional baggage of calling them non-performers. When there is a change in the nature or department of employment, the employer or company must train the employee, not fire them abruptly. However, now, employees are compelled to learn new technologies, taking money out of their pockets and make themselves relevant or risk their unemployment.”

The struggle to reskill themselves and acquaint with different software, apart from their tech specialisation as per industry demands, is taking a toll on IT employees’ mental health. Pressurised to perform well in a company that will inevitably lay-off employees, pushes them into depression, and in cases like Harini, compels them to take their own life. “Redundancy, which is surplus employees with the same skillset, happens in big companies. If they need to get projects from clients, they need to show a larger workforce. It means companies hire 20% more employees to prove their bench strength. However, if the software in which these employees specialise gets out-dated, the workers have to learn anew and reskill themselves. From company’s point of view, it is easier for them to hire new junior employees trained in the required skillset than training senior employees, which is why this problem comes up,” an IT employee told NewsMeter.

The president of TITA also opines that international recession is affecting the IT industry, which in turn is affecting IT workers hit by year-end appraisals and automation. “Those who come from campus to corporate employment are worrying a lot because of these developments. IT companies should not show underperformance as the reason as it would spoil their career and affect their life as well. IT people are going into depression because of such firing. The employer should pay a salary advance for six months, and also extend insurance benefits for a year,” he added.

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