Millennials vs Baby Boomers: The changing landscape at workplace


Millennials, who comprise around 50 per cent of the workforce, are not just pushing the companies to change their interiors; the transformation is evident in ergonomics, structure, cultures and work norms as well.

The millennial generation has invaded the workplace. The transformation is clearly visible — workstations are changing and so are the landscapes and interiors of offices. Rolling power chairs have given way to bean bags. Even the once dull grey or white walls now display brighter hues of orange, red and blue. Clearly, the presence of Gen Y – the other nomenclature for the millennial generation – cannot be ignored any more. They might presently comprise about 50 per cent of the workforce, but in the next five years, this segment is expected to outnumber the baby boomers and Gen X.

The visible changes are just one aspect of this evolving workplace. Companies are adapting their ergonomics, structure, cultures and work norms to meet the preferences of the emerging millennial segment. While some have adapted to this change early, others are still in the process of doing so.

Though the after-effects of this transformation are debatable, the fact remains that this evolution cannot be postponed any further. Today’s typical new-generation organisation, with maximum millennial employees, is a fractal of the country’s larger social composition.

In comparison to other advanced economies, the transformation seems to be far more striking in India because of the country’s rapid pace of liberalisation and increasing globalisation, since the 1990s.

India has also leapfrogged through tremendous advances in technology, including the adoption of mobile phones, the Internet and social media.

The New Rule Book
An interesting way to look at this shift is to see how it plays out in the way companies employ and function, for instance, the use of social media for tapping talent. The recognition mechanisms have become spontaneous and real time through the use of technology.

The rapidly evolving business environment, driven by disruptive technology shifts and breakthrough consumer-led innovations, has changed the way business is done. This has had a domino effect on the way how leaders are chosen within an organisation as well.

D. Prashant Nair

“The vertical hierarchical workplace is slowly shifting to an environment of horizontally networked work groups. Here, the typical command and chain method of working is making way for self-managed individuals, who like to pursue projects that they are interested in”, says D. Prasanth Nair, managing partner and country head, InHelm Partners.

In the new scheme of things, leadership is bestowed on the basis of competence and capability to visualise the future, rather than just past experience and seniority.

The other significant change has been the growing acceptance of telecommuting and job sharing practices by companies. This openness is an effort to adapt to the millennial mindset, which, by nature, has a strong preference for flexibility.

This generation is innovative, tech-savvy, collaborative, impatient and unconventional. They prefer to stretch, and incentive structures with a performance-linked multiplier can be effective for them.

The Conflict
The millennial generation has not just changed the workplace, but has transformed Indian homes as well. Today’s parents are far more open to including their children in decision making than their predecessors. But most workplaces continue to be in a ‘hierarchical set-up that is planned, managed and reviewed by seniors. 

Geethaa Ghaneckar

“This dissonance between the home environment and the workplace often confuses the new generation and the end result is disengagement and distance at the workplace,” says Geethaa Ghaneckar, CHRO – Lifestyle Business, Raymond.

On the other hand, there are also places, where older employees are answerable to younger seniors. While people with significant exposure to the global corporate space accept this readily, for others, this turns out to be a difficult situation and often leads to some amount of workplace tension. Such tensions are likely to exist till the new mindset becomes an organic practice.

A company should be very careful in dealing with Gen X. It should never ever state in any way that the experience and maturity that Gen X brings is of no value to the organisation. Often, companies in the process of adapting the millennial mindset become so myopic, that they start overlooking the interests and expectations of other generations. This could lead to a dangerous situation.

The yearning to experience new and exciting challenges, the freedom to bring in personal uniqueness, and the empowerment to do what it takes, define the significant needs of the youth at workplaces today. The need for freedom and empowerment spans a host of issues: vocabulary, dress code, work-time, work–life balance, use of social media and so on. This is a generation that is not hierarchical in its outlook. It respects competencies and knowledge, and not the authority that simply comes with age or position.

Herein lies the rub: In most organisations, policies are created by a group of senior people who do not fully understand or appreciate the mindset of the youth. The gap between the traditional outlook of people who are taking decisions and those who are getting impacted by these decisions is increasing. This results in a mismatch.

The Pitfalls
Millennials can definitely be and are an asset, if channelised properly. However, they are also flirtier customers than loyal ones. They are unpredictable, and hence, difficult to manage. In some cases, they lack stability.

“The current generation in India, entering the workforce, has seen affluence and abundance in options, early in life. They are also more independent and more aware of global opportunities. This is reflected in the decreasing loyalty toward their employers and the increasing focus on short-term goals,” explains Ghaneckar.

According to the Future Workplace study — Multiple Generations @ Work — 91 per cent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. This is one reason why some companies refrain from investing in this new generation.

Besides, millennials expect a crystal clear line of sight when it comes to career progression, which may not always be possible. Hence, it is a continuous challenge to keep them engaged and motivated through interesting projects and assignments.

Things to watch out for
Yes, it is a brutal truth – Gen X will feel the heat if they do not warm up to the reality and exercise their own learning agility to come up the curve quickly. However, the fact remains that the best transitions will be led by people with experience, who have managed to stay at the forefront of the new world. This involves enabling senior leaders to continuously reinvent themselves in the most intelligent way to manage this scenario.

The need of the hour is a balanced approach, which caters to different sections of the workforce. An ideal workplace would be one, where the youthful energy and sense of abundance of the millennials are balanced with the wisdom that comes with the experience and maturity of Gen X.

Besides, young employees need to be sensitised well before they get into supervisory roles. Inculcating basic attributes, like respect for seniority and age, treating older employees as mentors, giving them due space and continuously leveraging their experience, will help shape the younger brigade better.

“We must create organisations that are competitive, fun to work with and flexible in approach; organisations, which value performance and where individuals have freedom to think and do,” says Nair.

Millennials are often blamed for their short stints. However, Ghaneckar is of the opinion that the effort should not be to gauge them from the time they spent, but one should try and make their tenure enjoyable and highly value-adding. When they leave the company and go elsewhere, they will continue to remain brand ambassadors and think warmly of the time they spent with the organisation.

The company culture needs to be open and honest. Only when there is freedom to have opinions and express them, can everyone benefit from a diverse intellectual pool.

The best way to align with the millennial segment is to continuously take their inputs and allow the culture to evolve with them.

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