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Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

January 03, 2014 16:27 IST

Image: Indian students study inside the Delhi University campus.
Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters Shyamal Majumdar in Mumbai

It's time for employers to get ready for a generation - born in the digital age - that will be a lot smarter than its predecessors.

At a year-end brainstorming session on how to engage tomorrow's executives, a human resources consultant - a man in his mid-fifties - stopped the discussions on Generation X and Y midway, and asked dramatically, "Gentlemen, Gen X & Y are passe. What about Gen Z?"

The question wasn't mere rhetoric. For, in just about three years from now, Gen Z, loosely defined as people born in 1995 or thereabouts, will start entering the workplace.

Known also as "digital natives", they are the first generation to be born into a completely digital age. So, unless companies start planning now on the generational change in the workplace, it may be too late in the day.


Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters

To start with, the consultant says, Gen Z will be a group that will be in a constant state of partial attention.

For proof, look at your kid who is listening to music while IM'ing (emailing is passe) her friend while her mother's call is on hold even as the course material sent by her college is being downloaded on her laptop.

Before you start frowning at this nano-second attention span, the positive side is that Gen Z will be much more adept than you at paying attention and working productively on more than one thing at a time.

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Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Reuters

The challenge for employers will thus be two-fold: One, Gen Z will expect this opportunity at the workplace, and will be dead-bored if they don't get it. And two, your approach will need a sea change if you want to attract their attention.

So, use social media and start chatting with them when they are still in their colleges. In short, go viral with your recruitment efforts.

Some companies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have already taken the first step. "Our conversation with potential employees starts through various engagement initiatives on Facebook, Youtube, etc even when they are in their first year at college. The bottom line is simple. People say the younger generation will have high expectations.

So what? There is nothing wrong if somebody wants to be better at her work," says N Chandrasekaran, CEO & MD of TCS.


Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

These efforts will, of course, be refined further for Gen Z employees. For example, they will have little patience for elaborate classroom-based training processes since they are too used to watching bite-sized videos of learning just in time before exams.

One of the most critical changes will be in the way feedbacks are given. The days of mid-term performance reviews will be dead and gone.

Gen Z employees, who have grown up checking their progress in video games on leader boards, would expect instant feedback at work.

For managers, however, this would mean being badgered weekly - even daily - for appraisal by eager young members of the staff.

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Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Sivaram V/Reuters

In case you are feeling clueless, it may be a good idea to check out portals such as Rypple, Yammer, etc for the right type of technology.

Rypple's philosophy is simple. The new generation coming to work will look at feedback as an opportunity to learn, while the older generation equate feedback with judgement, says the portal.

Going by the response it has got from overseas companies, the web-based service provided by Rypple, which was set up in 2008, seems to have satisfied the young employees' desire for frequent assessments. So, that could be a good model to follow if you want to get ready for Gen Z.

Experts say the independence that technology gives them means they would be able to work from any location and for any organisation in the world.

This will make them more transient, which could be beneficial, but may also create a retention issue for employers.

Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

An employer says this is already a major problem for younger generation employees: "They haven't even arrived at their new job and already they want to know where they will go next," he says.

But he may have seen nothing yet since experts say Gen Z would like to progress much further, quite faster than Gen Y.

As an employer, you need to prepare for the reality that they would expect to burn through a number of employers during their career.

A Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) survey of university graduates, called "Recruiting and managing the millennial generation", says managers need to really understand the personal and professional goals of tomorrow's employees.

Put them on special rotational assignments more frequently to give them a sense that they are moving towards something and gaining a variety of experiences.

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Are firms ready for the smarter next generation employees?

Photographs: Babu/Reuters

Also remember, tomorrow's employees may hardly come to office for a face-to-face conversation - something you are used to doing frequently.

Many managers complain that their younger colleagues prefer connecting via email. The PwC survey advocates setting them free.

For example, if you know what you want from them by when, it shouldn't matter where and how they complete the task. In short, you have to get out of the clock in and out mindset.

The questions to ask, therefore, are: Do you have the right insight and data to determine where changes and/or investments may be necessary? Have you built strong links between the functions within the organisation that are responsible for mobility, talent development, succession planning and global resourcing?

The answers are necessary since you would soon have to deal with Gen Z who will be a lot smarter than their previous generations. Your time starts now.

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