Ask any individual who has been part of the corporate workforce for around two decades, and they will tell you that the most indistinguishable shifts at their workplaces have been the dramatic change in demographics and the intensive penetration of technology! With a new generation of young professionals entering the market, not just the median age but the shape, colour as well as gender balance of the workforce has changed radically in recent years. Add to it the rapid onslaught of technology, increased connectivity and easy familiarity of the workforce with new technological innovations, the way we work has also witnessed a sharp shift.
Changing demography drives an inevitable change in workplace dynamics. At Sunlife Financial, where I oversee the human resource policy, as many as 90 per cent of the employees are millenials; a majority of the workforce is below 40 years of age. This implies that our organisation is practically run by people who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, who witnessed the Internet revolution while growing up, and are completely at home in a world where distances have shrunk and communication technology is all pervasive. They are a generation who have wide exposure to the happenings around the world, including the way leading international corporations work and treat their employees. Understandably, their demands and expectations from their workplace are much different from that of the previous generation. It is, therefore, incumbent on managers to ensure their organisations change to meet the requirements of a changing workforce. Organisational culture is a critical factor that attracts and binds employees to their company. The more amenable the work culture, the longer an employee is likely to stay put. Unless and until the top management reinvents itself with the changing times, it will not be able to provide the right leadership.
The millennial surge
India is expected to become the youngest country by 2022, with an average age of 29 and a millennial population of 400 million. In fact, India’s millennial generation is bigger than that of China or the US, and it will boost the nation’s labour force to the world’s largest by 2027.
With the Generation X closing towards retirement, the world’s corporate workforce is largely turning into a millennial juggernaut. Easily the largest generation in history and an influential force today, millenials, however, are not a uniform block. There are multiple generations within this category — a new employee who has joined an organisation at 21 is a millennial, so is a senior manager who has 10 years of work experience. It is extremely important for human resource managers to take into account this reality and work towards re-scripting organisational policies.
This younger generation not only has a different understanding of the workplace as well as expectations from it, but they are also more likely to voice their opinions strongly and change jobs if not happy. They value not just monetary compensation, but also job satisfaction, a large part of which flows from the workplace culture. Elements such as workplace flexibility, greater autonomy and being able to do things differently play an important role in determining workplace culture.
Spontaneity and flexibility over protocol
Twenty years back it was difficult to visualise an important corporate meeting taking place over pizza and breadsticks at a casual food joint. However, today this is a norm rather than an exception. While the classical concept of work dictated a serious and highly formal approach when it came to clothes, addressing people and adhering to protocols, a lot of these things are considered redundant today. This is a generation that may perform some serious work while simultaneously being plugged into their MP3 and sipping coffee at the cafeteria; they may discuss a crucial campaign idea while also running over a treadmill. More organisations today are adopting the idea of open offices that are characterised by minimal cabin spaces and dividing walls. This more democratic and less hierarchal approach gives way to a free interplay of ideas and greater intermingling of creative juices — just the kind of environment the young generation finds ideal for work. Offices today are brighter, colourful and visually happy places rather than the black and white monochrome settings that defined the formal office look earlier.
The formal settings of the conference rooms have in many places made way for more informal and practical collaboration spaces, where a group of people from different teams can deliberate together while working on a common project. Easy accessibility of laptops and round- the-clock connectivity have ensured that even employees working remotely or in different offices can conveniently join important meetings through video calls, without having to be physically present all the time. Flexible work timings and work-from-home settings allow employees greater space and room to balance work and personal lives, and organisations are increasingly adopting these approaches to give precedence to employee convenience.
A lot of formal approaches to work have also become redundant in a workplace driven by spontaneity and convenience. Skipping formal communication through mails in favour of on-the-go updates on WhatsApp groups and one-on-one communication has become a norm. In a nutshell, the focus today has turned more on a result-oriented approach to work rather than a process-oriented one. Organisations must understand that the working generation of the day wants greater freedom and autonomy to finish projects in their own unique ways.
Focus on health and wellness
A key area organisations today must give priority to is focus on the overall health and wellness of employees by ushering in a culture of care and comfort. The health and wellness policy must not just stop at sick leave, health insurance and the customary annual health check-up. It must go much beyond to ensure the physical, mental and psychological well-being of employees.
In a rapidly changing world where social and family support is shrinking, it becomes a responsibility of the organisation to keep a check on your employees’ mental well-being as well. Has the performance of one of your bright and productive employees suddenly taken an unexplained beating? There might be some nagging mental health issues behind it.
Thankfully, a number of organisations today are paying attention to this critical aspect that still remains largely a taboo in India. A number of organisations today have tied up with counselling services. Several companies provide the help of psychologists to their employees, while others provide remote call services.