Perform or perish, is the message for those in the media

We’ve all heard about the pink slip, haven’t we? It’s usually always associated with private companies who hire and fire at will. During my innings in the public sector, I’ve experienced firsthand the meaning of job security. United India Insurance was then the second largest general insurance company in India after New India (the insurance sector was not opened to private investment then) and possibly had the second largest number of employees as well. On the one side, merit was hardly rewarded; so even if you stood on your head and worked it was unlikely you would gain an out-of-turn promotion in two years. Like the rest in my batch, I had to wait four years before I got my first promotion and I never stayed long enough to even get a whiff of the second. Today, of course, most of my batch-mates are well ensconced in the private sector, with fancy designations such as vice-president and executive director, and they are all very well paid, too. Looking back, I wonder now whether I did the right thing moving on to journalism. But no regrets.

The point is UI or any of the public sector companies never issued a pink slip to an employee. At least, I haven’t heard of such an occurrence so far. Even the ugly ducklings or rotten eggs were given more than sufficient time to reform, which really meant infinite time. I’d heard of horrendous stories of employees belonging to one union or another coming drunk to office, creating scenes, gheraoing officers and generally bossing around. But it was only much later that I got to experience some of it in my own office. It was then that I made up my mind to leave. Am not sure whether things have improved in UI and the other companies; perhaps they have after all. In any case, nobody’s ever lost their job. You just couldn’t unless you managed hara-kiri; at worst it was a suspension if the vigilance department recommended.

A few weeks ago, a former colleague at The Times of India Group in Chennai called me to say his job was on the line. Apparently, there were strong rumours that TOI was downsizing again and that meant only the best could survive. Would I be able to help? Not in terms of ensuring that his job was safe… but by helping him find another? Close to 50, it’s difficult to be in the job market. He is a page layout artiste and nowadays with most reporters learning Quark and CCI and what have you it will be even more difficult for him. I said I’d help him get freelance work and our conversation ended. A couple of days ago, he called me again. This time, there was more certainty in his voice. He had received a call from Mumbai and the HR executive asked him to put in his papers. My colleague knew the branch head well but there was little the latter could do. Once his name was short-listed to appear on that unenviable list, it was only a matter of time. I feel sorry for him. He tells me there are quite a few others who will be out of work in a month. But I can see that TOI is recruiting as well, judging by several new bylines in the main paper.

There have also been reports by media watchers about some employees at the Dainik Bhaskar being asked to leave. Whatever it is, an employer has the right to retain you or throw you out. Whether asking an employee age 50 who has probably spent 15-20 years working for you to leave in a month is gentlemanly enough, providing an answer in today’s world, when only the leanest and meanest survive, is not easy. Employers do have the right to ask employees to leave. One thing is for sure: the pressure on those in the media to perform everyday is now getting almost unbearable even for some of the chaps who’ve probably taken their job for granted all along. I somehow get the feeling that the media industry in India will get to see more job losses in the coming months. And there may be few blue-eyed boys left.


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