AS PART OF A recent leadership development programme in London, Deepti Sagar, Deloitte’s chief people and experience officer for India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Bangladesh, had an opportunity to interview Gen Z associates about their personal and professional lives. She has two key takeaways: first, Gen Zs are more open to asking questions and demanding what they want, and second, they are more purpose-driven. “Gen Zs, millennials and even Gen Xers are similar. They want to excel in what they do. But Gen Zs are not scared of voicing their opinion. They work hard but want to know what they’re working for. If we build a culture where we’re allowed to question constructively, brainstorm and ideate, and find a common purpose, we will see rigour across the organisation,” she tells Fortune India.

Managing aspirations of younger workers and creating an inclusive workplace for generationally diverse employees is the key to success for organisations in India where nearly 66% of the population is below 35. Leaders in human resources (HR) departments of companies agree that while different generations working together brings multiple benefits such as varied talent pipelines, knowledge sharing across generations and diverse perspectives, it comes with unique challenges. “Their needs and aspirations differ. Gen Z is just entering the workforce and seeks development opportunities and work-life balance. Millennials are often focused on accelerated career growth and finding purpose. Gen X brings extensive experience but expects flexibility as it juggles responsibilities such as family,” says Anupam Kaura, chief human resources officer, Kotak Mahindra Bank.

To bridge the gap between employees from different age cohorts, large employers are using concepts such as reverse mentoring, where younger employees mentor seniors in areas like new technologies and digital trends, and customised skilling. They are also focusing on collaboration and communication. India’s largest software services exporter Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), for example, has iConnect, a collaborative tool which helps employees reach out to senior mentors for career guidance; In FY 2023, the company recorded 29,000 iConnect sessions.

“Two-way knowledge sharing facilitates understanding between generations. Younger mentors gain confidence, perspective and people skills while the mentees stay abreast of rapidly evolving domains,” says Kotak Mahindra’s Kaura. At the Mumbai-based private sector lender, Gen Z employees (under 30) account for 34.4% workforce, millennials (aged 30-45) comprise 19.5% while Gen Xers (45 and above) are at 17.2%. The company has more than 1,00,000 full-time employees.

Understanding Differences

Understanding differences between generations is important for organisations. Companies say some needs and goals of different generations are similar across sectors owing to factors such as Gen Zs’ and millennials’ comfort with technology and Gen Xers’ long experience. According to Sitaram Kandi, CHRO of Tata Motors, where roughly half the workforce is Gen Zs and millennials and the other half is Gen Xers, Gen Z workers are characterised by tech-savviness, desire for meaningful and challenging work and drive for rapid career development. “Millennials prioritise work-life balance, flexibility and purpose-driven careers. Gen Xers value stability, experience and opportunities to leverage expertise to mentor younger colleagues and contribute to organisational growth,” he says.

According to data shared by LinkedIn, in a job opportunity, normalising of long working hours is the biggest concern for 56% millennials, 52% Gen Xers and 47% Gen Z workers. Meanwhile, 50% Gen Z professionals view donning multiple roles for the same compensation as the biggest red flag in a job opportunity. In terms of upskilling, too, different age groups show varied needs and learning styles. LinkedIn data shows that Gen Zs are most interested in learning programming languages, data science, cloud computing, data analysis, etc, whereas millennials are keen on data science, leadership/management, programming languages and project management skills. Gen Xers are focused on leadership/management, data science, personal effectiveness and project management.

“Gen Zs and millennials are challenging conventional norms to rewrite workplace dynamics in India. Millennials see long work hours as a red flag while Gen Zs don’t want to do multiple roles without fair pay. As both cohorts express optimism about career growth and learning opportunities, Gen X Indians are looking forward to boosting confidence within current roles,” says Ruchee Anand, senior director, talent and learning solutions, LinkedIn India.

However, it is also important for organisations to not stereotype employees based on age, say experts. According to Prabir Jha, HR strategist and founder and CEO of Prabir Jha People Advisory, who has managed HR operations of companies like Reliance Industries, Tata Motors, Cipla and Dr Reddy’s, it is a fallacy to believe that all Gen Zs or millennials are identical. “It is an overly simplified model to interpret everything on the basis of which generation an employee belongs to. For example, Gen Zs in a smaller, nondescript town are not necessarily the same as Gen Zs in Mumbai or New York. Everyone’s operating reality is different. They may be different from the older generation in their surroundings but not all Gen Zs are philandering with opportunities. There are many who want stability as they have not inherited wealth or secure life,” says Jha.

Besides personal and social circumstances, how employees react to market forces and economic conditions during the course of their career and how these have shaped their worldview can differ within the same generation. Vinay Razdan, CHRO, HDFC Bank, shares the example of management students who graduated during the 2008 financial crisis and found it hard to get a job. “Some have become insecure and keep getting their pay packages up through rotational job churn while some have become so risk-averse that they hold on to what they have and stay within the same organisation. You can find different patterns within the same generation of people depending on the kind of experiences they go through,” he says. At HDFC Bank, 70% workforce is millennials with a bulk of them at junior management level, while 15% is Gen Zs, mostly at entry-level grades; baby boomers are less than 1%. Overall, the company employed 1,73,222 at the end of FY23.

Customising Skilling

Companies are boosting their learning and development programmes to keep the workforce updated with latest technologies and retain talent. According to LinkedIn’s latest Workplace Learning report, 48% hiring managers in India are providing career progression opportunities to employees; 38% believe helping employees build skills is key to retaining top talent.

Companies are also accelerating learning initiatives. HDFC Bank, for example, launched two programmes for different sets of employees in FY23. Its new Crucible program, for instance, is aimed at building leadership skills among mid-level managers, whereas its Aspiring Leaders programme is designed for helping senior individual contributors transition into people manager roles. In FY23, India’s largest private sector lender spent ₹14.5 crore on learning and development, according to its annual report.

While learning initiatives are important, how they are delivered is crucial, too. Kotak Mahindra, for example, says its tool allows employees to choose their learning journey based on specific skills, roles and experiences. “Gen Z benefits from comprehensive training on core banking fundamentals and digital skills. Millennials have access to leadership grooming and specialised certifications. Gen X employees are offered courses on adapting to technological disruption. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Kotak bridges these gaps through peer learning, mentorship circles and by embracing a growth mindset at all levels,” says Kaura.

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