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Demographic shift in workforce

Updated: Apr 3

Data Journalist Rukmini. S mentions in her book “Whole Numbers and Half Truths” quoting statistical information from the periodic labour force survey (PLFS) 2018-19, half the workforce in India is self employed, another 25% are casual labourers and the remaining 25% are salaried workers.

Most salaried employees work more than 6 days a week on average. Majority of Indian workers try to live close to work. The most common mode of transport is walking!!!

There isn’t anything new about these data points, but it makes you think and reflect. If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are part of the 25% salaried class.

Also, according to Rukmini, across age, class and location, the first preference for Indians is a government job !! Now that’s interesting.

So all the news and buzz about employee engagement, servant leadership, recruitment, attrition, appraisals, leave policy, bell curve, talent development, hybrid working, etc, etc, etc is all for just 25% of the working class we have in the country.

In absolute numbers though, this 25% translates to about 225 million people!!!

And yet there isn’t enough handle on many aspects of dealing with the salaried class of workers. So what can be done in today’s context?

1) Understand the demography

Just like the Govt of India’s PLFS data, it is important for organizations to understand their own employees – where are they from, what are their preferences, what do they like, why do they want this job, how do they commute, do they like working remotely, are they happy with the job content, do they like the way they are treated, what are their immediate goals in life and so on….

Most organizations do an employee survey with specific objectives or seek external certifications to get a badge, but little effort is made to understand employees’ needs as a human being. If employees and their needs are better understood, it could pave the way for critical inputs on shaping organizational policies including doing away with existing rules and guidelines.

2) Accept the cultural shift

Most senior leaders today have a huge demography gap with their employees. And they may not want to accept that. As a result, the organization is run with a demography in mind that is not representative of the overall employee strength.

A CEO, insisted last year that his No.1 priority is to get all employees back to the office. A co-founder of a startup is in splits about their inability to drive more ownership among their employees. A manager mentioned that he has not met his team even on video calls for the last 6 months and he and the team were just fine with that. 

A key thing to note is that culturally the gen Z population is lot less collective than millennials. They are lot more informed and have clear priorities about what they want in life.

The working class of the 1950s to 1980s focussed on survival, the working class in 1990s to turn of the new millennium focussed on wealth generation and quality of life. The new working class post 2010 is looking for meaning and purpose at an individual level. The late Geert Hofestede’s research shows that as national wealth increases, individualistic culture tends to take over a collectivist society.

India is going through this shift. As more people enter the working class in the next 15-20 years, leaders and managers need to unlearn their collectivist approaches and learn to deal with individualistic mindset.

3) Adapt and prepare for the future

Most organizational practices were derived from the 1990s or even earlier. While some startups are taking bold and progressive decisions, they remain few and far. A large real estate player says their vision is to be a $10 B company in 2035. This no longer sells to anyone – employees or customers. What is the purpose of your existence and what efforts are being taken to serve that purpose. How can employees relate to that purpose and find meaning in their individual work. Are you creating the next Patagonia? Is your organization still based on hierarchy and designation or are you role based and customer oriented? Does the company run on conformity and approvals or is curiosity and learnability driving performance.

There are many possibilities to prepare for the future. Is it aligned with the employee demographic expectations and will it align them to your company? That’s the question to answer. 

If the demography is well understood and the cultural shift is accepted the third step of adapting will be much easier.

For a free wheeling chat on the cultural shifts in the workforce and how to prepare for it, connect with me.


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