The dynamics of ‘work’ have been changing for a while now, so much that when I think about writing on the subject, my thinking almost seems outdated! Not surprising, GigaOm’s post from a year ago – How the great generational shift is causing transformation in the very nature of employment – shows as many as six generations active in the workforce these days! Each of them with different world views, attitudes, priorities and approaches to work. But given that I’m trading one demographic number for another in a couple of days, I thought it an appropriate time to share a few observations based on my recent experiences. Since I had written earlier on the challenges faced by my generation in The Future of Work and The Entrepreneur & the Professional, this post focuses on a younger workforce. Millennials, if you are into labels.
The first two points set the context. I mention these two because I think they have a direct link to the worldview, attitudes and behaviours of the emerging workforce towards work, and their life in general. They serve as the backdrop for me to observe the 15+ people I have managed in the last 4-5 years.
- The existence of six generations is not surprising. If you’ve noticed, the shelf life of a generation is much smaller than it used to be. Among my acquaintances, I see a huge difference between an 18 year old and a 23 year old, or a 23 and 28 in terms of perspectives, pop culture, choice of social media platforms and so on. A decade or so ago, I think they’d have had more things in common.
- In fact, I think there’s a definite connection between the shortening generation timeframes and the core premise of the social platforms over time – from the ‘keep in touch with others’ on Facebook to the instant sharing on Twitter and Instagram, to the even more instant ephemerality of Snapchat. This reduction in ‘shelf life’ is also manifest in our physical consumption – seems we’re moving away from ownership to a “why buy when you can rent” (Uber, Netflix) philosophy, and shared consumption as well. Transience is the new normal, and it reflects on many things.
- The relationship that the younger workforce has with technology is radically different from those before them. They seem to accept changes in technology as a given, and I think the word ‘adapt’ would be a misnomer for how they approach these changes. Their basic levels of comfort helps them absorb transformations with seemingly zero effort, without calling them ‘disruptions’!
- Related to that is a fascination for newness, and the willingness to try out new things and experiment – whether it is tech, consumption, experiences, areas of work or entire lifestyles. Now that could be disruptive to those around!
- TBH, a lot of the young talent is awesome enough to make one feel insignificant or even insecure, but that’s less them and more me, and once that hurdle had been crossed in the mind, a great scope for complementary work could be found. Styles of working differ as well, as do views on hierarchy and culture.
- Their priorities don’t necessarily fall into the same framework as previous generations. This could be a function of easy access in the context of consumption, and their better appetite for risk taking in work-related scenarios. In general, the ‘now’ matters more to them. #YOLO after all.
- Work, life and play don’t seem to be rigid compartments. One flows into another and is often seen as a whole, rather than parts.
- They love to communicate and get feedback. There is an eagerness to learn and absorb, and gain perspective, but not in the rigid framework of a hierarchy.
- As a manager, your credentials and what you have done before will most likely not get you the respect you think you deserve. You need to earn it in real time, all the time. You’ll need oodles of patience, and sometimes, allow them to make mistakes.
- The one word I see used often is ‘entitlement’. I see that as a perspective from those (like me) who have had to ‘pay their dues’. From the millennial’s perspective, there is no reason to wait. They are impatient, and that comes from the confidence to be able to do things faster and better. Whether that confidence is unfounded varies from individual to individual. I have seen the range from idiocy to brilliance.
In summation, the learning curve has been steep but fun, and in some cases, I have even found myself playing the bridge between diverse generations and mindsets. But I think my biggest learning is that these are folks who are more conscious of their individuality than those who have come before them. Therefore, lumping them in a demographic bracket is the biggest disservice you can do to them. Their subjective way of approaching things, outside of hierarchy, protocol, and even the actions/views of their own generation, and their confidence to carry this worldview into actions is what makes them unique.