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The 2024 Great Unbossing — Desi Edition: How is global trend of firing mid-level managers taking shape in India

The 2024 Great Unbossing — Desi Edition: How is global trend of firing mid-level managers taking shape in India
The next time you join a new organisation, closely look at its reporting hierarchy. Do you have a mid-level manager to report to, or do you have a direct line to the senior executives? If your answer is the latter, you’re most likely part of an organisation that has “unbossed” itself.

Many companies, like life sciences behemoths Bayers and Novartis, have recently hopped onto this un-bossing trend. Closer home, Wipro reportedly laid off many of its middle management employees recently. The IT major is said to have undergone a major un-bossing, even though the main purpose of the exercise was to improve efficiency.

So, what is this un-bossing trend all about, and how are Indian companies taking up to it? And most importantly, will it do anyone good? Let's find out.

What does Gen-Z want?
A recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that by 2025, Gen-Z (born after 1996) will account for 27% of the global workforce. While there are no official figures, a young country like India is expected to have an even higher proportion of Gen-Z workforce, with estimates suggesting 25 crore as against roughly 40 crore millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996).

While the numbers might not be far apart, their work priorities certainly are. For millennials, it has traditionally been about job stability and steadily climbing the corporate ladder. But for Gen-Z, purpose, flexibility, respect at their jobs and a solid work-life balance are key. They are not lured into simply jumping the corporate ranks.

As more companies make way for younger blood in offices, millennials are confronted with a unique, almost existential challenge. With Gen-Z embracing newer tech, remote working and prioritising flexibility and respect at work, corporations are increasingly doing away with mid-level managers, mostly millennials. Even in 2022, millennials were also the hardest hit during the Great Firing Phase as well.

Sanchita Tuli, director of Human Resources at Great Lakes Institute of Management notes that un-bossing is a natural progression, as more organisations will eventually move towards developing flatter reporting hierarchies.

“However, it remains pertinent only to limited industries, like technology, where changes are dynamic and quick. Un-bossing will be nearly impossible in certain industries like education, where one will always need a certain degree of experience to handle higher-order roles. Another industry where un-bossing will not take place is hospitality, where they would be needed to drive daily operations,” she explains.
Bye-Bye mentorship?
What about mentorship and the handholding done by these mid-level managers, which is so crucial during the initial years of one’s career?

"Gen Zers are new to the world of work, and they do really need managers to help them find the ropes. Ultimately, eliminating this kind of middle management position means less guidance, less coaching, and less mentoring, which I feel like is still desperately needed in a post-COVID world," says Shoshanna Davis, the founder of Fairy Job Mother to Business Insider.

Tuli, however, believes that the new generation could also benefit from un-bossing. She believed that the trend offers scope for new talent to access cross-functional guidance and mentorship, both within the organisation and online as well.

In fact, many organisations are increasingly engaging industry professionals to take up training and mentoring sessions for their young, incoming talent. This could benefit the younger lot by motivating them to take on initiatives and action, all on their own.

Zoomers are already unenthused by management. They are the generation that coined the term "lazy-girl jobs" and strongly believe in the benefits of "quiet quitting."

And at the end of the day, solid managers will always be in demand. As per a 2022 report by ThoughtExchange, around 79% of Indian youngsters prioritise having a supportive manager, who is equally invested in their personal growth and professional development while working.

For most parts, Gen-Z merely wants to boot out micromanagement and workplace toxicity, something that has come to be deeply associated with mid-level management. Clearly, the role, which was earlier simply a link between fresh talent and senior management, is in need of a rehaul.

Don't be a boss, be a leader
To buck this trend, mid-level managers will need to be more agile and adaptable to the changing times. In other words, they need to be as un-bossy as possible.

That the oldest, most experienced member of the lot will necessarily also be the wisest is a notion that should be retired. Mid-managers need to be facilitators, and not mere bosses dictating the job. As Tuli states, mid- managers will need to work on fostering a safe and positive workplace culture, where experience, constructive feedback, and new perspectives find equal value and voice.


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