In the Indian context, belonging is a given. Our ties to family and traditions in most of India, which is still small towns and villages. But metropolitan areas depict influence of an unbelonging norm. The visible struggles of nuclear families underline decay in social support systems. Any crisis shows us what we stand for and who we count on. And the large number of families devastated in Covid Crisis has left many vulnerable.
Infectious Covid with its unpredictable and quick impact, added to the social crisis. As it did not permit easy access to usual support systems for individuals and families. Many articles noted government’s struggle with ‘stretched way beyond capacity’ medical infrastructure. Not enough has been said about the corporate and industry role. Tatas have an exemplary CSR practice of building up the entire community to which their employees belong. Building schools, supporting local PHC, funding local NGOs are all measurable ways. Reliance also appears to be following these footsteps, especially visible in the oxygen crisis.
But, were most formal sector employees able to dial a senior colleague to get help? Maybe a place in the hospital, an ambulance, a babysitter, regular meals, buy medicine, or talk to express the anxiety, fear, and anger -. In most instances the answer is no. The question is beyond, do the employees get enough salary, benefits, and welfare programs. It is about the company being a replacement or creation of a security net for employee in a crisis? This is beyond filing health insurance post fact…it is about the employee being able to count on physical and tangible help during a crisis.
On the other hand, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skilling of India’ are policy commitments of Modi Government to supporting Businesses. Such institutionalized change can be a progressive precipice. It anticipates desired changes and attempts to avoid undesirable externalities. But postmodern, postcolonial, ethical, and collectivist norms in Business need to be much more. CSR funds have expanded, but mostly end up being donated to government projects. Given emphasis on profit and not on social good, can businesses focus on making employees matter beyond their skill set? And can the organization matter beyond its role as a salary-giving entity.
Based on a 2019 Deloitte report (13.4 T. Millennials surveyed from 42 countries and 3 T Gen Z from 10 countries), one could argue, Gen Z and Millennials are an unhappy and dissatisfied generation. Covid-19 could not have helped in interrupting the sense of instability and insecurity and lack of importance to any kind of commitment. And yet in the survey, Indian Millennials came across as more positive about the future and about the role of business and kept their idealism of changing the world for better. Simultaneously, traditional laws of labor and unions are vanishing while global advocacy of ILO is still working towards decent work paradigm.
Imagine this emerging dynamic. Can India transform the precipice change into a mountainous change instead? Can we start a paradigm of ‘generating belonging’ in businesses – small, medium, and large. It entails setting up hospitals, clinics, schools, daycares, and social networking to cultivate visible ties of colleagues as friends and employers as family. The documented impact in US type societies is positive in schools and seen to reduce stress and anxiety. Given that ‘belongingness’ is by need a manufactured, manual-driven undertaking in US, due to its individualistic norms and traditional corporate mindset. Indian businesses might find this mountain easier to climb. Right now, the 175 B $ IT and BPM industry employs 10 M, while the 350 B manufacturing industry employs 27 M. Success of cellphones, Facebook shows the inherent need for connectivity and camaraderie of our culture that feed into belonging. Now do corporates see the virtue of belonging…that is the question?
This article is authored by Dr. Shweta Singh, who is a policy analyst, social researcher, coach, and author.