Understanding the Young
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 )