Business Today

Born to Rule @ Work

Organisations are bending over backwards to accommodate the "brat generation" that sticks to no rules but its own. Twentysomethings are changing the Indian workplace - mostly for the better.

Saumya Bhattacharya        Print Edition: September 19, 2010

Mavericks. Free thinkers. Rebels. They are impatient but resultoriented. They live for today but are defining the future. They seek out mentors but seldom put anybody on a pedestal. They may not be visible in their workplaces but their output is.

Meet the archetypal conundrum facing India Inc.: twentysomethings in its workforce. Organisations are bending over backwards to accommodate the "brat generation" that sticks to no rules but its own. In a country where one in two citizens is younger than 25 years old, hirers had better get used to this. Simply because they represent the human capital of tomorrow.

"They are a little bolder than earlier generations and they are less mature," says M.S. Krishnamoorthy, Senior Vice President and Head of Human Resources at 'old economy' conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (L&T). But that's enough to make it change and shake up its hoary processes. At the 72-year-old company that hires 1,500 freshers every year, twentysomethings are changing the way the company functions - right from its policy on social networking to the way it designs employee benefits.

L&T has its own version of Facebook, well almost. L&T employees, all 40,000 of them, are free to form networks within the organisation and, well, talk among themselves. The company still frowns on Twitter and Facebook, but Krishnamoorthy is not sure "how long we will be able to do that".

Got a career plan for me?

PRATEEK BHARGAVA (L), 23
Assistant Manager in HR, Maruti Suzuki

I had the luxury of choosing my employer even in a downturn when my batch, class of 2009, at the Management Development Institute was roughing it out at placements. Other things being equal, the location clinched it for me and I joined Maruti Suzuki in May 2009.

Yes, it's true that the image of a brand is vital and I did not want to settle for anything less than a market leader. While you are on a learning curve, it's best to learn from a leader. I was pretty sure I will get great cross-functional exposure at Maruti Suzuki that I joined over one year ago.

Soon after joining work, I wanted to know what was there for my career in it. What's wrong in asking that? I need to understand how I am going to grow in my company. What's their plan for me? And are these plans in tandem with my own plans?

What keeps me at my company is my empowered environment and that's not just rhetoric. I have a lot of freedom and fl exibility in what I do. That's important. You can tell me what I need to do, but the 'how' should be left to me.

Just the other day, my father was asking me to join his well-established business of publishing. I always have that option, but I don't want the world handed over to me on a silver platter. Sure, I have entrepreneurial skills. Ten years down the line, may be I will look for something new in my father's business, but right now I am preparing and working for it.

What has decisively changed at L&T are pay packets. Retirement benefits have been discontinued for the new recruits, parts of salaries that were earlier paid as loans are being done away with. "Now we cash it out because youngsters want money in hand rather than security in the long term," says the company's HR head.

L&T is rapidly changing and the picture is not very different elsewhere in corporate India. The twentysomething generation is indeed re-writing the rulebooks of the workplace. The tech services industry is where the change is sweeping. "We have changed to keep pace with youngsters," says Ajoy Mukherjee, the head of Global HR at Tata Consultancy Services, where the average employee age of 28 years is considered high by industry standards. Think of a company like Infosys Technologies expanding its workforce by one-fourth every year by mostly hiring fresh graduates 20-22 years old.

Rapid Growth, Growing Demands
Talent managers look at the trend from a macro perspective. It's not a change in individuals, it's a change across the board because India is a dynamic economy that is sucking a young population (median age 24.4 years) into its workforce, they reckon. Human capital expert and chairman of staffing firm TeamLease Services Manish Sabharwal gives his rationale: "When things are stagnant, they are biased towards the older generation. When they are changing, things are biased towards younger generations."

The mindsets of the new entrants in the workforce have changed as the Indian economy has grown rapidly. The generation that has grown in the post-liberalised era - a five-year-old in July 1991 when India embraced market reforms would be 24 today - just does not have the hoarding, saving mentality of earlier generations. There's a desire to acquire - higher compensation, instant recognition, learning, the power to make decisions and, above all, a desire to have absolute control over their careers and life.

Behavioural experts will have you believe that this generation has been brought up very differently from the past generations. "They have been mollycoddled and showered with the kind of attention not paid to any other generation before them," says Nina Chatrath, Senior Consultant, Leadership and Talent Consulting, Korn/Ferry India, an executive search firm. So, they have more self-worth, and for organisations, they are both high performance and high maintenance (read demanding) assets.

This generation of twentysomethings does not respond to command-and-control type of management. Give them work, tell them what is expected and you will perhaps get better results than what you were looking for. "That's great for them as individuals, but each of these traits means a new challenge for people managers," says TCS's Mukherjee. "For something as simple as writing code, TCS gives its employees ample freedom to find their way around. All they are given is the requirement and the deadline."

Plus, of course, since they have been encouraged to ask questions by their parents, it is natural for twentysomethings to put posers to their employers. "This generation is not afraid to ask questions and definitely wants answers," says Mukherjee, who is championing internal communication like never before at one of India's oldest information technology outfits, Tata Consultancy Services. (See Mr Rapidfire)

A need to feed new challenges translated into frequent job rotations, he adds, which has kept attrition down at 13.2 per cent at the moment. The speak-its-mind generation creates some uncomfortable moments even for their business leaders. At a multinational in Gurgaon, the company head found himself amongst sceptical young employees when he announced a health initiative for the organisation, because he happened to be a chain-smoker. It's been a year since the company head quit smoking (See The Art of Listening) and the health initiative is a roaring success.

The young are not afraid to make fools of themselves when speaking their minds. "You have to be young and stupid to be old and wise," sums up Atul Bansal, a 24-year-old management trainee at Bharti Airtel, with an attitude almost as big as his company's network. (Read about Bansal in Theatrical Inc.)

Win Some, Lose Some
How many managers find themselves struggling for attention from that high performer sitting coolly at his workstation, earphones firmly in place and completely oblivious to the rest of the workplace? Of course, even the boss competes with iPods and social networking sites for his attention. Or what will the manager do with a brat who speaks her mind far too often for comfort?

I ask too many questions. So?

AMIT BIKRAM BANERJEE, 26
Support Escalation Engineer at Microsoft India, Bangalore

GenY wants instant gratification
Everyone looks for gratification. That's more to do with how fast-paced life is now and not really a generation cliche. GenY may be aggressive, but not overly aggressive. The only reference point I have is Microsoft. It's not that I have been left wanting gratification. My long-term may be two years and not four-five years, but this is an accusation that is not always true.

No concept of loyalty
Of course we are loyal! If by chasing my passion for technology I can grow in my job, I can stay in this company for 10 years. I have seen that many a time my peers do not have clarity on what they are looking for in a job. Then you've got to leave. If you have meaningful communication at work, then loyalty fi nds it way.

It's all about money
Depends. As long as compensation is at par with the industry, I don't see a lot of grumbling happen on that count. It varies from person to person. Obviously, I will not take up a job that pays me less. But I don't agree that remuneration is a top factor. If you are the highest paid guy around, but do not enjoy your work, what's the point?

GenY asks too many questions
Well, I plead guilty to that. We are candid and do ask too many questions. That's because we want communication to happen. I also want constant communication on what I am doing and how I am doing it.

Organisations are searching for answers. Some like Bharti Airtel and the world's leading mobile phone maker Nokia have long started reverse mentoring, while others like carmaker Maruti Suzuki and Genpact, the No. 1 business process outsourcing company in India, have overhauled appraisals to ensure instant gratification to this set of employees.

Appraisals are not just once-a-year increments. Feedback, if not increments, is given all through the year. Maruti Suzuki's Managing Executive Officer (HR, Finance and IT) S.Y. Siddiqui says freshers are very anxious about their careers from Day One at their job. "They want empowerment and they want to experiment," he says. So for the first year when freshers work on projects, they are free to experiment fail."They are projects and they are not accountable for these."

The youngsters will have you believe that it's not about only career and money. "Work-life balance is important. I have life beyond work," says a 27-year-old TCS employee who quit his very first job in three months because he did not have enough time for himself.

Typically, work for a twentysomething "is not life and they know exactly how to have a work-life balance," says Sandeep Kohli, Head of HR at audit and consulting firm Ernst & Young.

Such an outlook also means challenges. "If you tell these employees to go to remote places and if their significant partners cannot go, they will not take up the offer," says Aquil Busrai, a former talent manager at companies like Shell, Motorola and IBM India. Busrai, who is in his early 60s, went to Etah, one of the districts of Uttar Pradesh, for two years early in his career.

Sure, organisations have been quick to identify and tap the attitude of this generation. Biggies across sectors have charted out impressive young leader programmes. "Spotting young leaders as early as that (between 20 and 30) is important and that evolution is happening because this generation has the ability to adjust and adapt," says Korn/Ferry's Chatrath, who is also a leadership expert.

But is that enough? Should the future course of the workplace be decided by the demands of these youngsters? Human resource experts often tell you that some of the brilliant twentysomethings perform at an individual level but fail to merge their identities with the team. Pankaj founder and CEO of HR consultancy PeopleStrong, warns that some companies may be overdoing it by overhauling internal structures to meet the demands of a demanding twentysomethings workforce. All of them, he warns, will not be high performers.

"Do they all bring tangible value to the workplace," asks Bansal. Chatrath agrees. In her experience, when twentysomethings are filtered for leadership, just five to seven per cent make the cut. That's a sobering thought even as you read about 11 youngsters changing India's workplace on the following pages.

- With inputs from Anusha Subramanian

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