Benched has to be among the most feared verbs in the IT industry. Being benched is worse than being laid off because it doesn’t possess the finality of having no job. A worker on the bench is in limbo — he (or she) could be put on a project tomorrow, or be asked to leave. As companies in the US and Europe, the main markets for Indian IT services firms are delaying ongoing projects and deferring decisions on new ones, companies here are increasingly putting more people on the bench. Not since 2001, when employees at several Indian companies found themselves on the bench in the wake of the dotcom bust, have so many found themselves in limbo. While companies aren’t keen to discuss the numbers on their benches, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that these have been on the rise.
Two weeks ago, Mint spent a week shadowing, in person, through mail, phone, and chat, an employee on the bench. The 25-year old works for a Bangalore-based IT firm and didn’t want either himself or his firm to be identified. The dairy below was reconstructed based on these inputs and is a typical schedule for an employee on the bench.
Wake up at 7:30 am. Play music on laptop. Iron clothes. Have a relaxed breakfast. Read The Times of India. Take an auto to office. Reach at 10:30 am. Office hours are from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm but when you are on bench nobody cares. Check mails; few forwards. Talk to sales team to see if there’s any work in the horizon. Coffee break: this stretches as much as one hour 15 minutes sometimes. Some five to 10 of us take the break together. Back at my desk. Book tickets for an upcoming vacation to Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia. We are backpacking. Read blogs on travel to South East Asia. Coordinate ordering lunch for everyone. Go through YouTube.com for travel videos. Lunch break for one hour. Chat online with friends. Read newspapers online. Nod off. The office boy comes and stands next to me to distribute some sweets and only after he calls out my name a few times do I wake up. Start coding for myself — just to stay in touch. Coffee break again. Play music without headphones to irritate the manager. Our team is so noisy — 12 out of 18 of us are on the bench. Walk around from cubicle to cubicle talking to friends; 50 per cent of the time I’m not at my desk. At 7pm, the manager leaves and the team heads out to watch the latest Bollywood hit, Rock On.
Dreaming of chocolate fantasy (a dessert). Awake at 7:30 am. Borrow a friend’s bike to come to office. Walk into office at 10:30. Check mail. Coffee break with the gang. Do not order lunch — have a lunch meeting with a reporter at 12:30. Head to the nearby mall to check out some jeans. Meet the reporter for lunch. She picks my brains asking how I spend my time. One and a half months on the bench. What can I say? “I’m not bored. I’m delighted. It’s a nice break. You can’t always be working hard. You need some time to yourself. I was on two projects in the US and the UK. Returned from the UK on July 4, and been on the bench since; excepting a short six-week assignment in between.” Finish lunch. She pays for my chocolate fantasy and her brownie. I say goodbye and head to the mall to look at some more jeans. I don’t like the fit. Head to the supermarket to pick up my favourite, Lindt chocolates.
Reach office by 3:30 pm. Coffee break. Passive smoking. Checking out websites for my holiday. On phone with three friends. Leave office at 7 pm. Go home. Have dinner. Go to meet a friend with whom I’m travelling, discuss vacation, get some bookings done. Sleep at 2am.
Wake up late. Have to skip breakfast. Rush to office. Eat chocolates at my desk. Listen to music on Winamp. Chat with friends. Coffee Break. Order chappati and dal from Empire restaurant for lunch. My take on the US financial crisis is this. We are definitely hit by the crash of investment banks though I don’t forsee much of an impact on IT services sector here in India. Still, I am not expecting any projects from US for the next three to four months. I do forsee few projects from the UK, Dubai, China and Europe, though. Lunch with five friends (two are on the bench) in the office pantry. Conversation revolves around my upcoming holiday and my colleagues’ projects. Manager treats the team to some homemade pastries made of chocolate, vanilla and walnut. Boy, she cooks real well. Got an official email — I got promoted! Just how does one manage a promotion while on the bench?. Well, the promotion depends on how well you did in your last project and 360 degree feedback. Chat with friends. Listen to music. Dinner at home, turn in early.
Wake up early. Reach office early — 9:15 am. Read through a pitch for a prospective client that keeps me busy all morning. Order lunch from Hyderabad Biryani. While waiting for food to arrive review previous project. Chat with reporter. She wants to know if what I’m doing with old project is a nostalgia trip or work. It’s work, I tell her. Lunch time. Copy some songs and e-books from my friend’s hard disk. I don’t generally read e-books, use them for reference. Sift through the book on IT. There are some more on management and some novels. They monitor our swipe in and swipe out timings and we have to maintain an average of eight hours. So pretty much tied to the office. But hey, I’m not complaining. Leave office early. Watch Scent of a Woman on my laptop. Get ready to go out. Dinner Dine out at Fiorano, an Italian restaurant, with colleagues. One of the people who got promoted is buying. Five people got promoted in my team. My turn to buy comes soon.
Last night’s tiramisu was something. Have milk for breakfast. Don’t feel like going to work but have a few chores. Reach office at 10 am. Coffee break. As the US financial crisis intensifies, I get the feeling that outsourcing will grow more — companies may ship more work to India. Order chappati and dal for lunch to make up for last night’s indulgences. Wait for my friends. Ask around if there is something I can do. I sometimes end up doing bits of coding or design — for credit, of course. It all reflects in my bonus. sometimes I get some coding work or design work… sometimes I don’t... I make sure they give me credit. And it adds up to my increment and bonus. Lunch with friends in pantry. Play computer games for a while. Review some documents. Work on a proposal. Head home at 6 pm. Dinner with family. Take the late night bus to Chikkmagaluru (a scenic destination some 250km from Bangalore known for its tea and coffee plantations) for the weekend.