Millennials at the workplace

Millennials at Work: Let’s bust the top four myths

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The ‘me me me generation’, ‘narcissists’, ‘lazy’, ‘the joking generation’…there are probably more problematic names you have heard associated with millennials. Millennials, born between the 1980s and early 2000s, form a huge chunk of the global workforce and are steadily becoming key business decision-makers in the workplace. While the impact this generation has had on the workplace and the economy cannot be overlooked, there still seems to be a pervasive negative buzz around millennials at work.

How can this generation be better understood and equipped for success in the workplace? Let’s debunk some millennial myths as we explore some of the ways we can create a work environment for all generational employees to thrive:

Myth #1 – Millenials are obsessed with technology 

The gripe that millennials cannot go a minute without checking their phones may not be far from the truth.  However, given that this cohort was brought up right in the ascend of technology… it follows that phones, computers and tablets are a key part of their lives. This could, in fact, be a win for companies that millennials have no hard barriers between work and home life. This means they would work from anywhere at any time to beat deadlines.

Being the most connected generation in history, with the exception of Gen Z of course, millennials seek to make the best use of the technology available to them. At the workplace, this group wants to use the latest technology for efficiency and productivity. Getting stuck in old technologies while laying claim that millennials are slaves of new technologies could keep your company from achieving the best results. As we all know, slow internet and clunky systems frustrate both the old and young.  Consider taking what is available in your company a notch higher, to enable the new generations to perform at their best.

To further demystify this generation’s attachment to technology, a study shows that millennials actually prefer face-to-face communication to emails and texting. This goes to show that while they may make the best use of the new technologies for your company’s productivity, they are still interested in in-person conversations, for instance, when receiving or giving feedback.

Myth #2 – Millennials feel entitled and all they care about is money

A Shortlist survey that sought to understand what candidates value most in potential employers recently revealed that millennials are more interested in competitive salaries and promotions than any other age groups. However, while this stands true, it is fair to note that good pay is important to all employees. We are all hungry for opportunities to step up in our careers just as millennials are; the only difference is that millennials daringly ask for what they desire, and are more likely to move on to another job should they not receive the fulfilment they seek. This does not mean that they are selfish or entitled; rather they are brave enough to demand what they want while other generations may shy off or play cool.

This insightful report by CNBC further emphasises that millennials value opportunities to grow more than a competitive salary. An organisation that offers opportunities for professional development and pays fairly hones a high performing workforce. The key takeaway here? Millennial satisfaction does not come down to bean bags and 24-hour coffee.

Myth #3 – Millennials’ career goals and expectations differ from those of older generations

Millennials have been said to have career goals and expectations that are different from those of older generations. Top of this list is the hope of making a positive impact on society. While there is truth to this, doesn’t the need to make an impact cut across individuals from all generations? Rather than view this as a mean value, organisations should support these projects as they are important in affirming employees’ need to be part of a bigger picture. In addition to this, it further bolsters a company’s image and employer brand, which helps to build client relationships and stand out from competitors.

It is also true that millennials are different when it comes to switching roles, jobs or expecting internal promotions. Unlike the older employees, such as baby boomers, who could stay in the same job for long and some from start to retirement, it now seems rare to see employees hit the 3-year mark. This does not necessarily make millennials less loyal compared to the older generations; rather, it means that they seek to be challenged, have a clear career path and to feel valued at work. This calls for managers to do what they can to support the dynamic younger generation workforce.

Myth #4 – Expect a medal for participation

You are probably already familiar with the statement that millennials expect a prize for everything they do…even being last. However,  this not true. According to an IBM study, a fair and ethical boss means more to millennials than praise for accomplishments. The research further shows that Gen X are more likely to want a boss who compliments their work, while baby boomers would prefer a boss who solicits views from them than millennials would.  It’s not that millennials always expect constant acclaim and think everyone should get a trophy for participation. What they want is a manager who is transparent and open to giving them feedback for self-improvement which you would admit, cuts across all generations.

It is important to note that, millennials will represent 50 percent of the entire global workforce by 2020. This is, therefore, the ideal time to stop shaming them and instead nurture their creativity, passion and ambition to achieve success and make a world-changing impact. Rather than consider millennials a generation of weakness, let’s recognise them as diverse risk-takers who are shaping the future of work.

Further given the current competitive hiring climate, the talent available to you directly impacts your company’s ability to deliver its goals. It is therefore important to develop the best strategies to attract top talent among millennials. These range from culture, management style,  recruitment and retention approaches that benefit all employees.

Millennials are encouraging us to challenge and improve workplace practices that are ultimately beneficial to all employees. If anything, the workplace evolution doesn’t end here, Gen Zs are already joining us!

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The Future of Work: Best of Times and/or Worst of Times?

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Our robot friends can now pluck petals.

I just capped off a frenetic three-week visit to the US, making stops in 7 different cities (if you can count my 20,000-person hometown of Lockport NY as a city — perhaps a stretch, though we do have the amazing Erie Canal Locks).

My trip was book-ended by two unique experiences. On the front end, I participated in a Young Leaders Conference put on by the Council for the United States & Italy, bringing together 51 professionals from 17 countries in Boston to discuss “The Changing Nature of Work and Its Implications for Individuals, Businesses and Society.” And on the back end, I sat on a panel at SOCAP in San Francisco, discussing “The Future of Work — and What’s Working Already.” Similar topics, but very different outlooks.

The first event in Boston focused on a series of thought-provoking questions about the way work is changing. We discussed the forces that are causing these changes, from gig-enabling marketplaces to offshoring to robotic and AI-driven automation to wealth concentration and the emergence of a new monopolistic order. We considered the havoc this is wreaking, at the level of income disparities, industrial re-ordering, loss of identity and self-esteem. And we queried: What on earth might we do about it?

The discussions were terrific, textured, and open — and a lot of fun. (Spoiler: Not sure we solved it.) However, at the end of the day, they more often than not tracked the pessimistic arc of most journalistic news stories and commentary: The world is changing, it’s creating more losers than winners, we should raise our fists and resist. And, I must admit, I often feel this way.

SOCAP presented another point of view: Amidst the doom and gloom, there’s hope and excitement. Amidst robots and machine intelligence, we are opening up new ways of democratizing opportunity and giving real people a chance to seize control of their destinies. Probably not surprising for SOCAP, which is held at Fort Mason, perched on the scenic northern tip of SF. It’s one of the only conferences where most meetings are had while staring out at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, where you can always taste the ocean, and where you sometimes leave with a tan. Who wouldn’t bend towards world-beating optimism in those environs, and with the do-gooding, feel-gooding energy of over 3,000 global participants?

But now, back in India, free from the ideological pull of both experiences, I find myself drawn to and mulling over the lesser told story of the really cool stuff happening around the future of work: The future of how we learn new skills, pursue fulfilling careers without crushing student debt, discover and pursue awesome career pathways. Many of these sub-currents seem driven by entrepreneurs and enabled by modern technological possibility. Among the examples and trends that give me hope:

Viable, accessible alternatives to traditional, expensive four-year undergraduate degrees. There’s nothing wrong with a traditional liberal arts program (says the philosophy/psychology major…) but for many it’s a debt-ridden path to professional no-man’s land. One of my fellow SOCAP panelists (and Shortlist investor) Ryan Craig of University Ventures published a book called “College Disrupted,” which argues that online degrees and other higher ed alternatives will unbundle traditional degrees to offer a better deal for the majority of students in terms of graduation, employment, and wages. And he’s publishing another book next year on faster, cheaper, and better alternatives to college, identifying hundreds of new options.

An example is a program like MissionU, whose founder Adam Braun also joined our SOCAP panel. MissionU is a one-year program which combines training in-demand skills like data analytics and business intelligence with soft-skills like collaboration and critical thinking, financed with an income-share agreement requiring $0 upfront (repayment is taken as a % of income post-graduation).

An explosion of short-course options to upskill in areas like programming, data science, digital marketing, and more, offered by “boot camps” like General Assembly and Galvanize, online course providers like Udemy and Udacity, MOOC-aggregators like Coursera, and blended models like Upgrad. Almost anyone can catch up to the cutting edge with enough basic smarts, motivation, and tuition money (which can be, admittedly, steep).

New ways of combining upskilling and talent connection into one business model, especially in emerging markets. Companies like Andela (in Africa) and Revature (in US/India) combine talent screening and tech upskilling to find and train teams of engineers. (Ashwin Bharath, COO/Co-Founder of Revature, rounded out our panel at SOCAP.) These engineers get contracted out to global companies, like GitHub and Viacom, while staying on the books of Andela/Revature. Companies get lower cost talent, and young professionals get the opportunity to learn new skills and advance their careers on someone else’s dime.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a blog by me if I didn’t plug Shortlist, and how excited we are about facilitating a shift from pedigree-based to competency-based hiring. We see so many ways to use tech and data to make it easier for employers to see past the CV and instead assess true potential, ability, and fit, promoting a level economic playing field and helping companies and employees alike find a better match. In fact, we see this shift towards competency-based methods as integral to the success of many of the above ideas. Employers will need to reorient themselves from traditional proxies like 4-year degrees and name brand corporate experience to other signals of competency if programs like those at MissionU, General Assembly, and UpGrad are to reach their full potential.

Last but not least, I love to see a LOT more focus on building a career of meaning and impact, particularly among millennials. Perhaps I’m over-sampling the do-gooder set (too much time at SOCAP; Medium/Facebook/Google AI bots great at predicting my click propensity) but it really does seem like mission and meaning are more important to young professionals than ever. Getting rich quick and at all costs is no longer cool; making the world a better place is (though if you can do that while getting rich, that may be cooler still, according to my read of the zeitgeist). I see new articles and blogs every day focused on meaning at work, ikagai, and self-actualization. Companies like Imperative are trying to help companies lead with purpose.

Our data head Anshul’s (nonprofit) side hustle.

Even on my team at Shortlist, I love to see the extracurricular energy of my colleagues: Our data science head Anshul moonlights as the co-founder of GreatToAwesome, helping young Indian professionals build “careers of passion and impact”; and one of our first employees Ben launched a podcast Journey Down Discovery Lane, featuring guests with ideas for “becoming your best self.”

So, amidst the pessimism, there’s light! There’s cause for optimism! Maybe we can turn this thing around, and the future of work will be better than ever!

Even so: robots scare me…