Gen Z workers are nothing like the millennials. Here’s how Indian employers can adapt

The new breed.
The new breed.
Image: Nisha Ramchandani
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Four years ago, Palak Zatakia dropped out of college at the age of 19 to do something of his own. He dabbled with some startup ideas before moving to Delhi to join media platform, Josh Talks, in a full-time role as a designer. In 2017, he started building his own start-up called Broadcast Lists, which is an app-based content platform that allows users to subscribe to curated content.

In 2017, Ankit Kumar (now 21) fell asleep during his semester exam in the third year of BA in business economics at Maharaja Agrasen College in Delhi. He had made up his mind to quit studies and start working, so he simply never went back to college after that day. He had landed several internships while at college and his attendance averaged between five and 10%. For the last 20 months, he has been working as a product and marketing consultant. He has worked with Prism Labs (a YCombinator company) and First Cheque, a seed and accelerator program for early-stage start-ups, among others.

These are just two of the many such crazy stories of India’s Gen Z, which is coming to the workforce now. Gen Z (those born after 1996) will comprise 32% of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, marching ahead of millennials who capture a 31.5% share. According to a 2014 United Nations report, India has the world’s largest youth population with 356 million people in the age group of 10-25 years. By 2020, India will become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group.

There are many reports characterising Gen Z and their behavioural traits. Here’s how Visual Capitalist differentiates Gen Z from the millennials:

Gen Z at work

After conversations with several Gen Z-ers, five characteristics stood out for me, which I think make them very different from millennials and baby boomers in their approach to career and work:

Begin early: “I was extremely passionate about computers since age five and when I started pursuing B.Tech in computer science from Amritha University, I knew I had to pursue multiple gigs. I started with the Google Summer of Code programme in the first year at 19. I worked with developers from across the world and even got to travel to Singapore, Germany, and Cambodia to attend open source conferences. After that, I interned with early-stage start-ups such as AR/ VR platform Scapic, and online research writing and collaboration platform I now work for Clarisights, a marketing intelligence platform on recruiting and already figuring out what I want to do next,” said Srijan Agarwal (22).

Figured it out real fast: “I am extremely cognizant of the underlying hypothesis that I want to create impact and if something is not working out, I seek change. The impact I am seeking is to set standards or change the existing way of doing things. Despite studying engineering both in India and the US, I realised early on that I am not going to pursue engineering. I prefer new challenges and not necessarily those that are relevant to my educational background. I take on new responsibilities to learn a new area I want to pursue and never really think of roadmaps, I become the roadmap,” said Sachin Reddy (23) who manages operations at a startup accelerator.

Build things & create impact: “Honestly speaking, I never really cared about building a career the traditional way. My only goal since I was young was to create something. Overtime that ambition has shaped up to build products that millions, or perhaps billions, can use. At the end of it, I will ask myself a single question: was I able to make that happen. That will define my career,” said Zatakia. 

Internet credentials & branding: “When you don’t have a traditional degree to show, internet credentials are the way to go. I believe that it is extremely important to pick up a niche and become damn good at it. Putting yourself out there is extremely important so that people know who you are and reach out to you for what you are good at,” said Kumar, who has written a blog post about the importance of internet credentials. 

Money & titles are extremely important: “We are trying to chase our dreams and for that we need money. Personally, I crave power, I cannot work in a place where I am not heard or respected. Just because of the age factor, people think you are not capable of doing something. That is not necessarily true. A 25-year-old can easily pick up what a 35-year-old can do,” said 24-year-old Rhea Medappa, a consultant with a management consulting firm.

Are employers ready?

Many organisations and startups hire interns and youngsters just out of college and find the new workforce different.

“Organisations have to change with the times,” said Ganesh S Iyer, CEO of Symphony Ventures India, whose team has more than 50 Gen Z-ers, most of whom are engineers. “Few things have definitely changed over the last few years: Gen Z wants much more clarity on the expected role and if that does not fit in their worldview, they will refuse the role. They are very clear about what they want. Also, a lot more tech-based hiring tools have evolved and Gen Z is extremely comfortable using them. And work-life balance is sacrosanct for Gen Z.”

Gen Z also gives importance to instant gratification in terms of rewards, career growth or a raise, Iyer said.

Some tips to work better with Gen Zs include:

  • Explain the “why” or purpose behind decisions
  • Take time to listen to their requirements
  • Become responsible for their careers as the future is about individual skill building

For a quick guide, I asked some rapid-fire questions to four Gen Z-ers. Here’s what they said:

How do you spend most of your time?

Ankit Kumar (21): Reading random stuff on the internet

Srijan Agarwal (22): Reading

Rhea Medappa (24): Traveling

Palak Zatakia (23): Working and reading

One thing you wouldn’t want to inherit from millennials and baby boomers?

AK: Culture of depression

SA: Creating impact

RM: Mental constructs

PZ: I have a slightly different take: each new generation is smarter than the previous one

One thing you cannot give up or live without?

AK: My laptop

SA: Love for football

RM: Yoga

PZ: My laptop and certain books

One idea to change the world?

AK: Air drop tablets with educational content to underprivileged kids

SA: Standing up to what I think is right

RM: Create something to touch people’s lives

PZ: Information asymmetry