Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

The rise of the millennials

How firms are responding to the dreams and aspirations of young Indians who will form 64% of the workforce in five years

Given that India will become the youngest country by 2021, with 64% of its population in the working age group of 20-35, according to the 2013-14 Economic Survey, companies need to shape their strategies to remain relevant to this section, called millennial or Generation Y.

Take Aparna P., for instance. The 22-year-old, who works for an investment bank in Hyderabad, says her company just does not get it: “I want personalized appreciation and recognition for what I do. I need to feel like they value my contribution, but everything here is just another process." Referring to the rules and regulations in her company, she says, “I want flexibility in how I work. But even for a simple work-from-home permission, they ask 101 questions."

Aparna is a classic millennial—defined roughly as those born between early 1980s and the early 2000s, and for whom digital is a way of life.

For decades, organizations have seen young talent walk through their doors but that didn’t really change the way they operated. Now, however, they have to rethink their approach. “Even till the early 2000s, the biggest difference from one generation to the other was just the age. But this generation is radically different, as it is an always-connected generation. And companies need to respond to this change fast," says Debabrat Mishra, director at human resources consultancy Hay Group (India).

Companies like Infosys, IBM India, InMobi and Microsoft India, where millennial talent is a significant part of the workforce, are implementing initiatives to attract, retain and engage this group.

In the West, firms like Coca-Cola and Visa Inc. have already shaped their strategies to engage with the millennial workforce. They have relaxed the office dress code and convened councils of millennial employees to weigh in on everything from marketing campaigns to workplace policies. Online deals site RetailMeNot is even inviting junior employees to take part in hiring decisions, according to a 6 May article in The Wall Street Journal.

New approach

At information technology consulting company Infosys, 90% of its 180,000-strong global workforce consists of millennials.

Bengaluru-based Richard Lobo, senior vice-president and head, human resources (HR), Infosys, says the people practices to attract and retain this workforce, whose average age is 28, need to be markedly different from those that were used in the past.

Infosys has already done away with a formal dress code. Since June, employees are required to wear smart business casuals on all days. The company also engages talent by listening to the employees and implementing their ideas. One example that highlights this approach is Murmuration, a crowd-sourcing initiative launched across Infosys offices in August 2014 to find innovative ideas that could be built into the company strategy. The company has already implemented 10 ideas from the 2,700 entries it received.

Infosys launched this initiative because millennials expect a technology-enabled workplace that promotes a collaborative, transparent and participative organization culture and innovation, and rewards individual contribution, says Lobo.

Other technology companies also believe that by ensuring a culture of innovation, they will be able to attract and retain millennial talent.

Microsoft tries to drive the innovation culture at the stage of internship itself. Rohit Thakur, head, HR, Microsoft India, says the company provides interns an opportunity to develop enhanced technical skills and learn from experienced professionals.

Mobile advertising company InMobi, where 30% of the workforce was born after 1990, encourages innovation and business ideas from its employees. The company supports any start-up which is begun by InMobians. “They are given guidance and mentorship to make their start-up a successful one. And more than 40 start-ups have come from InMobi, by InMobians already," says Kevin Freitas, director, HR, InMobi.

Technology rules

Technology occupies centre stage when it comes to designing initiatives for millennials, and companies like IBM are creating tools that will appeal to them.

Last year, IBM developed a tool called IBM Verse. This tool integrates email, meeting, calendar, file-sharing, instant messaging, social update, and video-chat capabilities on a single platform. It was designed by the millennial staff, says Dilpreet Singh, vice-president, HR, IBM India and South Asia.

Besides technology, the millennials also look for learning and development opportunities, says Mishra.

For this, IBM has set up a reverse mentoring programme that allows a team of hand-picked young people to be part of a shadow board. “We give a similar situation to the young employees and the senior leaders to analyse how differently they would deal with it. This brings a better understanding between the top leaders and the young employees," says Singh.

InMobi introduced the concept of a “learning wallet" last year. The wallet of each employee is pre-loaded with 50,000 every year and can be used for professional training of their choice, like taking tutorials in coding and attending technology conferences. “Employees are free to use their wallets for anything that helps them grow professionally," says Freitas.

Even with various initiatives taken to cater to millennials, many a time organizations and Generation Y are not on the same page. A survey of 1,731 millennials in key metros in November by Chennai-based Avtar Career Creators and Flexi Careers India, which works to boost diversity, showed that 50% of the millennials use job portals for employment search, while for companies, employee referrals are the top choice for finding millennial talent. Similarly, 53% of the organizations surveyed believed that good compensation was the best way to hire talent, while 59% of millennials said they looked for opportunities for rapid growth.

“There is a perception that millennials want it all and it is quite true. They prefer a customized approach towards everything. So companies too are increasingly seeing what their needs are and how they can customize all processes from talent acquisition to feedback. In a way, the millennials are creating a new normal for companies," says Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of Avtar Career Creators and Flexi Careers India.

Besides trying to find out what millennials want, companies are also trying to understand the myths around them. In an internal survey, IBM found millennials to be a highly misunderstood workforce. “The myths are that their career goals and expectations are unrealistic, they need endless praise, they are digital addicts," says Singh. But what they actually want is clear career goals, and the ability to engage them constantly and help drive innovation in the workplace, adds Singh.

While these efforts may move the needle in the right direction, Mishra believes companies are still only rejigging their initiatives instead of rebuilding their entire HR strategy. “Out of a scale of 10, I would rate Indian companies a 2 when it comes to designing strategies for millennials," he says. “When companies design every aspect of their operation centred on their customer, they need to have a similar approach towards dealing with millennials. They need to rebuild every function, from hiring, retention and engagement, to appraisals, because organizations are not what they used to be."

And he warns that they need to do this fast. The fact that students prefer to work with unknown start-ups instead of established companies itself suggests that companies are not reacting fast enough, says Mishra. “Companies should not see this as another fad and recognize this as a change in business."

What do they want?

Findings of a November survey of 1,731 millennials by Avtar Career Creators and Flexi Careers India, in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata

u50% millennials look for jobs on employment portals and 43% on company’s career Web page

u 60% millennials want to work for firms that are well recognized and over 40% look for opportunities for virtual learning

uOver 50% millennials prefer to be assessed by aptitude tests and personal interviews, rather than internship performance

u 59% millennials seek scope for rapid growth in a company, while 41% look for compensation

u 80% aspire to lead or reach a management position in the firm

u 76% women expect to rise to senior levels in the organization.

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