2019 is fast receding to history. Going by the pains and frustrations of economic headwinds, most people tend to dismiss it as another wasted year. In this milieu, we tend to overlook the tremendous significance of 2018-19 as an inflection point in workforce composition. Those born at the dawn of the new millennium have turned 18 and are at the threshold of the job market. Their share in the workforce is bound to increase over the next decade.
Generations typically span 15-20 years. The ability of the cohorts to absorb technology changes and the associated cultural implications is getting sharper with each succeeding generation. In the western narrative, generational shift over the years since the 1940’s has been defined in terms of Baby Boomers (born in 1946 – 1964), Gen. X (1965-1979), Millennials or Gen Y (1980-1994) and the post-millennials or Gen Z (1995-2015). Behaviors are a continuum and individuals at the beginning and end of the generational time frames do demonstrate mixed characteristics of the transitional phases.
‘Baby Boomers’ were so named due to the surge in population in the post-World War II phase. They grew up as the television expanded dramatically impacting lifestyles and connection to the world. They adapted to the new medium which had the effect of shrinking the world and expanding the scope of entertainment beyond performing arts and movies. This phase was marked by the great strides in consumer and entertainment electronics.
Generation X grew up when the computer revolution was taking hold and the world started looking beyond manufacturing (apart from the age-old agriculture) as the source of employment and business opportunities. Just like the Industrial Revolution opened up manufacturing sector, computers gave the fillip to massive services sector growth.
Millennials are those who finished schooling at the emergence of the 21st Century. They came of age in the backdrop of the internet explosion and have seamlessly migrated to the mobile and ‘always-on’ connectivity. Services sector expanded exponentially; manufacturing became smarter. Opportunities mushroomed. Newer skills emerged.
As for the post-Millennials, they have been born into a digitalised world. They are geared up for artificial intelligence and connected devices; they look up to humans and machines forging synergies and complementarity. The dawn of robots, chatbots, drones, self-driving cars,3D printing and smart infrastructure is turning yesterday’s fiction into today’s reality.
Gen Z is roughly 32% of global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, slightly ahead of millennials, who are 31.5%. Together Gen Y and Gen Z would account for nearly two-thirds of global population. As for India, there are over 425 million Gen Z population, making the nation home to the largest number of post-millennial cohorts in the world.
Managing post-millennials poses a number of challenges whatever be your roles – as managers at workplace, parents at home or teachers and administrators at educational institutions.
One should be mindful of the contextual asymmetry and cultural nuances of applying the behavioral premises of western post-millennial archetype in the Indian scenario. The western notions have some relevance to the upper segment of the highly stratified Indian society. Economic conditions, political realities and socio-cultural influences provide a local flavor to the broad generalizations of global trends.
In India, barely one-third of the households have an annual income above Rs. 120,000. With glaring skill-gaps, pestering unemployment, low investment rate and caste-dominated social stratification, the Indian context has inherent structural roadblocks to building of an aspirational society. Within India the socio-cultural eco-system has a significant diversity. different. It is difficult to construct a typical Gen-Y “Indian” persona profile that would apply across India. Truly, India is an uneasy coalescence of many worlds, which are at different stages of social progress.
The most powerful push towards upward social mobility comes from digital technologies, notably mobile internet connectivity and pervasive use of social media. These two developments have catalyzed the ability to dream big among the post-millennial cohorts. Let us look at the way post-millennials handle social relationships, behaviors, interactions and aspirations.
The first trend in post-millennial behaviour is the tendency to multi-task. This has both positive and negative implications to the society. Multi-tasking orientation is a byproduct of habitual use of mobile internet, especially social media. Multiple chatting is very common among the young. Compulsive social media use and switching from chat to chat tend to reduce attention span and the ability to concentrate on ‘one-task-at-a-time’. This tendency, widely noticed among millennial and post-millennial generations, has the potential to adversely affect the abilities to focus and be organized, which are crucial to learning and learnability.
Secondly, post-millennials’ cognitive competencies such as language and numerical skills are influenced by their digital habits, acquired early in life. As a result, many millennials and post-millennials tend to use short-cut (or text message style) phrases and usages in formal writing; they have little need to use mental mathematics and hence risk losing out the ability to do quick calculations.
Thirdly, digital technologies have significantly impacted the emotional disposition of millennial and post-millennial generations. Impulsiveness, avoidance of face-to-face interactions in favour of online communication as well as lack of accommodation and empathy are some of the behaviors widely noticed among post-millennial societies globally.
Fourthly, post-millennials in general loathe control, authority and enforced discipline. They value independence, privacy and work-life balance. Because they are used to tapping the web anytime, anywhere to access information or connect with people, they prefer to work at their own pace. They are happy to self-manage and hate being micromanaged. Tell them what to do, leave them free and check back on outcome at the agreed time. That is the way to get the best out of this generation.
Fifthly, the post-millennials crave for the opportunities for innovation, creativity and “out of the box” solutions. It satisfies their self-image and achievement orientation if they are given the chance to work on new ideas and the solution. In an environment conducive to original thinking they tend to be effective much more than the previous generations.
Finally, the millennials and post-millennials prefer flatter organizations (or no structured organization!) and informal communications. They are the products of social networking and therefore collaboration is in their DNA. They love a structure devoid of bureaucracy, where everyone can network with everyone else in the team and on equal terms. They want to critically examine and question. They want to exchange ideas, get suggestions, receive feedbacks and validations and co-create an outcome aligned to their team task. They feel awkward when working for a boss who loves strict line of command and rigid work habits. They want to be assessed and rewarded on the outcomes produced.
The young do not aspire for life-long employment which their preceding generations were yearning for. More than money and title, what motivates them to accept and stay on in a job is the perceived opportunity for exciting assignments, recognition for accomplishments and an acceptable work-life balance.
They look for bosses from whom they can learn. They want mentors and guides more than commanders and regulators. Most young employees look for instant gratification rather than year-end reviews. They want to work in a collaborative environment and prefer a project-based approach which involves shorter spans of time to see the outcomes.
They know that continuous learning and updating of skills would make them employable beyond the short term. In the digital age, technology changes and the resultant disruptions can be swift and severe. Millennials and post-millennials focus on continuously updating their knowledge, skills and employability.
The post-millennial mindset and aspirations pose challenges not just to employers and managers but also for parents and teachers. One of the most critical roles for an adult individual is parenting. This is unfortunately taken for granted in the Indian context. With their independence, trust, flexibility and “here and now” attitude, millennials and post-millennials are keen to break away from the stereotype of ‘obedient child of patronizing parents’. Many parents find it hard to come to terms with the changed realities and are keen to enforce parental authority. They are in a time-wrap and fail to recast parenting styles to align with the aspirations of the post-millennials. Adoption of a supportive and facilitating parenting style would make a world of difference in enabling children to realize their potential. Parents need to handover decision making on careers and personal choices increasingly to children as they come to the end of teenage phase.
The behavioral orientation and attitudes of the digitally savvy, informed and independent students put pressure on teachers to modify their role from instructors to mentors. They should help students to rediscover creativity.
The post-millennials are destined to transform the future of humanity. The rate of change in the course of Generation Z would in all likelihood surpass those witnessed by any previous generation. The distinction and distortions between egalitarianism and elitism in India might linger for a bit more. That should not hold us back from facilitating the post-millennials with talent and drive to become change makers.
The views and facts mentioned in the article are that of the author