SO WHICH AGE IS S. Chandrasekhar living in? While IBM’s 100th birthday bash next year might require the immediate attention of the IBM India and South Asia human resources (HR) head, he also has the emerging dynamics among younger workers to contend with. A whopping 80% of IBM India’s 80,000-strong workforce belongs to the 21-32 age group. The average age of managers has fallen in the past decade from 42 years to the early thirties. “If you are a 100-year-old global company, it’s very likely three generations of workers operate together,” says Chandrasekhar.

That means a 60-year-old veteran may oversee a group of 40-year-olds who, in turn, manage twentysomethings whose business delivery spans geographic locations. “Both the old and new have to know how to work with each other,” adds 53-year-old Chandrasekhar.

“The gamer generation has entered the workforce,” he says, referring to the ever-increasing number of executives in India, who are also the youngest across the globe and account for 60% to 80% of the country’s private sector workforce. Broadly, the gamer demographic in the country can be classified into 21-25 years, and 26-32 years. The latter, born in the early ’80s, and popularly known as Gen X, was just old enough to catch early glimpses of a pre-liberalisation India when jobs weren’t aplenty. By contrast, the Gen Y age group of 21-25 has grown up in a more affluent India. The changing demographic is regardless of a company’s age and size. And the real challenge is to manage the cross-generational workflow.

The ‘gamer generation’, a phrase coined in the U.S. in the 2000s, referred to the 90 million people—young and old—that grew up on video games. In 2006, over 60% of America’s gamers were managers or executives. In India, the gaming industry is small but growing fast, and its members seem straight out of John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade’s book titled Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever.

“Gamers are more willing to hit the reset button—to go on to another game (on a console like Sony’s PlayStation), or go back and play the same game in a different way,” says Beck, senior advisor to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. They innately present more problem-solving options because they adopt a trial-and-error approach unlike non-gamers. Among other key traits, gamers believe that by working hard everyone can succeed, they recover fast from setbacks, and learn more from peers rather than the boss.

Chandrasekhar has a few leads so far. The gamer generation learns quickly, is tech-savvy, has clear expectations from life, wants work-life balance, and seeks fast career progression. Not only does it manage time well, but it also expects workflows to be purposeful and managers to be articulate.

Video games may have a limited influence in India. However, a whole generation of yuppies has grown up with the Internet and mobile phones. That works out to at least five years of technology-driven experience before their first day at work.

“They have grown up in families that are comfortably off, so they look for interesting experiences, not just compensation,” notes E. Balaji, president-staffing, selection and training at Ma Foi Randstad, an HR consulting firm based in Chennai. “They expect micro feedback instantly from managers, and prefer brutal feedback rather than sugar-coated praise.”

No doubt, it’s a radical shift. Before India’s economy was liberalised, the shortage of private sector jobs meant the post-independence generation was stable in a job for seven to 10 years. Today, the number of private sector jobs has risen to over 13 million. And as more young people are baptised into corporate culture, companies here have identified three areas to deal with the new workforce: selection, nonmonetary recognition, and talent pool management.

Smart recruiting is vital. Since 2005, Intel India has hired 200-300 interns every year to suss out expertise and, more crucially, behaviour. With Intern Care, an integration programme, interns are coached through association with their managers or friends, along with a structured assessment method that provides continuous feedback. Business heads are accountable for intern conversion every year, and the conversion rate since 2005 has hovered between 50% and 60%.

In the BPO space, there are attempts to meet the nonmonetary needs of the young workforce as well. Take 24/7 Customer founded in April 2000. “It is important to understand aspirations rather than just age-related trends,” says Nina Nair, vice president, HR, of 24/7 Customer. “People from outside urban India born in the ’80s still come from environments of scarcity. They are likely to grow with a job over time.”

So, the BPO firm reaches out to non-metros with great fervour, and gives college dropouts opportunities to finish graduation while on the job. It’s a nonmonetary incentive, based on tie-ups with universities across the country, which has benefitted more than 2,000 workers so far. The immediate focus: retain employees in the mid-twenties for over five years.

Once a company has the right talent pool, its challenge is to manage the more restless mindset of the gaming generation. In recent months, the IT industry has struggled to manage employees posting work-related issues on Twitter and Facebook. One solution is an internal social networking website. At Cognizant Technology Solutions, it is called Cognizant 2.0 with over 60,000 active users. That’s over 65% of its headcount. Such organisations are betting on the peers’ prowess to control each other, like gamers, even as issues are posted on a network platform that is global in nature but only accessible in-house.

“There are critical and thoughtful responses to the CEO’s blog post like ‘Did we miss an opportunity here?’ or ‘Why did we do that?’ ” says Malcolm Frank, senior vice president, marketing and strategy, at Cognizant. “It’s like a town square with thousands of people who can assemble and talk naturally; the kind of open-networked environment a millennial is looking for, as opposed to a rigid hierarchy where their opinions cannot be expressed.”

There are other opportunities. Hema Ravichandar, an independent strategic HR consultant and former HR head of Infosys Technologies, explains. “Young IT employees often want to go against the rules, in the technology sense. A private buddy group on an internal networking platform allows peers to warn such employees, rather than the boss having to do that,” she says.

At the Mahindra Group, the young workforce constitutes over 60% of manufacturing headcount. They get to tail and spend time with a top-management member. Based on this, the employee identifies a business issue and inputs to tackle it. This is presented before the Group Executive Board, which has in the recent past even implemented the recommendations of young employees. It becomes a question of how to harness this young energy in the organisation, says Rajeev Dubey, HR head of Mahindra Group. The next level has begun.

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