Younger employees no longer ask what they can do for their employers, but what their employers can do for them, says Shyamal Majumdar…
The CEO in his mid-fifties has just added one more crease on his forehead after taking a look at the sheaf of papers his human resources (HR) team has handed him. The documents include a study commissioned by Cisco and an in-house survey of Gen Y employees (those born after 1992). Gen Y employees may be smart but how do you make them work because they seem to be too distracted, the CEO asks, pointing at the study that covers young employees in 18 countries, including India.
Under a smart headline, “The new morning routine: toothpaste, toilet paper and texting”, the study says 90 per cent of Gen Y check their smartphones for updates often before they get out of bed and give it greater priority over brushing their teeth, taking a shower or getting dressed for work. Two out of five employees said they would feel like a part of them is missing, if they couldn’t use their smartphones to stay connected. The craving to stay connected means that the lines between work and social life/family life are blurring.
The study adds: “Time is elastic: for Generation Y, there are no clear markers between ‘the workday’ and personal time – both blend and overlap throughout the day and night”. These are the takeaways from the Cisco report. The in-house survey is no less disconcerting for the CEO. The headline, borrowed from the Time magazine’s “The Me Me Me generation”, criticises Gen Y for apparent “narcissism, idealism and laziness”. Senior managers in the organisation generally have a negative view of their Gen Y employees who, they feel, have unrealistic compensation expectations, a poor work ethic, and are easily distracted.
These traits lead to Gen Y having an “instrumental approach” to the companies they work for. For, younger employees no longer ask what they can do for their employers, but what their employers can do for them. The in-house survey has many other no-confidence points on Gen Y. For example, they lack the “loyalty gene” that previous generations possessed and they want to get on with their careers and are very quick to vote with their feet. They are also “overly ambitious dreamers”, who will flit from job to job. Today’s new starters are bombarded with “five-minute success stories” and feel they would be dubbed losers if they stay in an organisation beyond two years.
This leads to fear among senior managers that having spent time and money on developing the next generation of talent, individuals might leave before they have fulfilled their potential and repaid their value. The survey’s grim insights are perhaps the reason the CEO has been seeing a huge attrition rate in his company. But the so-called insights tell only a limited part of the story. While some part of the fears are justified, most are not. Many of India’s leading recruiters say that calling Gen Y employees “overly ambitious dreamers” is a sweeping generalisation.
In any case, it can also be interpreted this way: that Gen Y are born leaders who are desperate to rise up the corporate ladder. Confident and competitive, they see the value of leading from the front and crave more responsibility. The survey unwittingly offers some important lessons for managements that are still trying to find ways to tackle the aspirations of younger employees: “For this generation, information is real-time, all the time. For employers, this is meaningful because it demonstrates that the workforce of the future is more agile, more informed and more responsive than any previous generation”.
There are other lessons as well. For example, while painting the new generation as an aggressive bunch of go-getters that is eager to take the escalator rather than the stairs to the corner office, it also says the new generation wants more independence and doesn’t want anyone putting their actions under the microscope all the time. One thing about Gen Y is clear: they have the hunger for success. In any case, employing Gen Y is no longer an option, it’s a reality. So how do HR professionals get the best out of them?
Senior managers should understand that it’s patently wrong and unfair to judge everything from their prism. Unlike most of them, Gen Y wants to know how they have been doing almost on a constant basis since they are used to communicating with their peers on a real-time basis through the plethora of technology tools that are almost ubiquitous. They want to know whether they are making any meaningful impact on the company they are working for. “Unlike the previous generation, this one has career options and wouldn’t mind shifting to another area where they can make a better impact,” an HR expert says. So, consistent feedback and positive affirmation are the key. If Gen Y employees feel like they are being recognised for their work, they will work harder. In short, instead of the typical boss-subordinate relationship, Gen Y prefers a mentoring relationship. You don’t need to offer a trophy with every pay cheque, but regular feedback will make them feel they are working with a purpose.
Experts also say gone are the days of physical presence of employees in office. The young generation is no longer interested in being present for office meetings or the morning phone calls, and feel in the days of instant messaging, these are essentially a waste of time. Part of that change is already visible with telecommuting or hoteling springing up in almost all metropolitan cities. Several companies do not even have a permanent office. They hire workstations and a place on an hourly basis to organise employee meetings only when it’s absolutely necessary. In short, don’t bother about where they are and what they are doing during office hours – provided the job is done. n