BharatPe episode: Should employees stay put or offboard immediately?

Given the situation, it is natural for employees to find it difficult to decide whether to stick on or abandon ship

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Of late, Bharat Pe has been caught on the wrong foot. It all started with the controversial and abusive video clip of co-founder and managing director, Ashneer Grover, doing the rounds on social media. Post that, many instances of Grover’s impolite behaviour with the Company’s employees started surfacing. The ongoing tussle between Grover and the board is only adding fuel to the fire.

Such incidents put employees in jeopardy, given the amount of uncertainty in the market. This isn’t a one-off case. Even during the Housing.com-Rahul Yadav fiasco, or the Satyam episode, it is the employees who had to bear the brunt.

Accept it or not, employees do feel unsure about their future with the organisation, and are always in a limbo when things don’t look rosy at the top. To move on or stay back, becomes the question.

“In BharatPe’s case, it appears the leadership clearly is shooting its mouth off, and needs serious coaching inputs”

Adil Malia, CEO, The Firm

Sohail Sameer, CEO, BharatPe, is also trying hard to reassure the employees. In a letter to the employees, he has requested them to keep their trust in the Board of BharatPe. “Whatever the Board will decide, will be beyond doubt, in the best interests of our employees, our merchants and our consumers,” the letter reads.

Reetu Raina, CHRO, Quickheal, believes that the role of the board in ensuring the smooth running of a company is always significant. In this case, however, it is the primary driver of the company’s future. Whatever the decision may be, it would be important to ensure that it reflects that there is no one bigger than the company, not even the co-founder.

She agrees that a sense of insecurity amongst employees about the future is natural, and is obviously the major reason for more exits. “With the ongoing tussle, there would definitely be a question mark in the minds of the employees about the future of the organisation. The management needs to communicate adequately with the employees about their future and the company’s. Effective communication is the only way to take care of the psychological insecurities in the employees,” she said.

She feels that the employees of BharatPe should stay put and place their trust in the board. “Running away is the easiest choice to make here, especially in the current scenario, when the market has ample opportunities. However, staying put and placing trust in the board would be a choice that could serve better in the long run,” she suggests.

“The movement of people out of the organisaiton shows the lack of clarity and transparency that has been maintained with the employees”

Kaustubh Sonalkar, a senior HR leader

Raina believes that employees leaving at this juncture doesn’t point to bad company culture, but only towards a sense of insecurity.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, is of the opinion that attrition in the company is likely to be greater than before. He shares with HRKatha that there is a churn in the market at the moment — the Great Resignation — and attrition would have already been elevated due to that. However, with the recent controversy, attrition may have gone up a degree.

“If the fundamentals of the organisation are good, then the board and the process need to be trusted and given a fair chance,” he adds.

“When a senior leaves, a number of people in the organisation tend to leave with him. It is not a good trend,” Mukherjee adds. However, generally, it has been seen that the loyalty towards the person or leader is more than towards the organisation. That can also be the case here, he reckons.

The bells of danger for an employee will only ring when a number of people from the senior management move out. “If the seniors are in the know of a malpractice that may blow up in the future, and decide to move out, then the junior-level employees may seriously have to evaluate their future with BharatPe. That is when they should considering moving on,” Mukherjee suggests.

People join companies because of multiple reasons, ranging from the benefits they offer to the compensation or even the brand. However, they stick to it — especially given the high attrition levels in the talent market at the moment — because of the leadership and management.

“Employees of BharatPe should stay put and place their trust in the board”

Reetu Raina, CHRO, Quickheal

In this case, Kaustubh Sonalkar, a senior HR leader who has worked with group companies such as Essel and Welspun, opines that employees leaving in such a crisis situation is indicative of lack of transparency between them and the management.

“People leaving at this juncture shows the culture of the organisation. This is not the first time an organisation is facing a crisis nor will it be the last. The movement of people out of the organisaiton shows the lack of clarity and transparency that has been maintained with the employees. People do tend to understand if a crisis comes up and are also inclined to stay with the company in a show of solidarity. However, if they are kept in the dark right from the start, chances are they will not stick around for long,” Sonalkar said.

BharatPe executives are also trying to convey on social media that all is well.

Anurag Rathore, VP-products, BharatPe, in a post on social media says that interest to work for BharatPe is only growing. “341 solid PMs and counting for 12 open positions! Thank you for the amazing response,” he says, adding that users, revenues and people are only growing for BharatPe, denying a media report that pointed to an exodus of people.

“Outrightly denying unrest at the workplace is very immature corporate communication in this case. One doesn’t need to know rocket science to realise that people would want to move out in the current situation,” Sonalkar comments.

The exit of Grover and his public comments where he expresses interest in selling his stake in the Company themselves do not paint a very positive image of the things to come.

“In case of new organisations, the founders are the key drivers of the company culture. The owner’s interest in selling and exiting clearly indicates his level of attachment to the brand itself. If he himself doesn’t want to associate further with the Company, the message is loud and clear to the rest of the employees,” Sonalkar opines.

“If the seniors are in the know of a malpractice that may blow up in the future, and decide to move out, then the junior-level employees may seriously have to evaluate their future with BharatPe. That is when they should considering moving on”

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries

Grover’s alleged leaked call with the Kotak Bank employee, in which he is heard hurling abuses at the latter for not getting him allotment in the Nykaa IPO also reflects badly on the leader and the company. Obviously, such behaviour at the top can also act as a big contributor to a probable employee exodus in the future.

“Their confidence in leadership would have been shattered by such leadership behaviour. They must be worried about their safety and security. In this case, it appears the leadership clearly is shooting its mouth off, and needs serious coaching inputs. The HR of the enterprise should have prevailed upon leadership, keeping them from making certain public statements, which they have apparently been making,” Adil Malia, CEO, The Firm, tells HRKatha.

Malia further opines that an employee has to be strongly connected to four things in a Company — vision, mission, strategy and values. If employees are not connected, then that disconnection blocks them from being meaningfully engaged. Leadership manifests the vision, mission, strategy and values nurtured by its behaviours. “They have to walk their talk. Who would want to work in an enterprise where leadership reflects purely selfish mercenary values? No one would like to work for a Shylock!” he asserts, referring to the character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

“There are certain contingencies which are unavoidable and those need to be managed, the same way organisations managed during the pandemic and the lockdown. However, the adversity this organisation appears to have self-invited upon itself, is leadership created and could have been avoided. Employee disconnect is very natural in this case, and desire to move on and seek a better enterprise is a consequential employee action,” Malia concludes.

Most HR leaders are of the opinion that the process to avert a disaster in this situation for the HR at BharatPe is really simple. They just need to talk to their people. They need to tell them what is happening at the grassroots level, own up to the issues prevailing and ascertain how the future for them would be safe at BharatPe.

Transparency is of essence at this point and whatever the decision the board may take, employees should be in the know.

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