A startup offers a master class in keeping both millennials and Gen X-ers happy

Fostering a culture of equality.
Fostering a culture of equality.
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At the two-and-a-half-years-old payments gateway startup Razorpay, employees’ age groups don’t matter. How these groups interact does.

The Bengaluru-based firm has a headcount of 110, and over 90% of its staff can be classified as millennials (born between 1982 and 2004), with their average age at around 27. Inevitably, many of its managers fall in this group. The company also has employees more senior in age.

Millennials are generally perceived as entitled, bred on instant gratification, and with no respect for hierarchy. This puts them in direct conflict with Gen X (born between 1964 and 1985) which usually has a top-down approach and doesn’t take too kindly to the millennial way.

By conventional wisdom then, the potential for a generational clash should be high at Razorpay. But the company deftly tackled this volatile mix.

How the two segments work with each other was determined by the leadership from day-one. ”What basically matters is setting down ground rules early,” said Harshil Mathur, co-founder of Razorpay. This is imperative, especially in India where a lot of emphasis is laid on respect for age.

“Age (and) experience matter and are respected, but they’re not the only thing,” said Mathur.

The rules

In Mathur’s organisation, there are almost no closed-door meetings. Official exchanges are conducted over open channels on Slack and e-mail chains. Any employee may raise questions, offer feedback, and get involved in decision-making.

However, along with this transparency, there’s also the need to strike a balance between old-school employees and those with new-age agendas. While senior folks should “not ridicule (their younger counterparts) for lack of experience,” the younger ones should be willing to listen to and learn from their more experienced colleagues. Co-founders Shashank Kumar and Mathur, themselves under 27, intervene whenever these guidelines are flouted.

The wider canvas

With millennials comprising half of India’s population already, they are set to become an indispensable part of the workforce. Over two-thirds of 20-something-year-olds today are employed in India’s $150 billion IT industry, Ajay Shah, vice-president of recruitment, TeamLease Services, told Quartz.

Millennials, also known as Gen Y, often have a very different approach to work from Gen X (the preceding generation), says Shah.

Here are some of the ways in which they differ:

As a result of these differences, millennials are far more skeptical of the digital skills implementation in their workplaces: A 2016 survey of 4,100 executives and employees in 21 countries, including 351 millennial managers and over 1,000 non-executive workers born between 1980 and 1997, showed that younger leaders are “not as impressed with the digital management skills of senior executives as senior executives are with their own abilities.”

The same survey revealed that millennial executives are much more skeptical that their company decisions are made in real time and that decisions can be mapped directly onto company strategies.

Yet, Shah says this is “one of the best eras” for companies as they can leverage Gen X’s qualities like loyalty while also hiring younger people who are “more productive, (can) think out of the box, and acknowledge change.”

“They (younger managers) believe in collaboration and continuous feedback. They’re more easily moldable,” Shah said. So Gen Y managing older employees is not a problem. If there is any friction, he said, it probably comes from Gen X’s inhibitions to someone 10 years younger leading them.

The key then is to work in tandem. ”As founders, we need to know that we don’t know everything,” Mathur said. “It’s good to accept where you’re weak.” Both Kumar and Mathur are engineers, so they focus on the product itself. For unfamiliar areas like sales and marketing, they’ve hired others.

In short, both generations must understand that a different work ethic doesn’t mean a bad work ethic. The company’s culture just has to evolve for both to coexist.