The stronghold of Indian IT companies and consultancy firms, the ‘bench’ has been thinning over the years even as contract staffing has been gaining popularity. The present pandemic has pushed the situation further over the edge. Hundreds of employees have been put on the bench awaiting active projects over the next few months and many others have been forced to leave as companies are unable to pay them anymore. With the current crisis, not having an active project would be reason enough to lose one’s job.
We all knew the bench was gearing up for a change in the coming days. However, now we are forced to ask, ‘Will the bench disappear?’
Contract staffing to be the next virtual bench
Companies have, over the years, sought to decrease their employees’ time on the bench and increase their utilisation rate. Infosys launched a Zero Bench initiative in 2015 that was designed to help benched employees find short-time assignments. Employees who have tasks to be performed can post their requirements and on-the-bench employees can sign up to help finish it. Data from the Company’s annual reports say that the utilisation rate of employees (excluding those on the bench and trainees) went from 81.7per cent in FY 2017 to 84.3 per cent in FY 2019.
Keeping in mind the cost of hiring and training new employees, an organisation may look at having their existing talent on a retainer basis and use their services as and when required
It was believed that contract staffing may be an alternative that will come out of this current scenario. It may even be a better option to having a bench. In terms of deployment, contract staff are effective, the cost for companies is less and most of all, employers can have ready access to professionals with better and in-demand skills.
All companies are under cost pressures at the moment. Therefore, hiring professionals only when they are needed would make sense. While contract workers would be typically paid much more than a regular employee, it would still be economical than having a bench.
Jayati Roy, director-HR, Barco India, says that in more mature markets, contract staffing is the trend and in India, it may become the reality soon. Demand for niche skills can actually be fulfilled by the gig economy. “Contract staffing may become a better alternative to having a bench. It will become a reality very soon,” opines Roy.
Is it ‘The-End’ for the bench?
HR pundits in the consultancy and IT sector are of the opinion that while the purpose behind having a bench will still hold true, it may take a different shape in times to come.
Employees will be sent to the bench as per the requirement of the business at that point in time and the concept of keeping employees benched for a month or more will disappear
Padmaja Alaganandan, CPO, PwC India, opines that organisations may see a greater adoption of a flexible workforce model. “Keeping in mind the cost of hiring and training new employees, an organisation may look at having their existing talent on a retainer basis and use their services as and when required,” says Alaganandan.
This has dual benefits for both the organisation and the employee- the employee gets an opportunity to explore employment opportunities beyond just one, without having to disconnect with the known working environment and people of the current organisation.
For the employer, it means the availability of a trained and experienced employee who is aware of the systems and processes of the organisation and can take up a project faster than a new hire would.
Suchismita Burman, CHRO, ITC Infotech, reiterates that the bench as a concept will remain however the application will be different. “Employees will be sent to the bench as per the requirement of the business at that point in time and the concept of keeping employees benched for a month or more will disappear” says Burman.
This means that if there is no immediate requirement to deploy, people will be transferred to the bench to be trained in certain skillsets which the business demands at the time being as necessary. Efficiency and agility in this sense would mean an employee will not be kept on the bench for an extended period and would be trained for redeployment to projects as soon as possible.
Contract staffing may become a better alternative to having a bench. It will become a reality very soon
Alaganandan agrees that for specialised skills in demand, having a reserve workforce might come in handy.
To train and upskill for in-demand skillsets within a short time brings forth another requirement; that of having motivated and high performing employees to join the bench.
Organisations will not benefit from putting a low performing employee on the bench to upskill for a future project. Qualified employees with a strong background who are motivated to learn and willing to take on new challenges will be the best candidates.
Suffice to say, the bench will not disappear. Instead of looking at it as downtime, employees might look towards the bench as an encouragement from the organisation to prepare for bigger projects.