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Looking Past The ‘Millennial Workplace’ Buzzword

There has been a lot of discussion and debate in recent years over ‘the advent of millennials’ in the workplace and how this is necessitating a re-look at HR practices and employee policies. I personally feel that this uni-dimensional focus on millennials is misplaced and there are mixed messages around managing them.

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Let me clarify; I am not saying that work culture should not evolve or change but the common belief that underlying behaviors at workplace have significantly changed and attributing it to merely to generational boundaries (read as year of birth!) is oversimplifying a complex problem. Millennials, despite their independent streak and inherent comfort with technology – traits that hold true for most of their kind –have similar worldviews and face the same realities as GenX and Baby boomers did. And the trends that have shaped their generation have changed earlier lives too, albeit maybe to a different degree.

Per a recent survey carried out by a leading Indian youth music and entertainment channel (the survey encompasses views of 11000+ youth from 50+ cities), millennials can be expounded with 8 traits - open minded, multi-dimensional, creative, confident, happy, ambitious, smart thinking, and thoughtful. When I look at these traits, what strikes me is that these can be attributed to any generation when they were in that particular life stage. Similarly, when examined closely, the professional expectations of millennials are not drastically different from those of the previous generations. Flexible working hours and working on-the-go are not exactly new concepts. Accelerated career growth has always been an impetus in the workplace. It’s just that millennials, with their sheer numbers and forthright manner, have lent all this more weight and newfound relevance. And I will come to the impact of technology in a bit.

I believe that the career outlook and the professional decisions of individuals are influenced greatly by what stage of life they are in, which, in turn, is determined not just by age, but by factors such as socio-economic environment, access to information, financial health, academic pursuits etc. It doesn’t matter what year you were born in; these things could have different relevance in your life at different points in time.

I acknowledge and appreciate the fact that millennials are competitive in nature. But they too have an underlying need of attaching their values to the professional growth and this is something they have in common with the previous generations. Youngsters today have strong opinions and like to see their personal values reflected in the organization they work with. They have low tolerance for high-handed behavior or roundabout talk, and do not take kindly to discrimination. And they have no compunctions on moving on, if the work or the work culture goes against their nature. This isn’t a reflection of their loyalty, but a testament to the flexibility their generation enjoys in making career decisions.

I believe that access to information, enabled through technology, and blurring geographical boundaries around workplaces have had greater impact on how millennials behave and their consequent expectations. The rate of change of change has increased. This is reflected in almost all HR processes – reduction in cycle time of performance assessment, need for immediate/ ongoing feedback, more frequent job changes, pay rate changes happening through the year as against an annual cycle et all. Multitasking has become a thing of the past now. It is more about multi-achieving. And they would fit more achievement within a specific time frame then the previous generations.

So for me the key takeaways are that we should stop overly focusing on generational boundaries, clear out myths around how millennials behave and get back to evaluating changing nature of the overall business and the impact technology is having on it. How people behave will be a fallout of that.


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