Today, people born between 1981 and 1999, or Millennials* as they are called, are clearly the fastest growing segment of our employee population. They may already be in the majority at several organizations and clearly represent the future of all corporations and societies around the world. Therefore, our ability to attract and retain the best talent from this workforce segment can mean the difference between economic success and failure!
In this post, I intend to explore what Millennials expect from their careers, their impact and the changing face of career development in a millennial world.
GENERATION X, Y, Z…WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Let’s also look at a late-2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study that surveyed 4,364 university graduates from 75 countries about their expectations of work. While the study covered a diverse range of factors that included loyalty, technology and generational tensions, I would like to draw your attention to some of the key findings around what Millennials aspire to or expect:
- Personal learning and development remains the most essential benefit that Millennials want from employers, followed by flexible working hours. Financial rewards came in third!
- 52% said career progression was the main attractionin an employer, ahead of competitive salaries in second place (44%).
- Millennials look for good work-life balance and strong diversity policies, but feel their employers have failed to deliver on expectations.
Many other studies by various organizations point to similar findings.
So what’s new? Who doesn’t wish to build a career? A Gen X-er myself, I plan to relate some of my experiences to highlight the emerging distinctions. Looking back, I’ve had the privilege of working with and managing many Millennials and I see clear changes with this new generation’s entry into the workspace.
Most baby boomers were more accepting of the experience and growth offered by their organizations. They did not easily pursue their career interests into new job opportunities. But Gen X takes responsibility for its own careers. They don’t actively seek support and advice, and would rather push their case within organizations in order to achieve career goals. However, Millennials approach their careers very differently. This became abundantly clear to me over many conversations, or should we say arguments! This is a generation that’s been closely supported through almost every major decision: by parents, teachers and coaches. Some call this the most cared-for generation to enter the workforce! Thus, Millennials expect their managers to be directly responsible for planning their careers. I remember cringing at this expectation in the early days!: “Why should your managers have a plan for you? Isn’t that your responsibility?” I was probably less aware then, that a new generation had arrived. It is clear now that a new generation is indeed already here. We need to learn new skills in managing talent now!
Old adages like “no news is good news” or “ignorance is bliss” aren’t acceptable to today’s generation! Millennials thrive on feedback and in part, evaluate their managers’ effectiveness on the quality of their feedback. Good or bad news, they prefer it straight, rather than wallow in ambiguity. They see feedback as a primary enabler of development. This also explains the rise of coaching, mentoring and other social media related development solutions across organizations.
This wasn’t such a hot topic through the 80s and early 90s. Work was life and compromises had to be made in the interests of a career, sometimes, even for a simple pay check! All this began to change through the late 90s and the new Millennium. While Gen X-ers began to tiptoe around this topic, Millennials came in with a radically different viewpoint. Work is a key part of their life that provides them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, and connect to a larger purpose. Work-life balance thus becomes a “work-life blur.” This blur only means that work isn’t confined to the four walls of an office and hence, their expectations of flexible work arrangements.
And with work-life blur, we cannot go too far without getting into technology. If there’s one thing we know about them, it’s their life-long connection with it. Always connected! Always on! This generation tweets, uses “FB” and networks on LinkedIn to find its way into and stay connected with communities far beyond the workspace. They are comfortable building connections without face-time and pride themselves on the size of their network. Gen Y expects the organization to leverage technology to provide them with the flexibility to connect, engage and learn anytime anywhere.
Where do we go from here? Clearly organizations need to adapt and evolve. And we’re not talking of alien life forms here—so that shouldn’t be difficult, right?
Engaged, Flexible and Technology Enabled Career Development
Globally, organizations are building more engaging and involved career development frameworks to provide clear career plans. More importantly, these are coupled with strong mentoring/coaching and collaboration frameworks to enable the guidance and support that this generation is used to and expects.
Technology Enabled Flexible Learning Solutions
Whether learning is online, in offices, at home or classrooms, today’s professionals want meaningful, multimedia-rich, collaborative learning that is applicable within their lives. They want a manager, peers and friends that they can relate to and connect with in an informal, relaxed setting, not just as the traditional “boss” or “colleagues”!
While many feel that online settings don’t make for strong relationships, Millennials are comfortable connecting with others online. Almost 80% of today’s US teenagers are connected through one social network or more. The environment in other societies across other countries and even in Asia, won’t be very different. While online relationships may be different, they’re considered valuable and thus need to be facilitated.
‘Career Path-ing’ To ‘Job Sculpting’
The Aditya Birla Group’s Talent Management Framework and Minacs’ evolving ALTITUDE career development framework for entry level talent are good examples of how organizations are developing customized career paths that take into account their people’s strengths, evolving interests and potential.
Just like parents today, organizations are moving away from traditional formula based “career path-ing” to a more involved “job sculpting” process. We engage with talent, discover their strengths and guide them to the right career path. Careers are now presented to young talent as a bouquet of opportunities, each one supported with a clear plan, support program, flexible learning mediums, mentors, coaches, etc.
When I speak to people, a question that continually comes up across levels is: “Am I learning and growing as a professional?” Though a common sentiment across generations, what is different is that Millennials are more vocal about this question.
To be the preferred destination for tomorrow’s (and today’s!) talent, organizations need to understand this new generation’s culture, needs and aspirations. They need to adapt their learning and development frameworks to align with the expectations of the Millennial Generation so that organizational talent is on the right side of the learning curve always!
A quick snapshot of the multiple generations that co-exist at the workplace today:
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964; period of social change, increasing affluence; advent of diversity in workplaces; task focused, loyal to employers, late adopters of technology.
- Gen X: Born 1965-1980; period of expansion in Mass Media, advent of technology; accepted workplace diversity; commitment to team/boss; increasing self-reliance, individualism; technology proficient.
- Millennials (also Generation Y, Gen Next and several other labels): Born 1981-99; era of instant communication technologies; expect/welcome diversity; socialize in groups; prefer working in groups; early adopters of technology.