For the first time ever, a leading Indian IT company has witnessed a street protest by its own prospective employees. Predictably, social media helped bring the protesters together.

The company happens to be HCL Technologies, whose vice-chairman Vineet Nayar — till recently the CEO — had made 'employees first, customers second' a major slogan, winning global recognition for turning conventional management wisdom on its head.

Across major Indian cities, graduate students offered jobs by HCL Technologies in 2011 are protesting on social media and outside the company's offices demanding that they be immediately intimated about joining dates. The company, like several other in the industry, underestimated the global demand slowdown for IT and now finds itself with too many employees on its hands. It is keen to postpone onboarding of its campus hires.

The protest snowballed into a street campaign thanks to a Facebook group called HCL Technologies 2012 Freshers. In Bangalore, protesters said they have even filed a police complaint against the company.

For the HCL brand, this may be quite a knock.Management and brand consultant Harish Bijoor says brands touch employees as much as they touch customers. "It's important for companies to avoid any negative strokes to their potential hires. If you have a strong brand statement and you tend to fall short on it, a small canker can get bigger. They have to cut the chase, especially after the campaign has gone viral," he says.

The protesters say they are unable to get anybody responsible in HCL to communicate with them. The company has a Smart Service Desk, supposedly a one-stop redressal system for campus recruitment queries. "But whatever question you ask on that, you receive an automated response saying we will have to wait till August," said one of those offered a job by the company. Officially too, HCL has so far only said that it was committed to "have each individual with letters of intent from HCL join us" and that it would start communicating joining dates in August.

Several other IT companies have delayed fresher onboarding, but industry observers say some of them have done a better job of communicating their plans.

S Mahalingam, advisor, HR, at Symphony Teleca Corporation, says it's very normal to stagger onboarding to meet demand requirements. "But staggering itself is planned; therefore, it does not shock the system. When companies fail to communicate delays and deferments is when things go wrong and students start panicking," he says.

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