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Equal Opportunities

Equal Opportunities

October 17, 2010

Is the prospect of higher salaries the only explanation for India's Brain Drain?

The Brain Drain - we have heard all about it countless times. The phenomenon of well educated Indians leaving their homes and seeking employment on foreign shores is age old. It is even covered in the school curriculum and that’s where I first heard about it. Being the daughter of an NRI who was part of the brain drain wave I understood immediately what was being taught. It is terrible for my home country, my text book read. At the time, I believed it but now I am not so sure.

Having completed my education up to graduation in Dubai, I found my first job there. The starting salary was AED 2,000 (around INR 24,000), which I considered to be reasonable but not great. Within two years post graduation I was earning AED 4,500 (approximately INR 54,000), a package I was happier with. It was at this point that I got married and moved to Bangalore. As I restarted the whole process of looking for work once again, my hubby informed me that my salary expectation of INR 45,000 a month was ‘ridiculous’. I accepted this reality when I joined an MNC at a salary of INR 25,000. Yet, people told me I was being paid well. Four years on and I still don’t earn as much as I did when I left Dubai. Its no wonder people seek employment abroad, though there is more to the brain drain than just pay scales, as I was soon to discover.

For starters, I had to work an extra hour as part of my ‘normal’ work time. Instead of 9 to 5 elsewhere, 9 to 6 is the norm in India. I found that to be odd but was still content, an extra hour not being such a big deal. However, I soon realised that leaving the office on time was a rare occurrence. In fact, whenever I left from work sharp at 6, wide eyed colleagues would look at me and say “Leaving so early?” My reply of “I am leaving on time” drew plenty of smirks. Soon, my boss started thinking of me as someone who is not putting in enough ‘effort’ (translation: Hours). Before I knew it, I was working well past 6:30pm to bring my ‘performance’ to an acceptable level. And I still didn’t get a decent pay rise!

This got me thinking. Back in Dubai, I was an expat and yet treated as a human being by employers. Not some machine slaving away for over 10 hours each day without appreciation. What frustrated me more was the fact the people are so used to working here that no one complains. With 10 hour days, in addition to at least 2 hours travel time in metropolitans (Bangalore doesn’t even qualify as one), and I was left with barely any time to relax at home. Pretty soon, I experienced a new phenomenon which I had evaded in Dubai – Stress. From speaking to fellow NRIs who had returned from other countries, I came to know that the difference is as stark. It also shocked my that labour laws for MNCs are different from local companies, giving them virtually a free hand as to what terms of employment they set. This leads to a lot of exploitation, with people putting in a ridiculous number of hours without earning any over time.

Considering that I am on home turf, as opposed to a guest abroad, I feel like a slave in my own country. Being an Indian, I expect my rights to be protected, even if I work for an MNC. A fair pay for a fair day’s work is not too much to ask. If working conditions in India were to improve, it wouldn’t take a worldwide recession to reverse the brain drain. People would be happy to stay here and build a life for themselves. I am not an economist and not sure of the reasons for the existing condition and why it has not been remedied. All I know is, if Dubai can do it, so can India.


  • Rajpriya
    08.12.11 09:34 AM
    When the recession started after Lehman Brothers crash, people were getting laid off to avoid redundancy in the USA, UK and other western countries workplace bullying increased manifold.

    I do not think in India workplace bullying is because of any recession. Workplace bullying itself is nothing neither new nor specific to any particular country.

    With a change of workplace or coming back to ones’ own country, after sometime you are made to feel fish out of water by those workplace bullies who may find their own positions threatened. Moreover in the eyes of bosses, leaving on time is more like setting an unprecedented- Precedence.

    In western countries with laws in place against bullying, making use of those laws sometimes can make situations worse and one being totally isolated in the workplace. If one needs the job, finding ways of restraint in going with the tide rather than go against would be of immense help. Maybe sometimes change the place of work.

    I must say productivity levels are very high in countries like Germany. Even inside small offices people are almost running the whole day to get their workload up to date. Punching cards when leaving even for lunch eliminates people taking it easy.

    8 am to 5 pm are normal working hours for public offices and manufacturing sectors starting even earlier in spite of having to drive through heavy snow in winter. Productivity levels are deemed high starting in the early hours of a day. In getting to and leaving work in exactly at stipulated working hours is widely accepted sometimes leaving late do happen too.

    Watching the clock is first nature to any normal human.

    While, who comes early can leave on time is normal in a country like Germany, I know that coming early and going late, is very normal in India.

    An article published in The Guardian, UK would give you more info.
  • Rajpriya
    08.12.11 12:16 AM
    @ Afshan:

    Going through your article I know this problem faced many who found opportunities to work abroad. It may be true that at the time you went abroad the salary structure may have not been so great. Countries like the US and UK are going through huge financial setbacks from around 2009.

    The situation in Middle Eastern countries is that they are not welfare states, meaning you are not entitled to any pension, unemployment benefits, medical insuarance or gratuities on leaving, I believe. So unless you already had savings you brought over for buying a house and other basic needs for living to manage with a lesser salary in India it could be problematic.

    I know a salary comparison cannot be made between India and another country that is normally based on demand for those particular qualifications you acquired abroad. Then comes the problem of a person finding jobs in India with high expectations of work ethics. What you are experiencing in your workplace is known as “mobbing”.

    The fact that you are qualified and have returned from working abroad makes them feel Inferior. It happens blatantly in western countries too. Being a bit smart, become a part of the clique and over a period of time you work smarter and not harder.

    I read recently about a job contracting company-providing employees to firms because of stringent labour laws in India.

    On the other hand, I know many sit in offices after 6.00pm, just marking time to be on the good books of bosses and do nothing very productive. MNC’s I feel have priority treatment in India because of their investments in terms of foreign currency.

    Unfortunately, feeling that your are slave in your in your own country is normal because of your failure to understand realities of being employed in India where there is enough potential to hire people on terms not so peculiar to India.

    The world wide recession began in 2009 and reversing of the brain drain is slow and the Euro zone hanging on razor’s edge makes it worse. Dubai’s economy was built on the back of oil that is supposed to diminish in 20 years.

    Dubai was an important hub for western manufacturers the reason for attracting people for employment in Banking, Financial and Tourism sectors. I know of German companies that built hotels and others constructions until 3 years ago. The real estate market took a major drawback recently and the Germany companies wound up in Dubai.

    India being over populated and corruption infested it would take a revolution to turn it to a country that most NRI’s want it to be.

    I am relating the story of Germany’s economic Success after the last World War, with a little fantasy of my own that India can follow for success.

    Read on to know the Work ethics of West Germans.

    The force that drove the Economic recovery of the West Germans is their innovative capabilities. Many of us know Hitler initiated the self-destruction of the country. Then began the race between the Russians trying to spread communism and the Americans.

    This race resulted in the division of Germany East and the West. The difference in the way these two ideals progressed in their economic affairs had secrets.

    The East followed theory of equality. Communist East thought every one should have employment, a House, Food and Clothes. The disease called Capitalism that allowed Luxuries only to the rich were disallowed.

    In East Germany there was no room for jealousy because they wore the same kind of clothes, ate the same kind food and all houses looked identical.

    You could get the extras from the state if you served the Stasi well.

    The Russians erected a wall separating the East from the West to hide their success in equality. There were many in the East who liked to cross over to the West. The masters of communism thought if every one crossed the wall, they would soon be left with no one Rule. Any one trying to cross the wall was shot.

    In the East it was common that two or three would do any work that was done by one in the West. If you ask why this task is done by two in the East, they would say the third one is on sick leave.

    Now coming to what attributed to the success of the West was, they laid some discriminative labour laws that were strictly enforced to the very letter.

    All employees in West Germany had to follow a strict code of conduct if they needed to stay away from work.

    Sickness – is no excuse to be away from work. Even a Medical Certificate is not enough evidence. If you are able to go to your doctor’s miles away and sit there for hours to get the MC you can jolly well sit at work for which you get paid.

    Death in the Family: Is no reason to be away from work. There is nothing you can do to help the dead. If you arrange the funeral late afternoon you will be allowed to leave work half an hour early, if all your work is up to date.

    If you should die suddenly: You can take it for granted we would fully understand if you adhere to the following:
    1. Please give us two weeks notice of your departure.
    2. Call us not later than 8 am.
    3. To avoid your absence being deducted from your annual leave please submit your death certificate.

    In case you need surgery: As long as you are in our employment you need all your organs you posses for good performance at work. We will not tolerate removal of any.

    Silver or Golden Wedding Anniversary: As Employers we have no understanding for your dependence on a single source for so long, only proves your sexual weakness.

    Birth of a Child: We as employers hope you won’t expect us to take on the cost of the fun you had in your married life.

    Fiction is Stranger than Truth is it?

  • Arch
    16.09.11 05:31 PM
    Hi Afshan

    Nice post.As an Indian who lived in the US for about a year, I now understand why things are the way they are.

    1. India's population - If you are unwilling to work a certain number of hours for a certain salary, someone else will. As long as work gets done, no body cares who does it.

    2. No work-Life- Balance - Ask an Indian what they do when they come back from office. The answer most probably would be "Watching TV". Most Indians do not cultivate a passion for hobbies. I delivered a baby 6 months ago and my Dr recently okayed my health to start a weight loss and gym schedule. When I told my boss, I had to leave on time because my gym awaited me, he looked at me like I was mad. After leaving "on time" for 15 days, my colleagues now understand my other priorities.

    3. Lack of respect for other people's time - I guess that stems from the job heirarchy and culture where some one older is always given time but some one younger is dismissed without ample hearing.
  • zephyr
    20.10.10 08:10 PM
    There is something about work culture in India that makes one think that unless one puts in extra hours one is not giving one's best. I have worked with people in the newspaper industry, who used to goof around all day and actually begin working in the mid-afternoon or evening and continue till all hours! This is probably the reaction to the babu culture that never works, even the regular hours and so the Indians had to prove to the world at large that they are hardworking, see?

    Nice post. My son who is in the UK feels the same way about working in India too -- too long hours, too much stress and not enough compensation for going though all that.
  • prasanna raghavan
    prasanna raghavan
    20.10.10 12:41 AM
    Truly from my experience and understanding, more than the salary, there are a lot of things that discourage me from working in India or living there.

    Reasons: In all likelihood, if you say your mind out, soon you become a rebel there, not only in the corporate world, but everywhere. So if you want to survive there you have to follow the current; that is the rule there.

    That is why, I presume, the MNCs are able to have special rules there. As Afshan is asking rightly, if Dubai can do it why can't India? But Indians cannot stand up as a collective.

    That is why, I will never ask my children who are very happily employed in South Africa to look for a job in India. It is not for the money.

    And about culture, people talk in such a way that India is synonymous to culture. Of course, India had a good cultural existence, but that is not what is promoted there now. Also, culture is universal. What culture are u talking about when you cannot speak your mind out or act it out.

    Of course there are a few shinning stars here and there. It has plenty nature, its ordinary people are still value oriented, they still keep in their mind the simplicity and the love.

    Yes, I value that. I love India for that. And for that I will certainly come back to India after my retirement.
  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    19.10.10 07:50 PM
    While it is true that general corporate work culture in India is pretty regimented and is big on keeping up appearances, this is hardly unique or idiosyncratic of the place. People goofing off and not doing their jobs as efficiently as they ought to is a fairly universal phenomenon wouldn't you say? I've consulted w/ plenty of Fortune 500 companies here in the US and elsewhere, and keeping up appearances so your boss thinks you're doing a bang up job is pretty endemic. Indians just do it in their own unique ishtyle.

    Insofar as this whole issue of "stress" is concerned, if you're part of a reasonably middle class husband-wife-and-two-kids type of family, by and large, it is true that India lobs some very unique stress factors at you. But then, other places do the same as well - I can definitely attest to that for the US and UK. I've found that you tend to stress about different things in different places.

    I have several very close friends who've repatriated back to B'lore with spouses and kids from lives and careers in the US. The secret to their happiness, in their own words, was knowing precisely what they were trading off when they relocated.

    And personally, I found that just getting married induced quite a bit of stress in and of itself ;-)
  • Shrinidhi Hande
    Shrinidhi Hande
    19.10.10 11:23 AM
    I believe while comparing salaries you should also compare expenditures and savings. But then agree with your post overall
  • Blue Lotus
    Blue Lotus
    19.10.10 10:27 AM
    Hi Afshan,

    Welcome to the Indian MNC jungle! I know exactly what you are talking about in terms of working hours.Ya even I tried the "I'm leaving on time" liner too,I ended up being a brnaded a trouble maker.It took me around two years to prove myself.That means if I had sat around the office till 7(doing nothing,chit chatting,checking dumb forwards) I would've been lauded for my commitment and not warned for leaving early.I just don't get this mentality,as long as I finish my work within deadlines with minimal issues,what's everyone else's problem?
    Now I'm stressed!!
  • Lakshmi
    18.10.10 11:20 PM
    It's an excellent article, and a very good analysis. Its not just about the money(although it is a huge deal).
    @ Nikhil: I think you are sadly misinformed about the salaries because of media hype, etc. Barring one or two fields, the pays for all other highly qualified professionals are abysmally low.
    I have a top grades in Masters from a top school here in the US, and I have also 3 years of experience, and when I sincerely try to get a job in India, the treatment meted out from the interview stage to finally making an offer is so unprofessional that it makes you wonder if they even care about quality.
  • Nikhil Inamdar
    Nikhil Inamdar
    17.10.10 10:12 PM
    Sorry but salaries in India have hit the many fields like banking for instance they are comparable to salaries in the US & UK - fatter in fact, if you compare it in terms of purchasing power parity. But yes, an extra hour spent at work is the norm here...that's perhaps because productivity through the day is low. A 15 min lunch break often extends to 50 mins in India...and we all know how much time is actually spent doing work. :-) Abroad, things are a lot more defined...
  • Afshan Mujawar
    Afshan Mujawar
    17.10.10 07:02 PM
    Well, I moved to India after marriage. I DID have a choice, my husband could have settled in Dubai as well. However, my thinking has always been that, at the end of the day, India is our home and to it we eventually return. I had seen cases where people had spent all their lives abroad and faced huge issues adjusting to the overall living environment in India. So I decided, it would be easier for me to adjust to change now, rather than when I old and retired.

    So far as bringing up a family goes, the culture is more or less the same in Dubai as well as India, especially cities like Bangalore. So it wouldn't have made much of a difference. Then again, I didn't want my kids to go through the trouble of adjustment in case we had to move to India after they had been brought up in Dubai.

    Finally, the financial bt. Dubai post recession is in deep trouble. Yet, at the time of my marriage, earning were good and living expense wasn't this high.

    In conclusion, if you ask me if I could go back into the past, would choose to stay back in Dubai? No I won't, I'm glad I made this choice.

    India is like a vast palette of colours.. some are bright and beautiful.. thers are full of darkness. As with life, one needs to either live with it, or change it. I choose to change.

    WARNING: Too many attempts to change the work culture may result in loss of job. :))
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    17.10.10 04:30 PM
    It's good to hear there's another side to how Indians are treated in the Gulf. Do you feel like returning to Dubai, or are you more motivated to 'make it' in India and raise a family here? I suppose that economically it makes sense to stay - the salaries may be lower higher, but job security is surely higher, and India is on more of an upward curve.

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