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India has the distinction of having not only one of the largest, but also the youngest, populations, with 63.5 million people expected to have joined the workforce between 2011 and 2016, according to the “Economic Survey" of 2013-14. The bulk of these new entrants is in the age group of 20-35—the millennials. In fact, by 2020, the millennials are likely to comprise 50% of the global workforce, according to a 2011 report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), a multinational professional services network. It is imperative, therefore, for organizations to understand what makes the youngest members of their workforce tick, especially given the heated war for talent in a highly competitive, global environment.

The key to engaging, motivating and retaining millennials lies in clearly understanding how their perspectives, aspirations, drivers and expectations differ from those of the older generations, and addressing these proactively.

Affinity with technology

One of the defining characteristics of the millennials is that they are the most connected generation ever, with technology omnipresent in almost every aspect of their lives. Unsurprisingly, out of nearly 4,500 graduates across 25 countries surveyed by the PwC in 2011, 41% stated their preference for communicating electronically at work rather than face to face, or even over the phone. This obviously calls for some adjustment of communication styles across generations for smoother interaction.

“The millennials have an inherent need for information on the go, with WhatsApp being their favoured mode of communication," says Sunil Seth, vice-president, human resources (HR), at Dentsu Aegis Network, a global media and communications company.

Saba Adil, HR head at Aegon Life Insurance Co. Ltd, Mumbai, corroborates this. “It is imperative to have robust, two-way communication channels running across the organization to address the millennials’ strong need to be constantly connected, informed and updated. In fact, their comfort with working in their own customized environment, and on their personal devices, has triggered a serious conversation around introducing the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy in our organization," she says.

Career growth, top priority

Career advancement appears to be the millennials’ top priority. Of those surveyed in the 2011 PwC study, 52% had stated their preference for organizations that offer a robust platform for career progression in terms of exposure to global assignments and travel, opportunities to learn new skills, challenging roles that propel on-the-job learning, job rotation that impels lateral learning, and broader responsibilities in general.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, chief people officer at the National Stock Exchange of India, says their aspirations sometimes come across as unrealistic. They appear to be looking for too much too soon, a sort of quick gratification that is reminiscent of short-format cricket such as Twenty20, or instant noodles, he adds.

While compensation and other monetary rewards are certainly important, these came a close second to career growth—44% of those surveyed marked these as their top priority. In addition to internal parity, the millennials also tend to seek external parity of compensation packages to a far greater degree than older generations, according to the Generation Next Workforce Study, 2013, conducted jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Deloitte, a multinational professional services firm. This is a direct fallout of greater awareness of the industry landscape, thanks to the millennials’ grip on technology and social media.

Loyalty to domain

The millennials are not averse to moving on when they perceive that the organization has little to contribute further in terms of learning or growth opportunities. Pratap G., senior director of HR at container shipping firm Maersk Global Services, Mumbai, says: “Their loyalty tends to be more towards their domain profession, rather than an organization. Moreover, given their propensity to get bored rather quickly and greater familiarity with opportunities offered by the external environment, organizations need to be constantly on their feet to engage with them and point them to challenging career paths."

While the millennials certainly have shorter horizons than previous generations when they join an organization, their commitment and dedication to work and responsibilities has not suffered, according to the Generation Next Study.


“Believing in the tenet of equality, the millennials seem to be averse to the notion of hierarchy and position. Traditionally, we have thought of teams as being ‘owned’ by managers, but this generation cannot be ‘owned’. They work with you and not for you. Organizations would, therefore, be better off providing them with coaches rather than bosses," observes Pratap. Adil recalls having asked a millennial at an interview, “What culture would you best fit in?" “Where I can speak with the CEO (chief executive officer) and the peon in the same tone," was the prompt, nonchalant reply.

The millennials thrive in an environment that allows them to express their views freely, values their opinions, involves them in decision making and engages them in process improvement discussions, transcending barriers of age and hierarchy.


Millennials tend to be more entrepreneurial and experimental, with an affinity for informality.

“They like flexibility and empowerment, and would not be averse to picking up an office assignment late evening, or tending to a personal errand during the day. This has propelled us to work towards an open, collaborative environment, starting with office design, where cabins have been knocked down, with people across levels and roles sitting in the same area, in addition to introducing and revisiting our dress and leave policies," says Adil.

“Recognizing that millennials thrive in an informal setting sans rigid boundaries, we have introduced policies around flexible shift and break timings, work from home on a case-to-case basis, flexi-dress as well as an open-door policy at Dentsu Aegis Network," adds Seth.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to work towards a culture that provides people opportunities to grow and learn and meet their aspirations, that engages with people through a two-way communication and is agile in terms of constantly evaluating and tweaking policies in response to feedback.

This works, of course, across generations.Charu Sabnavis is a learning and organizational development facilitator and founder director of Delta Learning.

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