The shelf life of a ‘millennial’

This article first appeared in DNA India on 8th October, 2016.

Every HR or Workforce conference that one goes to, one of the dominant themes is with regard to how HR needs to reinvent itself because of the millennials. People aver that millennials have a completely different outlook towards life. They are more demanding, less accommodative, more keen on seeking a balance between work and non-work life – things that their older colleagues ostensibly do not hanker after. Moreover, given the pervasive digitization that is going on, the feeling is that millennials being probably the first generation that grown up with the internet have very different attitudes towards privacy and are far less hassled when organizations utilize the many digital and social media channels to understand their “complex personalities”.

But is this really true? I submit, that the generation we knows as the millennials, are not going to remain as such for the entirety of their lives, unlike say the Baby boomers. Instead, there is actually a shelf life for millennials, of the order of about five years that lasts from the time they enter the workforce as young, insouciant twenty somethings to when they start getting more responsibility. It is within this timeframe that their attitudes are markedly different from compatriots of older generations. As their individual responsibilities increase, as they start worrying about their families and their career growth prospects, my contention is that behaviorally, they start mimicking every other generation. The same insecurities that plague employees of all generations then start to play a major role. They are going to become more circumspect in their dealings with their peers because they realize that coming up tops in this rat race requires all those qualities that they would have scoffed at in their millennial period.

Thus while HR needs to certainly reinvent itself because the trend is towards self-managed, independent, agile teams, the stress given on millennials is in my opinion, more than it is actually required. Instead, the focus should be on using technology and data to understand employees to the best of our abilities, regardless of whether they belong to the millennial or to older generations. Gen X/Y members are nearly, if not as, comfortable with technology as the millennials are although there certainly are differences in their attitudes towards how the data generated in this digital universe is being put to use. That to me is the significant difference between millennials and the older generations and not necessarily in terms of their overall behavior. Since at this point in time, the ages of the millennials are in their “pre-responsibility” period, it appears as if all millennials have this care-free attitude towards life. I am sure members of other generations of a similar age had very similar attitudes at a comparable stage in their lives.

So what should HR do to attract and retain individuals of this generation? I would aver that it ought to be the same across generation for attracting and retaining talent. Treat employees well, really show that you care about them, their careers and aspirations and help them grow both personally and professionally. Use data to drive decision making while still ensuring transparency as far as possible. Put systems in place that measure the important metrics, not just the metrics that are easy to measure. Use technology as a platform to help connect the organization with the employees by enabling two way conversations.

What I have mentioned above are not really new or radical. Rather these are timeless principles which I believe are still valid across generations. As Price Pritchett says, “We need timeless principles to steer by in running our organizations and building our personal careers. We need high standards — the ethics of excellence.”