Within the next two years, those born between the early 1980s and 2000 will account for more than half of the country’s workforce, according to a report by Catalyst, a global non-profit . Given that new hires are mostly millennials, corporate India and its leadership must adapt and change the standard approach.

One of the first principles of creating an ecosystem designed to attract and nurture millennial talent is to bury the traditional cast-in-stone HR policies, says Ramesh Yelamanchi, head of human resources, Reliance Brands Ltd. (RBL), which partners with brands such as Diesel and Steve Madden in India. Millennials, with an average age of 26.2 years, account for more than 70% of its 5,000-strong workforce.

“The terms of employment for a millennial are different in what we call the psychological contracts—something millennials expect from the company but is not penned in black and white. They are looking for flexibility, learnability, and the contract is a give-and-take arrangement," says Rajan Kalia, founder of Gurugram-based talent management and leadership consultancy firm Salto Dee Fe.

Loosen up

There are a number of initiatives that companies are adopting, including flexible working hours, gamification of goals and tasks, creatively structured compensation packages and short-term or project-based employment to attract and retain talent. “Apart from the IT and technology sectors, where the concept of flexible working hours has existed for a while, we have started to see this clause being included in the contracts of professionals in sectors such as manufacturing," says Pranshu Upadhyay, director of HR consultancy Michael Page India. For example, the RBL office is open 24x7 and employees can check in any time from 8-10.30am. A similar policy has been instituted by insurance company IDBI Federal, where employees can check in any time they want, provided they complete the requisite number of hours. “In our endeavour to encourage work-life balance, we have introduced flexi-working hours, and work from home options," an IDBI spokesperson says.

Millennials are happy to take up short projects rather than full-time employment if the payment is right-

When it comes to compensation, many millennials look beyond traditional payment models. They usually prefer variable or fixed compensation to stock options in companies that aren’t listed (phantom stocks), says Upadhyay, who, at 34, is a millennial himself. For instance, young employees in companies like Uber and Ola, which have not yet been listed on stock markets, have traded the stock option for a more robust in-hand pay, insiders say.

Since millennials have a much higher appetite for risk, they are happy to take up short projects rather than full-time employment if the payment is right, says Upadhyay. “There was a conservational instinct among the earlier generations. The first thing that any management graduate used to look for was a job that was stable and long-term. But millennials are very willing to take up projects lasting one-two years if the scope is exciting," he says.

Give and you’ll get

Millennials, characteristically, want a certain level of control over the work they are doing and seek explanations for tasks. “They want to understand the reasoning and relevance of the responsibilities given to them rather than just accepting something at face value," says Upadhyay. As a manager, you may not only have to give them tasks but also explain why they need to do those tasks, and why they are the best suited for them.

Moreover, millennials are a “me and mine" generation seeking instant gratification. The challenge for organizations is to figure out how to get them to think beyond the very short term and align corporate and personal agendas, adds Yelamanchi.

So, management styles need to evolve constantly. “Managers have to adapt and patiently answer questions they never had to explain in this detail before the influx of the millennial generation," adds Upadhyay.

“It takes a lot of senior management bandwidth but this is the only way," says Yelamanchi. One approach to address the millennial worker’s need for instant gratification could be to gamify targets and tasks. For example, giving them a virtual trophy or a badge (as in a video game) for meeting a goal or target can encourage them.

Organizations are adopting new tools of communication like apps and webinars. “Most of the work ecosystem is changing. Organizations are now allowing their staff to be connected through Facebook, WhatsApp and other modern-day tools to remain productive throughout the day," adds Kalia.

Company time is sacred

While millennial executives in advanced economies such as the UK and US have pressured employers to make legal and contractual changes to use “company paid time" to pursue other business ventures and start-ups, changes in India Inc. at present are mainly centred on HR policies and leadership styles. “Practices in mature companies in the Western world allow employees to focus on other pursuits but it is tough to do so here since we (our company) are still very much in start-up mode," says Yelamanchi.

This is reflective of India Inc.’s attitude, in general, towards any out-of-office business ventures pursued by employees. “Indian companies are very much oriented towards employees working with the organization and not having any conflict of interest. Most organizations, in fact, have tight employment contracts of confidentiality and conflict of interest situations," says Kalia.

With the advent of the gig economy, however, companies will have to start looking to ease policies, and become proactive rather than reactive if they want to hire... and keep talented millennial employees on their roster.

The millennial value system

■ Many focus on the purpose of the company and want to know how being part of the organization can lead them to contribute or give back to society.

■ Learning happens more through following role-models than through accepting diktats or preaching.

■ Many value straight talk, inclusiveness and directness in their bosses.

■ Flexible location features very high on their needs in a job, especially in big cities that have become infamous for traffic.

■ It is more productive to connect with millennials through storytelling and anecdotes.

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