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Gitanjali Maria's picture

The millennial generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged”                                                 – Neil Howe and William Strauss from “Millennials Rising”

Firms and nations today take pride in talking about the average age of their employees/teams; the smaller it is, better and smarter it is considered. The reasoning behind it being that the younger the workforce the smarter, more tech savvy, flexible and open the environment at the workplace is. Countries also take pride in their youth and younger demographics. Emerging countries like India and Philippines will have average workforce ages below 30 years by 2020 compared to the aging populations in western economies.

Despite the economic recession, almost 36% of the workforce comprises of millennials. Millennials is expected to be 46% of the workforce by 2020 according to a report by the University of North Carolina. While the younger generation, especially the millennials – those born between 1981 and 1993 – bring a whiff of energy and enthusiasm to the workforce, there often occurs a conflict between the energy and experience. Conflicts of workplace conduct, aspirations and way of doing work often leads to sparks in the office. The general feeling is that millennials are entitled, lazy, non-focused and narcissistic. Given the age gap and the difference in circumstances in which they grew up, conflict between the generations is bound to happen.

Millennials have a lot of expectations from their job and career, different from their older peers. Unlike their older peers who believe in setting targets and going about doing their goals on their own, youngsters believe more in collaboration and teamwork. They prefer to seek opinions from other colleagues and to work in groups, discuss and to come to final conclusions. This preference of doing work in a collective manner is what has led to development and interest in team work experiments. This is different from the preferred style of working of baby boomers who lead by example rather than join up with co-workers. Almost 60% of millennials say that they need specific directions to do their best work compared to 30% of boomers.

Millennials also expect quick decisions and fast learning. They believe they are capable to make significant impacts and expect to get promoted with hefty hikes within the first couple of years of joining a firm. This is contrary to the expectations and beliefs kept by the older generation who spent their time to get the expected benefits and maturity levels. Youngsters are considered an impatient lot, interested more in what the company can do for them in terms of salaries, bonuses and perks than what their actual learning will be. The younger generation has grown up in an environment where everyone was deemed a winner. They have been protected and glorified by their parents and hence are often not able to digest the fact that everyone can’t be promoted or given same appraisals.

This has also led to employees not staying with the same organization for more than a few years. Millennials in their quest to achieve a lot in a short period of time change ships and hence seem to exhibit less loyalty to their employer than do their older counterparts. Millennials stick with the same job only for an average of two years while boomers remain with an employer for an average of seven years according to a report by Payscale. While the older generation takes this attitude of the youngsters for lack of loyalty to the workplace, it is actually their zeal to excel quickly and grow faster in a short time that makes switch jobs to achieve faster. But the results may not be positive always.

Millennials also expect a transparent and authentic workplace. They want leaders to involve them in discussions and to get continuous feedback and mentoring. They have grown up in houses where their opinions and voices were considered and hence find hierarchies difficult to understand. They expect the same extension to continue in their workplaces.

While millennial expectations are many, one of the biggest strengths that they bring to the table in this fast paced cut-throat competitive corporate environment is their ease with technology. Millennials are hungrier for new technology. They have grown up in an environment where they have seen technology change rapidly – a three month old mobile phone/tablet is not the newest model for them – and have therefore learnt to adapt to the fast changing environments. They are digital natives compared to the elder generation that is digital immigrants, still trying to grasp and digest actions like mobile phones can be used to pay bills, watches can take orders and the stove can maintain a constant temperature at voice commands. Millennials are tech-savvy, hyper-connected, entrepreneurial and collaborative. They favour fast-paced work environments, is bolder in term of risk appetite, want quick promotions and dislike traditional office and hierarchies.

Millennials have an abundance of self-confidence and believe that they are highly valuable to any organization from day one itself. They are focused on developing themselves and thrive on learning new job skills and always set new challenges to achieve. They are the ‘can do’ generation, optimistic to the core, less worried about failures and see themselves as running the world and work environments. Multi-tasking is their normal way of living. They want environments which provide them a chance to show their leadership skills and to prove their worth.

Living in the virtual world, they don’t mind working remotely and like flexible work schedules. Unlike the older generation that goes by fixed work timings, the millennials believe in work – life integration. They prefer to have flexible options, to come dressed to office in casuals and to have more of the ‘me time’.  The do not clearly demarcate work from personal life though find it essential that they do get sufficient time to pursue their hobbies and other interests. This is in contrast to the older generation that believed in being dressed in formal clothes for office and being present there sharp at 9 a.m. every morning for five days a week.

There is a lot different in the styles of work and in work values too. Millennials preach the effectiveness of smart work over hard work while the baby boomer generation with swear by their perspiration. Millennials will look at analysis and calculations but the elder generation will rely on intuition and experience in addition to the numbers. Millennials want to do work that’s meaningful and satisfying over higher salaries, but the baby boomer generation understands better the need to have money to have a decent standard of living for themselves and their family and is willing to sacrifice their satisfaction for their daily living.

A lot of the elder workforce is beginning to accept many things and cultures brought in by the millennials. With technological changes and stable living conditions, they too have become more entrepreneurial and collaborative. Understanding that the millennials will be the major contributors to the revenue in the next decade and the one after that, they have adopted best practices from the youngsters – use of technology in workforce and everyday lives, flexibility and collaboration in work and personal lives etc.

Millennials too need to imbibe the best from the elder generation. They need to show respect to authorities and have the willingness and patience to watch and learn the expertise of the elders. It becomes important to understand that learning and promotions do not happen in the first couple of years but would take much more time. Patience is a virtue that they will have to learn.

Teams comprising of equal proportions of Millennials and Baby boomers can help in sharing of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. Making the millennials understand that things do not happen instantly in an organization and that learning takes time is essential to ensure that they do not get discouraged during their initial few years. Ensuring that they have sufficient exposure to discussions and projects initiated in the company is essential to make them feel wanted and valuable. Giving them continuous feedback for their work and correcting them should be taken up as a responsibility by the experienced generation.

At the same time millennials should also develop the necessary soft skills needed to interact with the older generation without hurting their sentiments. An optimum mixture of enthusiasm and experience will steer the company to achieve more.