Understanding the misunderstood millennials
Designation : - Senior Executive-HR
Organization : - Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, Chennai
Other Writers : - Dr. Lalatendu Kesari Jena - Assistant Professor (OB & HR), Xavier School of HRM (XaHR), Xavier University, Bhubaneswar
Organizations are learning how to tap this largely diverse workforce by co-creating systems for better inclusion. Inclusion, on the contrary holds different meaning to the different age groups co-existing within these systems. Ranging from beards, piercings to clean shaven, tucked-in formals; the face of workplaces has completely changed. What is normalcy for millennials (born after 1980) could be a bit alarming for Baby Boomers (born after 1944). These so-called labels at workplaces are what hinder the unity in this diversity. Retention of the younger generational cohorts tagged as the "high performing knowledge workers", has become a crucial area of concern for many organizations. Stereotypes among these cohorts are bound to exist but need not bound to be affecting the work environment and the knowledge management of the organizations. Enough hype has polarized the millennial popularity, which needs to be ignored rather than popularized. "Gig Economy", "Netizens", "Digital generations" are the infamous buzz words in the corridors. But do these labels fuel the fire of stereotyping or propagate inclusion is still an unanswered question.
But this does not imply that millennial workers do not have their set of struggles. Similarly, there are areas such has work centrality, organizational loyalty, work ethics which hold very different meanings to different age groups. This difference in mindsets can be due to various factors such as upbringing, social exposure, ethnicity, education, life experiences and many more. Incorporating all of these and maintain cohesive work culture is the real challenge. The social identity theory clearly explains the traits exhibited by groups of people in social or work settings as a result of the various factors impacting their lives. Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (e.g. social class, family, football team etc.) which people belonged to, are an important source of pride and self-esteem.
The myth uncovered
Stereotypes surrounding these cohorts are rather concealing the truth, than helping organizations to mitigate their impacts. Managers with these stereotypes tend to create a bubble as to what their employees are going to be rather than seeing what their employees really are. Whether right or wrong everyone carries some kind of stereotypes when it comes to age groups at work. For example :
- Millennials got recognized for even their smallest achievements as their generation had the concept of participation prize, medals and awards. They have less interpersonal skills as they live and communicate in a digital world.
- Baby Boomers having lived in the pre-technology era know very less about the latest technology and hence are backward and slower.
- Gen Xers are torn between family responsibilities and their hunger for growth. They are more independent and do not like to be micromanaged. They are in the phase of so called "mid-life crisis".
Professionals' views however narrate a very different imagery. The only differences that really exist among these generational cohorts, is their work styles and not the age-based mindsets about each other. Practices like reverse mentoring and performance-based growth have changed the scenarios of workplaces. Often a younger person is found to be leading a team of older employees and they do actually work in harmony. All the big giants like Google, Facebook, IBM, Oracle have a very diverse top management and equally diverse workforce and their success in the markets speak for themselves.
Another perspective was brought in by the GM HR Partner of IBM India, Mr. Soumya Acharya, who is a millennial himself and has a very different picture to paint. He says that in his 10 years of experience, age has never been a factor that would shadow his quality of work, neither affect his growth in the organization. He has been extremely comfortable working with the senior members (I would further avoid using the generational tags) and has had a mutual learning and growing environment. He brings in a global flavor to this aspect by highlighting that IBM overseas has a much similar pattern where multiple positions, senior and well as junior, are held by people of diverse age groups and they all work in harmony.
Ex. Senior HR manager turned entrepreneur Mrs. Sanghmitra Sathpathy who is now a freelancer and a gig worker with 8 years of experience in Infosys was one of the youngest employees to head the deadliest of projects and emphasized on the much-needed guidance of her experienced colleagues, which beelined her to succeed. The above instances bring us the clarity that these so-called stereotypes are pseudo and what really matters is the skill currency of the employees rather than their age. Organizations which practice an inclusive co-existence often are devoid of these stereotypes. Pioneers in organizational research have claimed that even if these stereotypes do exist, they can be managed by tinkering the work climate and culture and does not need to be over-hyped and exaggerated.
Rather than tagging younger employees as technology snobs, over sensitive and needy, the middle aged as always tired and irritated and critical about everything, and the older employees as cranky, micro managing, slow and outdated; there are ways to integrate all the crankiness, neediness and irritability in a productive way.
- There are similar values across these age groups - family, integrity, self-respect, love, zeal for learning, work life balance ("the me time"). These can be utilized effectively for harnessing the potentials of all these cohorts.
- Concentrating on the high and aggressive performers is not enough, the "Steady Eddies" are the horses of the long and tiring run and are equally essential for the organization. These are often the senior and mature workers who are steady and help stabilize the aggressive young workers.
- Looking at individual expectations would be better than generalizing them according to their generational expectations. Not every Gen Xer needs job security and so too not every millennial need promotion. Failing to look at these individual expectations may lead to low engagement and poor alignment.
The best managers are like musicians who combine the chords of various types to make a melody. No one chord is the same as the other but together they can either be a pleasure to the ears or a distorted cacophony. Similarly, blending cohorts and over-coming these generational stereotypes is the roadmap towards a sustainable organizational harmony and success.