Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A Seminar-"Managing Millennial Employees" and a Student Chapter Inauguration

In the year 2014, when I was living in Chennai and working for Hyundai Motor India Limited, the Madras School of Social Work had invited me to be a member of a panel discussion on "Business agility" organized by its Human resource management students. Sharing my experience in a blog, I had written that the the event was unique as all the panel members were present right from the time of the key note address and had participated in the discussion in a holistic manner, each one complimenting and adding to the points outlined by the other members.

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Similar was the satisfaction I experienced while attending an event on 5th May 2018  to deliver the inaugural address of a seminar on the subject "Managing Millennial Employees". The event was organized by the MLA Academy of Higher Learning Bangalore, in association with NIPM Karnataka Chapter.The occasion was the starting of a student chapter of the National insitute of Personnel management at the academy premises. One difference though was that, at  the Chennai program, the key note speaker left after his address.

Being a blogger, I decided to stay back after my talk to capture the gist of the panel discussion for my readers.The members of the panel discussion were Mr Ashoka.T. Chairman of NIPM Karnataka chapter, Mr Girinarayan, past Chairman and Prof Patanjali of Symbiosis.

In the inaugural address I touched upon the significance of the topic of the seminar, given the fact that the millennials (also called Gen Y) are expected to be 52% of the workforce by 2019.Attracting, inspiring and engaging them has become very important. In this connection certain characteristics and motivations that drive this generation of employees was discussed. Millennials have grown up in a world of technology and are 'native speakers' of the digital language unlike the earlier generation who can at best be called 'digital immigrants'. It is most essential to extensively use Linkedin,  facebook, Whats'app, and other social media to connect with them.

Employers will need to acknowledge and address the major expectations of the Gen Y generation which is distinct and different from earlier generations. As for example they expect to advance in their career much faster, say within 18 months of joining, have lower tolerance level of hierarchy and  micro managing, expect challenges and more opportuniies to learn at work (experiences to enhance employability rather than merely get promoted). In the absence of growth opportunities, conducive work environment and sense of purpose in the organization, the millennials tend to get bored and move on to greener pastures after short stints. 

I concluded my talk with a suggestion that the millennials also would do well to  understand the mind of the older generation who would be constituting 48% of work force- What values are important to them and what are their .expecatations from the younger generation. After all, it takes two to tango; as in a family, it is important for all members in the organization to appreciate mutual needs and coexist in harmony. This approach ensures that everyone work in synergy for achieving the organizational goals.

In the panel discussion after the tea break, Mr Girinarayan Sr HR leader & OD consultant took on the role of the anchor faciliating the discussion. He put some intresting questions to Mr Ashok who is heading HR in  Schneider Electric  and Prof Patanjali ( whom he refered to as Pats for short), formerly a senior HR executive at Siemens.

Giri: Pats, you have the experience of working in the corporate and also in a college. What are the changes you see in the millennials in a company and in a college?

Pats: Well, each generation believes that the previous generation is less smart than them.Interestingly, even in an MBA course where there is hardly any age difference, the first years feel they are better than their seniors.

Giri: Schneider has been growing inorganically through acquistions and mergers including the recent acquistion of the electric and automation (E&A) business of L&T. How do you ensure that the millennials from various company culture and background work amicably?

Ashok: Yes, culture is a very important factor. As each corporate has a different culture it is a challenge at the time of mergers and acquistions. Schneider has a robust policy in which every three years employees are rotated across regions, countries and functions.So a person can be moved from HR to production or viceversa. Unlike American companiies, Scneider a French Mulinational, gives a reasonable time to the employees to integrate and become full blooded Schneiderians.

As far as freshers are concerned, the company recruits 200 to 300 fresh engineers in a year. They can be described as pampered in the sense their needs are well catered to right from the time of joining. The three month  induction and orientation training  is designed by the trainees themselves. They prefer less of class room training and more of outbound training. The evenings have a party atmosphere with the trainees rolling out skits, mimes etc.

Here I would like too share an instance of  a problem faced by us while dealing with a millennial who joined from an IIT and was not getting along with his boss. The boss's complaint was that after the employee comes into work at 7AM  he tends to doze off. He was upset about the impact this behaviour would have on other employees.When asked about it, the youngster told the manager "to go to hell". " First of all he has not provided me resources viz a laptop and the required software. If he has a problem, post me to another department", he told HR.

 I feel it is important for us to understand from where the millennials are coming., As for example in this case, the guy feels " I am an IITian who has aleady worked hard and earned my place.".  It may be a good idea to post someone with an year or two of experience as a boss instead of an older person in such situations.Youngsters prefer flexi time for working and want to be left alone till the job is completed.

Giri: We all know that the Y generation is under a lot more parental and peer pressure ( influenced by how well others are doing) than the earlier generations. How are you managing the high expectations of millennials?

Ashok: This is a real tough task. I had an NITian who came after 8 months of joining to say she was quitting for further studies in XLRI, Jamshedpur. It is a big blow for HR when people leave. Even 1% of new recruits leaving affects my KPI. In this case, even an alternative suggestion of going on  a sabattical instead of quitting was not accepted by the employee who said "I don't know where I will be in two years.She was only too willing to pay back the bond compensation and leave. 

Pats: I have also experienced similar situations in my career. I think the best way out of the problem is being transparent. When you are transparent about your expectations, the candidate would also be willing to be transparent. The company can also use data derived from data analytics to read the mind of millennials- " What are the millennials likely to do in the next two years?" Then take action to address the requirements.

Ashok:  We have been flexible in dealing with the younger generation of employees. To a great extent our approach to the use of internet at work has changed over the years. In 2008, there were restrictions on the use of the internet by employees. Today we have our own internal social network site where employees can post their individual achievements and personal status. What this means is that an employee working in India can showcase his/her achievements globally to counterparts in over 100 countries which enhances their feeling of self worth and self esteem. 

The concept of appraisal and feedback has also changed from periodic to a daily feedback on how one is doing.

At this point Giri added " I think recruitment today is not necessarily linked to vacancy. An outstanding candidate has a place in a company irrespective of vacancy. 

Giri: What do you think? Today are employees loyal to companies or to their profession? What is the most important element to get the millennials to stay in a job? 

Pats: As I mentioned earlier, Trūst is a very important factor. In a process oriented company, it takes a long time before employees are trusted by the employer. To that extent employee loyalty is to one's career and professional competency enhancement. If employees are not trusted, they will move on. Organizations have to work towards creating implicit trust.

Ashok:  The very idea of loyalty and long service has changed. In our company, even 3 years of service is considered as significant and the employee starts earning points for staying with the company. A special program called "Career connect" has been designed for career development  of bright youngsters. HR talks to them every year about their journey and arranges for  'special training' if any  required by them. Outstanding individual contribution in any discipline, whether technical or non technical is recognized under a scheme called "Edison expert" to provide them  a faster growth in the company.  

Giri:  What is the extent of the threat from the metal colar (Machines) ? How do you help employees handle the insecurity associated with it? 

Ashok: Today, sharing work with robots and machines is a reality that cannot be wished away. Yet, the fact remains that robots cannot replace humaneness which can come only from the human beings. It is important to learn to work in an environment sharing space with machines. Instead of feeling threatened, focus should be on reskilling and mental preparedness where HR has an important role to play. Aligning to the changes is the key!

Questions from the Audience  

These were taken and answered jointly by the three members of the panel.

Question:  In view of the fact that millennials come from different backgrounds, some from villages and semi urban areas as well, can we generalize and say that all of them have the same kind of expectations such as faster growth etc.?  

Answer: This is an interesting question. Yes, initially there may be differences in expectations but as the millennials interact with each other, sooner than later they all tend to have similar expectations. 

Question: When we first join an organization we only have subject knowledge. What traits and skills are required for us to get acclamatized to the organization? 

Answer: Starting out, you need to depend on your basic skills of analytical thinking, problem solving skills, subject matter skills and to an extent on the soft skills such as communication. 

It is to be noted that the syllabus of the colleges are very old and outdated in many respects. Companies like Wipro have designed programs in association with colleges identified by them for including  in the curriculum, skill sets required by the company. Exposure to business acumen, ABC analysis, and functioning of other disciplines/ departments in the company is important.

 In future, candidates who do not fit the bill may not even make it to the final interview. A  Russian based start up company Stafory has created an artificial intelligence powered robot by name Vera to hire humans. They already have a clientele of over 300 companies  that include Pepsico and L'Oreal. 

Question: How do we adapt to the baby boomer (older) generation at work? 

Answer: Keep in mind the fact that your parents also belong to the baby boomer generation. What are you doing to get along with your parents? Perhaps for a start become good listeners. Listen to find out what is important to the boss and make efforts to cater to them.

Look at your strenghts and pitch it against what is important for your career. Many millennials do not know what their strenghts are. Here, you can take the help of your baby boomer parents.

The panel also gave some general advice to the millennial students- "Never assume that your expertise today will suffice for tomorrow. Always be prepared to learn,unlearn and relearn! 

With that, half a day of rewarding deliberations came to an end. I enjoyed myself thoroughly; all the more as the members of the discussion panel were friends I already knew, and we had the satisfaction of having shared some thought provoking ideas for the students to chew on .

The students of the MLA academy also pledged to be very active in the NIPM professional activities, both at the newly formed chapter level and the main body. As I took leave, I thanked our gracious hosts, the principal Dr P.V.Padmaja and Prof Sandhya. Ramakrishna,. event coordinator for a sumptuous lunch and a feast of a learning & sharing occasion that we would long cherish.  

NB: To know what Millennials think of the NHRD National conference 2018 on the theme "Next Wave of Excellence", read my blog


  1. Splendid Rajeev! You have brought out a very important issue that's troubling the corporate world. I found the questions by the audience very interrsting. Well done. Kudos!

  2. Thanks a lot Supratik! It is always great to receive feedback from you.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your appreciation and feedback!