It may seem counterintuitive for an executive search firm to be talking about millennials, given that the C suite is still largely dominated by Boomers or Gen X.
However, the transformation of the workplace, driven by technology and by millennials entering the global workforce, seems to indicate that the very structure of the company as an employment unit will change dramatically. At the very least, the way employers attract, manage, retain and reward talent must incorporate what millennials want.
Millennials, the generation born after 1980, have been described by older generations as everything from open-minded, confident, creative and collaborative, to tech-obsessed, lazy, and self-centered.
And like most things, all of the above are partially true.
That said, there are more similarities than differences in what different generations look for at work—money, recognition, job satisfaction and work-life balance being key.
There are some nuances in how the average white-collar (or black t-shirt) urban millennial views the employment market, though these vary by socio-economic backgrounds and across the urban-semi urban-rural landscape. Some sweeping generalizations follow:
Me vs company: The selfie generation is more self-absorbed, and self-aware.
This was how they were raised. Hence, confidence, ability to express selves and the ability to navigate independently, particularly in a tech driven world, comes naturally. Work-life balance expectations are different, alignment of work with life goals is key, self-actualization is important and immediate. Corollary—the company does not always come first.
Outcomes vs process: The emphasis is very much on outcomes rather than on hours spent at work. Contrary to popular belief, millennials do work hard, just not necessarily long. Hence, they value flexibility, not just in timings, but in the very construct of work, commuting etc.
Risk vs stability: While this varies quite a lot by income groups, many millennials in India live at home with their upwardly mobile families, which offers them the ability to experiment with different opportunities without huge financial repercussions.
They will experiment, constantly curate, and attempt to stitch together meaningful experiences; try different gigs in their pursuit of happiness.
Now vs later : With all of the above comes the focus on learning and self-development, and also enjoyment at work. They want to grow, try new things and want rewards now, not at the end of the year or years into their career. This means real time feedback, constantly, not at the end of the year.
Contrary to how hierarchical structures traditionally work, they speak up (constantly), and want their opinions or voice to be heard and considered. Emotional connects at work are important. Just like how the power-distance is lower, relationships are also more informal.
Purpose vs profit: Ultimately, millennials want to make a difference, including within their organizations.
Money and benefits matter (a lot), but emotional rewards and a congruence of values are important motivators.
If a millennial feels personally disconnected from a company or its beliefs, they have less patience than their predecessors—they would not hesitate to move on.
This means that companies need to provide adequate clarity about the mission of the organization, and provide greater visibility on the how the role connects to the company’s larger purpose.
And do mention ecological impact.
Clearly, workforce engagement is changing rapidly and becoming increasingly difficult and complicated across generations. This is a big ask for human resources—that may soon find itself grappling with having to curate a personalized development plan for each individual employee.
And making sure that there’s an app for that.
Sonal Agrawal is managing partner, Accord Group, a global executive search firm. Jamie Billimoria, a millennial who has recently joined Agrawal’s team gave inputs for the column.