Why do we need a focus on managing Intergenerational Diversity?
By Karthik Ekambaram
Today, we find four generational segments which manifest themselves in the Indian workplace. It is quite laughable when the western definitions of certain generational segments are broad-brushed to Indian segments. The definition of a generation is itself something like this: A group of people defined by Age boundaries who were born during a certain era and shared similar experiences and social dynamics when growing up. If ‘sharing similar experiences’ is key to the definition of a Gen segment, then by no stretch of imagination can we use the data collected for western groups to their equivalents in India.
Case to point is the so-called Baby Boomer segment, born between 1945 to 1960. The western-born Baby Boomer grew up in an affluent, prosperous world where thousands of industries were being set up all over the country, innovation was rampant and income levels zoomed up to never-before numbers. Oil exploration and the advent of Computers created all sorts of new businesses which brought profits in obscene multiples. Free love and flower power were a heady mixture. Whereas, around the same time, the Free-Gens – counterparts to Baby Boomers in India, watched their nation, emerge from the deep, dark oppression of colonialism whose systematic bleeding of national resources had left the country bone dry. They saw their land, cleaved into two parts, resulting in the world’s largest mass exodus. They observed India struggle with her population explosion, seek guidance from the erstwhile USSR, set up half a dozen five-year plans and still retain her tag of being among the poorest nations in the world. This group has attitudes and value systems which are impossible to attribute to the western Baby Boomer and obviously vice-versa holds true.
Similarly, the segment which is refered to as Gen X is actually the amalgam of two segments in India. Gen X’s are the older cohort born between 1961-1970. This segment saw the upswing of the economy, focused all energies on a respectable white-collar job and gradually began developing the confidence that India could indeed hack the economic puzzle. Most of India’s current business heads belong to this group and they combine a good blend of conservative outlook with the speed of today’s decision making. The younger half of the group (as per the western description of Gen X), are what we call the E-Gens or the Electronic generation in India. This group, born between 1971-1980, saw India change into a dynamic engine of growth which followed liberalization. They saw salary hikes of over 40% per annum for years in succession, annual GDP figures rising tantalizingly close to the double digit mark and knew that in IT was the magic of overnight success. This cohort brings a very international approach to work and in most organizations this is the group which is snapping at the heels of top management. The last segment- the Gen Y’s - is possibly the only segment whose mainstreaming into the global classification is accurate to some extent. Born between 1981 – 1990, the Gen Y’s believe that the cycle is turning and the Asian Tigers will challenge the west, but not too soon.
Given this kaleidoscopic blend of cohorts, it becomes absolutely imperative that more thought, effort and time is invested in designing workplaces which engage and motivate the employee. Copy-pasting western philosophies of segmentation and motivation will surely not apply to India’s brand new professional. Truly Indian styles of working, of employee engagement and management will need to be created. Gone are the days when a paternalistic managerial style using the beaten carrot-and-stick approach gave results. Even the flip side – a friendly, collegial style of supervision, one made enormously popular by the knowledge industry sector does not always deliver the necessary outcome. What is required is a complete customization of careers, providing unique employee value propositions which address themselves independently to each cluster.
The article is republished with permission. © 2011 www.avtarcc.com. All rights reserved. Karthik Ekambaram, heads the Diversity Practice for AVTAR. (Excerpt from the article, ‘Unlocking the potential of the Indian professional’, By Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, AVTAR Career Creators, for The Hindu Survey of Indian Industry 2011).