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The age of the millennial is here as young, tech-savvy staff take over the workplace

By Lee Mwiti | August 2nd 2016

The era of the millennial is firmly with us. These employees aged 18 to 35 now make up 70 per cent of the workplace, and they are determined to reshape the office.

Joshua Lido, 33, manages computer software firm, and his office is full of millennials. The average age of his workforce is 26.

“Millennials are like no other generation before them. They grew up with technology and take certain things for granted,” he said.

This is what has led to the often-heard complaint that today’s employees do not want to wait their turn; they want success, and they want it now. It’s the millennial mindset.

“Young employees want to come in and make a difference right from day one. They are not satisfied working for years to get a promotion. This search for a sense of worth, if not handled properly, can lead to a high employee turnover,” Mr Lido says.

Company strategy

To retain the aggressive, restless and tech-savvy talent he has, Lido has had to make concessions.

“Millennials do not want to sacrifice fun for work — not when they believe they can combine both. So we don’t have the traditional office set up. We have gaming rooms, outside seating and idea hubs where employees can mingle as they work. We also have flexi-hours, which means we give employees deliverables and leave it up to them to decide how to attain these objectives.”

Employees are also involved in meetings on company strategy to ensure they do not feel sidelined.

“The thing with millennials is that they are not just after money. They would trade cash for purpose and the opportunity to be creative. So we involve them in brainstorming sessions on the company’s direction and give them the tools to think outside the box,” Lido said.

Three weeks ago, while launching its annual Global Human Capital Trends Kenya report in Nairobi, financial advisory firm Deloitte noted that millennials can be difficult to manage if their unique needs are not addressed.

These employees are young and ambitious, and do not tend to work for the same employer for a long time. When Deloitte CEO Sammy Onyango took to the podium, he declared 54-year-old former KCB CEO Martin Oduor-Otieno a “millennial at heart”.

This is because Mr Oduor-Otieno, who was the keynote speaker at the event that precedes Deloitte’s release of the top 10 Kenyan companies to work for, has worked at several major corporates and the public service; he epitomises the spirit of the millennials.

“When you talk about restlessness among this group of workers, I fully understand because I, too, moved around a lot,” he said.

Oduor-Otieno got his first job more than 30 years ago as a junior auditor at Deloitte. Since then, he has worked at Barclays Bank, Standard Bank, East African Breweries, British American Tobacco and as a Permanent Secretary in the Finance ministry. But it was his tenure as CEO at KCB that made him a household name.

“I remember that as a young employee many years ago, we juniors would not even be allowed to sit at the same table with senior employees. Our ideas were never accepted as logical during decision making. But now, things will become easier when companies change their culture and become more accommodating of millennials,” Oduor-Otieno said.

Resign by text

Mr Onyango added that modern employers need to adapt to these employees who are now dominating the workplace if they want to stay productive.

Another speaker at the same launch, investment analyst Aly-Khan Satchu, was blunt in his analysis of this breed of workers: “These guys resign by text once they have been paid, and ask for their jobs back again by text when the money runs out.”

Lido added that millennials would do this because they do not always honour artificial boundaries, so the senior-junior line is not always observed.

Julius Makunyi, 31, is a public relations practitioner who currently works as a media advisor at an NGO. He graduated six years ago. He is on his fifth job.

“Despite the joblessness graduates face in this country, I was able to land a position as a reporter with a State news agency. The structure at the company, however, did not favour my ambitions — it was too rigid and my seniors were not easy to get along with. I soon left to work for a local TV station. I worked at two other media houses before getting the job I have now,” Mr Makunyi said.

Part of the reasons he gives for his constant change of jobs is career progression, and the search for an environment that will build his profile and sharpen his skills.

“We are in an age where the dissemination of information is being shaped by technology. Media companies are talking of convergence of their platforms, an idea that is being spearheaded by technology. I prefer to work in an organisation that prioritises this,” Makunyi said.

Juliet Wambui, 28, whose first job was as an English and literature teacher, now works as a marketer at a State corporation.

“After graduation, I was destined to be a teacher, and my first employer was the TSC [Teachers Service Commission]. My parents were teachers and had worked for the commission all their lives. I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps,” Ms Wambui said.

Bigger challenges

Unable to imagine holding one job her entire working life, she took postgraduate courses in marketing and got a job at a marketing agency before landing her current job.

“I still don’t feel like I have achieved all I was hoping for in my current position. I would like to work my way to a higher position and bigger challenges. I think an international corporation would give me the exposure I want,” Wambui said, revealing the restlessness and ambition that characterises her generation.

A 2011 survey by the consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers of 1,960 working millennials found that 75 per cent of them expect to have at least five employers in their lifetime. Within the same category, 72 per cent said they were actively looking for another employer.

Career progression was rated very important, with 52 per cent saying that is their core interest.

And with technology dominating every aspect of their lives, 75 per cent said they prefer to carry their gadgets to work, as technology makes them more effective. They also prefer to communicate electronically at work, rather than face to face or on phone.

“In the past, companies talked of disruptive technology, but few were quick to embrace it. Now, with a youthful, tech-savvy generation that is growing to form 70 per cent of our workforce, investment in technology is the way to go to tap the youthful talent we cannot wish away,” the Deloitte CEO said. The firm will release its list of top employers in November.

The “millennial at heart” Oduor-Otieno, who is a partner at Deloitte, added that companies must change their organisational culture to become more flexible.

“Flexibility and inclusiveness in a company’s daily operations could attract more gifted millennials within its ranks,” he said.

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