Understanding the Young


Understanding the Young

NS Rajan

When I visited XLRI some months ago, I shared a thought with the batch passing out: ‘the best of me, perhaps, is behind me; the best of you is beckoning you.’ Over the years, it has been a great source of joy and learning to have worked with the younger generation. I have had the privilege of interacting with young people at various levels over the past few decades. My own organization today is filled with exceptionally bright youngsters who expose my ignorance of their world view and encourage me to comprehend it. Much as I cherish the interactions, I recognize that gaining acceptance and credibility in their eyes is a Sisyphean task, yet we ought to. Ralph Waldo Emerson had observed: “What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.” Understanding the youth is a precondition to our quest to fulfill our role. They are our tomorrow, shapers of the world to be. It is upon us to play our part.

Three distinct generations comprise the workforce today, all intermingled in the same workspace – Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Gen X (born between 1965 and 1982) and Gen Y (born after 1983). Gen Y, the “Millennial Generation” are technically defined as those born in the mid-1980s, belonging to the age of group of 18 to 27 years and who are just entering the workforce.  In the past, loyalty to one’s job was essential to guarantee success and career advancement. A stable income with low risk, high job security and assured career growth were the erstwhile drivers of an employee’s workplace ideology. The earlier generation, for instance, would easily accept the legitimacy of hierarchical authority. On the contrary, in today’s times, respect needs to be earned the hard way by superiors. For a young person, according respect is an acknowledgment of someone’s ability or intellect and hence every bit of loyalty and respect must be earned.

When I interact with the youth of today, I recognize that this generation has an advantage few of us have ever had before. Their entry into the employment market coincided with the liberalization, globalization, and technological advancements opening new vistas. Social media has been avidly embraced by them, opening new forms of networking. They have the confidence and the opportunities to chart the course of their own career and future, want to make their own choices and believe that the employers need to give them what they want. They are independent in following their dreams. They are willing to experiment, take risks, and are open to novel professional experiences. This environment encouraged the young minds to focus quite early on the higher order needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, than being limited to mere stability and security. 

Today, our young colleagues have greater self- belief and are more aware of their aspirations and more demanding in their expectations. They opt for careers that provide professional mobility and creative satisfaction rather than the assurance of stable and predictable growth. What drives the young generation is their passion and the ability to identify with his/her own career. This is one of the reasons why young people are increasingly taking to offbeat careers such as radio jockeying, photography, graphic designing or working with non-government organizations or self help groups. They are willing to experiment, take risks, and are open to novel professional experiences.

In my experience, youngsters today are more open and honest in expressing their discomfort with ideas they do not agree to, yet, are not disrespectful contrary to popular notion. In today’s world there may not be a positive relation between hierarchy and intellect! With increasing pay checks and fast evolving lifestyles, the youth of today copes with a lot more pressures than the previous generation. While money is important to them, I see them driven more by the passion to follow their dreams and the drive to make a difference to the world. It is our responsibility perhaps to recognize the unique blend of talent and motivation that sets each individual apart, and harnessing such talent is clearly a function of our willingness to unravel their dispositions rather than controlling circumstances alone. Understanding the true motivations of the younger employees is the first step to be able to set mutual expectations for success.

The youth are the future. In the crucible of life, I hope that they discover the immense possibilities that await them. Bertrand Russell observed that “to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.” In a never ending whirlpool of expectations, they are likely to measure themselves not by what they have, but by comparing with what others have. The locus of control then rests outside, making it difficult to maintain the equilibrium. This is further compounded if there is a gap between what they desire and what they deserve. While money is important and linked to one’s self worth, this cannot serve them as the only means of achieving professional fulfillment. We need to help them recognize this reality. Franklin D Roosevelt had aptly observed that “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” It is our duty to guide them in their search for a calling, where work in itself is a source of intrinsic fulfillment. 

( Building Blocks: The picture in blue is that of a large and luminiscent bill board adorning a skyscraper at Times Square in the heart of Manhattan, New York reminiscent of glorious building blocks that will come together tomorrow to create a marvel. We indeed are bestowed with the opportunity of architecting the future, if we choose to. In moulding the young, we can serve the cause of guiding our youth who define our destiny )


Comments RSS
  1. SV Nathan


    Khalil Gibran’s poem came to mind, when i read your piece and here is the whole thing that i extracted:

    On Children
    Kahlil Gibran

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable

    • nsrajan1111

      My dear Nathan, Thanks a ton for posting these evocative words of Gibran, a author I cherish. I do recall these beautiful lines, and my hats off to you for aptly recalling them against this missive. Like I always say, your visit enriches the blog immensely. Warm regards..NS Rajan

  2. Pooja Bhandari


    Absolutely loved this piece ! Most compelling thought… “to understand what truly motivates Gen Y.. ” Great Insight… Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Cheers, Poo

    BTW: Also loved Mr Nathan’s note on Khalil Gibran’s poem…. !

    • nsrajan1111

      Thanks a million Pooja for your warm sentiments. I consider it a great fortune to have the privilege of being amidst youngsters, and suppose that my learning from them will continue to be a present continuous journey. Warm regards…NS Rajan

  3. Srini k

    As i share in my sessions, for us joining a organziation for career was ‘Marriage’ and for Gen Y it is like ‘ Living in Relationship’. In short in terms of committment both are serious but the outlook of organization has to change as it cannot anymore take the employees for granted when it comes to their committment

  4. Kapil Aggarwal

    A cool piece Sir… quite provoking on how one can adapt to change … Regards, Kapil Aggarwal

  5. Namita

    Dear Sir,

    Great insights. Few people recognize that while money is surely important for today’s youth, they are driven by PASSION !!!

    We would love to include your blog in Aspiring Minds’ monthly newsletter Talent Prism, discussing talent, quality and research across multiple sectors which goes to to 7000+ HR professionals in India. We have a section on Key Feature wherein we propose to feature an article by industry expert. It would be great if we can include your article as the Key Feature of our newsletter.

    Below is the URL of the latest edition of our newsletter Talent Prism for your perusal:


    Thanks & Regards
    Namita Jain
    Aspiring Minds

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