Gen Z Ready To Take On World On Its Own Terms
Generation Z, now poised to test the waters of the job market, will spring many surprises on the employers of the day. This very young, energetic and bold generation is willing to trample on some traditions to be able to lead a more meaningful life, finds a BW-Businessworld - XBSL study
In 1964, when Bob Dylan penned the lyrics of the song we use as a title for this report, his desolate generation took to music, lyrics, literature, satire and the hippie style of life to cock a snook at the war-ravaged world they had lost respect for. As Dylan sang: As the present now/ Will later be past/ The order is rapidly fadin’/ And the first one now/ Will later be last/ For the times they are a-changin’. In India, the ripples on the societal framework were more subtle, as a wave of industrialisation began to change the way people lived their lives and thought.
The economic status quo and the safety and shelter of a feudal framework were crumbling. The landlords of yore (the Zamindari rights were abolished in 1951) were entering “service” in government departments or getting qualified for cushy corporate jobs in multinationals. Agrarian labour was flowing to urban areas to find employment as manual workforce in mills and factories. Every segment of society pined for a steady source of income and job security and was willing to die for it. Customs like the “arranged marriages” within communities, were perhaps among those last vestiges of the feudal status quo that this generation (born between 1946 and 1964) desperately clung on to.
Since then and especially the information technology revolution of the 1970s and 1980s and the liberalisation of the economy that came in its wake, social mobility has gathered break-neck speed. It has also delivered a few knocks on old customs like that “arranged marriage” in the two generations that followed the baby boomers.
In half a century, the ambling bullock carts that once roamed mud paths have been overtaken by speeding vehicles of many makes and road rage. Many societal mores have been squashed in the process to make room for a more convenient and urbane life style.
A BW Businessworld and X Billion Skills Lab study now finds that the centennials (also dubbed Generation Z) born in the wake of the millennials have little patience for the sanctity of marriage or monotonous job routines that actually take them nowhere. The survey of 5,217 youngsters within the age group of 17 years and 22 years in 20 cities across India reveals that Gen Z is more willing to take risks at the job front than in their personal lives. As many as 63 percent of the respondents to the survey conducted among the centennials from the middle class and upper middle - class homes, say they prefer live-in relationships where both partners contribute equally, before jumping into marriage.
The bulk (60 percent) of the respondents are male. Most (72 percent) are still finishing college and 28 percent are into their first year in a job. “As the economy opens up, industries diversify, consumers become more desirous of new experiences or products, alongside an increase in spending capacity, and as the internet enters into the minds of Gen Z: they now have something the early millennials and baby boomers never had – the power of choice and information,” says Samyak Chakrabarty, Founder and Managing Director, X Billion Skills Lab. That power of choice now makes them seek jobs that make a social impact, provides them learning experiences and enables them to lead a fulfilled life through a work-life balance.
Stability Is No Longer A Factor
It goes without saying that pressure of peer groups and society at large or even parental approval mean far less to the centennials than it did to the generations before them. The attitude spills beyond their personal lives and into career choices. “What will people say” is no longer a social deterrence or a professional one. Only 10 percent of the respondents say opinions of parents, society, and peers matter to them in making career choices. “It does not matter to me if my family understands or accepts what I do. Unfortunately, for them success equals being an established doctor, lawyer, marketing guy, etc.,” says Prukalpa Ravindran* (names changed) in Cochin, “As long as I know I am on my chosen path, it is taking me forward and paying for my wants I am happy.”
This incidentally, is a segment of 21st Century India that does not shoulder domestic responsibilities single-handedly and so, is willing to take on more risks at the job front. Only 53 percent of the respondents are comfortable with the promise of stability if what they are doing is also fulfilling and interesting.
Most find stability monotonous as a concept and co-relate it with stagnancy. “To be honest, I think stability is a manifestation of inherent laziness and a very fixed view of things. What fun is life, including work, if it does not throw surprises or let you flow into areas or opportunities you never thought existed?” asks Rahul Rai* in Bangalore.
The youth now prefer career experiences that are diverse and challenging. “I know that by the time I am 40, I will have to ensure there is a stable income and means to build enough capital to support old age. But before that, I want to be able to work on ideas that are experimental or may not end up being successful, but allow me to be part of an experience of inventing and building something from scratch,” says Jyotsna Cheruvu* in Hyderabad.
Prefer Startups Over MNCs
The bold and the restless waiting in the wings to test the waters of the job market not only shun stability to take on new challenges, but also prefer responsibility for better pay packages. The majority (63 percent) say they would rather work in startups and in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) than in large multinationals in the first three years. Generation Z feels their contributions would be valued in the smaller and high growth environment since startups typically have a flat structure and involve frequent and direct interaction with the founder.
Startups also provide the opportunity to be the founding part of a unique vision. To quote Shaan Chatterji in Kolkata, “A startup culture is high paced, fun and also very inspiring”. Chatterji is not afraid of failure. “It is possible that it may also fail, but the experience of building something from scratch at the start of one’s career is far more valuable than being a small fish that no one knows or cares about in a big pond,” he says.
Gen Z prefers to choose employers with care. They are wary of work environments where first jobbers are taken for granted and compelled to do back office work for seniors, in streams like chartered accountancy, for instance. The youth of the day prefer being allowed to use their own intelligence. They want to be heard and made to feel that their contribution is significant. As many as 74 per cents of the respondents want to pick career streams where younger talent is given more responsibility right from the start.
Says 18-year-old Aprameya Rajan, a student of science in Chennai, “I would hate to start my career in a stream where entry level staff are used as mere machines for monotonous research, taking minutes of meetings, doing follow ups for bosses or being buried under tons of paperwork.” She says, “I want to start off at a place where my intelligence is leveraged and shaped from day one.”
Most of all, Gen Z priortise learning. “Thanks to the information overflow on digital platforms, youth are aware how quickly knowledge becomes irrelevant in this fast-moving world,” points out Natasha Oza, Behavioural Architect at X Billion Skills Lab. “So in order to remain relevant, they constantly seek to upgrade their knowledge and ability through a variety of e-learning platforms. This habit is here to say,” she says.
‘Sense Of Purpose’
So, since neither money, nor job security excites Gen Z, what does? Apparently, it is a “sense of purpose” in doing what they do, but not quite in the way of social service. The centennials care about the environment and want to make a social impact through the job they do, but prefer technology-driven social enterprises to non-government organisations (NGOs).
Of the 5,217 youngsters surveyed, 62 per cent say they want to create a positive impact on society and 59 per cent say they prefer companies that create minimal damage to the environment. “Working for a social enterprise gives us the chance to understand the nuances of business as well as that of a sustainable impact model. NGOs depend heavily on CSR funding and are restricted by old school belief systems of making a difference,” says Navin Goswami*. Goswami is studying for a degree in Bachelor of Business Administration in New Delhi. “An enterprise-based approach also allows for more scale and use of technology,” he says.
Gen Z place a premium on a meaningful life and making some form of measurable impact on society through the job they do. They feel the company they work for should ideally be building a product or service that enhances the quality of people’s lives.
“It is not just impact enterprises – even working in fields like digital payments, agro-tech or healthcare tech, is fulfilling because what we’re a part of is playing a role in changing the way people live, for the better,” says Samaga Natekar*, a 19- year- old student of the Liberal Arts in Kolkata.
The young and the restless are not content being money-making machines. They seek fulfilling jobs and a work-life balance. They say they do wish to make money, but not at the cost of their mind space and “personal time”. A whopping 76 per cent say they want to pick careers that allow them to explore and understand the world beyond the workplace.
“We spotted a brewing resistance toward careers that have an impression of being extremely stressful and demanding, such as investment banking and finance. Even if it means more money, many one-on-one interactions saw youth questioning what the point of this money is when it comes at the expense of mental and physical health, peace, and personal time,” reveals Oza, who spearheaded the behavioural analysis of this survey.
Generation Z is zealous about personal time for travelling, the company of friends and family and pursuing intellectually-stimulating activities. “Work has to be an enabler of life, not become life itself,” quips young Viren Bajaj in Ahmedabad.
Automation And Soft Skills
Not surprisingly, Gen Z sees automation at the workplace as an opportunity. Only 27 per cent of the respondents see it as a threat. The remaining 73 per cent are excited about the opportunities automation brings to the workplace and expect a shift in tasks from the mundane to the creative, from simple to complex, and from functional to human. Even so, Generation Z does value “soft skills”. As automation and a technology driven business ecosystem disrupts the job market, the youth of the day feel that thinking skills, people skills and process skills will be far more important than technical skills.
As many as 83 per cent of respondents feel that human skills will be more relevant and important than data science, AI, and other technical skills. “We sensed that because Gen Z – from middle and upper middle class backgrounds – already don’t like mundane and rote tasks, automation is perceived as a positive change in the workplace,” says Aparna Shankar, Chief Learning Architect at X Billion Skills Lab. “In my view, being good at creative problem solving, storytelling, negotiation, collaboration and decision making will be valued far more professionally than just academic knowledge. What else will separate me from another equally qualified professional?” wonders Angad Singh Anand* in Chandigarh.
Most centennials (barring a tiny 12 per cent) consider hiring based on a CV and aptitude tests unfair. The rest feel that a mere document or standard cognitive ability tests do not give employers a complete picture of the value an applicant can bring to the workplace. As many as 88 per cent of the respondents quantify their experiences and other skill sets in their job applications.
Gen Z also gives more importance to the outcome and not the process, and expects employers to do the same. As many as 62 per cent of the youth surveyed prefer creative independence, to being hand-held. They feel that not giving them in depth instructions on how to work pushes them to think out-of-the-box and creatively solve problems, instilling a sense of ownership over the work. They therefore, crave for a flexible environment where they have the freedom to work however they work best, including remote work as an option.
As many as 42 per cent of the respondents see flexibile work timings as the most important component of work culture. “Companies should focus on my productivity, not physical presence,” says Chandrika in Patna. “My quality of work matters more than the quantity of hours spent doing it, or where I do it from. If my boss gives me this freedom, I know he trusts me enough to finish everything at my own pace and deliver quality output – this makes me want to make sure I do a good job to maintain that trust,” she says.
“It is essential for HR teams to understand and embrace the new mindset of Gen Z if companies wish to enhance productivity, build loyalty and attract quality, young talent,” points out Samyak Chakrabarty. “Contrary to popular, and rather convenient beliefs that youth go for fancy offices, cool designations, plush seating, better coffee, free gourmet food or frequent alcohol infused team bonding, new-age job seekers have deeply personal feelings and aspirations, which are far more important than superficial baits,” he says. Well, as Dylan sang at another poignant turning point in history, the times, they are a-changin’.
X BILLION SKILLS LAB < > BW BUSINESSWORLD STUDY
Study based on three main research styles:
In Depth 1 on 1 qualitative interviews
Focus Group Discussions
Digital Survey (conducted through Google forms for a web
version and XBSL’s own proprietary survey software for the
Total Sample Size: 5217
5% sample selection for focus group discussion
1% sample selection for in-depth, qualitative 1-1 interviews
Mumbai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Ranchi,
Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mysore, Baroda, Surat,
Chandigarh, Guwahati, Patna, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Goa,
Udaipur, Jaipur, Cochin
72 % were in final year in college
28 % were 12 months into a job
* Names of respondents changed to protect their privacy