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Gen Z, X, etc.: Making the generational alphabet soup work

Each generation has experienced the world differently and has different values, and need to accommodate each other. It's not a mammoth task.

December 24, 2022 / 09:39 PM IST
Experts say that for organisations to manage this seemingly difficult problem is to apply the same principles they do to understand their customers. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Experts say that for organisations to manage this seemingly difficult problem is to apply the same principles they do to understand their customers. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

When a Gen Z colleague of 48-year-old Rajendra Mishra (name changed) greeted him saying “you are the main character,” he was perplexed. He googled the phrase and learnt it was a Gen Z expression for someone who was generally well-liked — a harmless manifestation of the generation gap at work.

“In the ITeS sector, age is unlikely to affect computer literacy. However, there may be differences in how familiar and comfortable people are with technology – essentially, the digital nativity versus the digital adoption divide,’’ said Jacob Jesuroon, Senior Vice President and Head of HR at Access Healthcare.

He says that, for instance, in IT and IT-enabled services organisations, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) workforce size is heavily skewed towards freshers. Entry-level positions are filled by Gen Z (those born between 1990-2010), while the middle management responsible for supervising them is primarily millennial (those born between 1980-1995).

“The senior leadership is mainly composed of Gen X (born between 1965-1980). Boomers (born between 1945-1965) are rare in this kind of tech-based knowledge services firms, except at the very top, as board members or advisors,” said Jesuroon.

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Different generations may have different priorities and values, and these differences can lead to misunderstanding or conflict. “Let’s take a very small example of what to wear in an office. While the older generation might prefer strict formals, the newer generation prioritises comfort over presentability, feels Shikhar Singh, Head of HR at Cutshort, a tech career platform.

In such cases organisations can’t take an extreme position either way, so they need to look at possibilities like business casuals, Singh added.

Workforce distribution

Of all sectors, the percentage of employees in the 21-28 year bracket is the maximum in Financial Services, IT/ITeS, and the services sectors, data by Aon shows.

“The services sector business model demands a bottom heavy pyramid in order to rationalise the people cost, which is a significant portion of the balance sheet,” said Jang Bahadur Singh, Director, Human Capital Solutions, Aon.

There is a great affinity for new age businesses in these sectors among the 21-28 year bracket, especially given the heightened activity in the early-stage and start-up segment, he added.

Age-wise 2312_001

“The high growth trajectory of the start-up segment has also meant that high-tech is now starting to hoard the most premium young talent,” Singh said.

How are organisations managing?

Experts say that for organisations to manage this seemingly difficult problem is to apply the same principles they do to understand their customers.

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“The needs and contexts of this age bracket are different, hence there is a need to manage this talent via hyper-customised people practices and job architectures (career path) within a consistent organisational value system, to create an inclusive culture,” Jang Bahadur Singh added.

Multinational IT firm GlobalLogic believes that age brings with it a wealth of experience. The company hires employees in their golden years post retirement, so that they can contribute to the business while also upskilling and enriching their careers.

“It’s all about impact and generational differences, while they may exist, don’t matter as much as impact,” said Rajesh Rai, VP of People Team and Head of HR, India, at GlobalLogic.

IT firm Nagarro tries to align employees with their interests to ensure that they land on the right projects.

“Think of a generation that never sat back and passively watched TV. They grew up interacting and now need to feel that they can interact with colleagues and managers and be in a place where their voice will matter,” says Shruti Tandon, MD, People Enablement, Nagarro, adding, “They are ready to collaborate and use all the tools we have, along with the right training and skill sets.”

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At Cutshort, the ESOPs policy has been designed keeping in mind all generations and their specific needs, as different generations are at different stages of their lives and their wealth creation needs are different.

“GenZ and millennials might need funds to support their education and parents’ dreams, while the older generation might need it for their kids and other familial requirements. Some generations look at the long run, while some need it in the shorter term,” said Singh from Cutshort.

Accommodative perspectives

The onus of building a bond among different generations at the workplace can’t rest on the management alone. In the end, it's employees who are the change makers.

“I want my opinions to be heard at crucial meetings. Even if I am given a chance to speak, it's mostly at the end – at the time of wrapping up,” says 24-year-old content writer Aastha Shenoy (name changed).

Mishra doesn’t see an issue here. “In meetings, we start with colleagues who have in-depth knowledge of the matter and who can eliminate the obvious at the outset so that conversations can be to the point.”

Rishi Patil, an HR expert and founder of recruitment firm Executive 81 feels Gen X should give space to Gen Z and also allow them to take risks and ownership so that Gen Z feels more empowered. “Failing is just part of the process,” he says.

Companies where employees classify each other as newbies, boomers, etc., rarely learn to work together, feels career coach and expert Sawan Kapoor.

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Kapoor says that managers can cultivate a listening culture by thinking about workplace communication – spoken or written – as text messages: brief stimuli that foster the sharing of perspectives and opinions. "No one posts exceedingly long texts, knowing they will not be read. A short text is more effective because it invites immediate participation,’’ he added.

Patil feels that Gen Z should prepare about the matter at hand before sharing their views and asking questions.

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Get a life

Each generation has different values and beliefs and has experienced the world differently. For Gen X, the company they work for is an extension of who they are as individuals and personalities. It is natural for them to have a minimal boundary between work and social life, says Aditya Narayan Mishra, MD and CEO, CIEL HR Services.

“Millennials like some space and they have an increased need for work-life balance,” he added.

Experts say all generations would have to accommodate each other. It's not a mammoth ask for older managers to let Gen Z employees leave office a little early. Likewise, for younger generations, it's not a big deal to work longer hours at times, they added.

“Generation X should be more open to speaking their mind as other people may not be able to understand what they are internally processing,” says Harsh Suresh Bharwani, CEO and MD of Jetking Infotrain.

While millennials and Gen Z need to come out of their cocoons and start enjoying life in the presence of actual relationships, he adds.

Abhishek Sahu
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.