You must have noticed them if you take the subway: Aged between 20-30, white earphones on, boys with ruffled hair stylishly laid over forehead with occasional stubble, or well-groomed girls with multi-color nail polish on each finger wearing work-like outfit but standing out with an accessory, backpack or a hairpin. From outside you wouldn’t even understand that they are going to work, however these young people make up the new generation that is changing the Russian business world as we know it.
Who are they? The new generation of Russians. Those who were born after the 1980’s, are now filling up the desks, not shy to put a personal mark to workplace with their individuality. Even though they are more friendly than their committed and serious parents, unfortunately hard work is not always a virtue for them. They have the airs of those who are free thinkers and talkers, who wear colorful stuff and who don’t mind authority that much yet know how to manage it. If you belong to an older generation (anyone born before 80’s, Generation X) you might be surprised to discover that it’s normal for them to expect a raise or a promotion during their first year at work. Moreover, they don’t carry the usual dedication of ambitious X Generation workers, such as checking email as first thing at work. Instead? They count the number of “Like”s to their latest posts from the night before.
Probably Russia has never seen a more confident generation than this one. What are the underlying motivators of these boys and girls who do not hesitate to send complaint messages to their General Managers, who worship work-life balance like a religion and who identify being social with being “online”? Why do they think that they are special? And how can the executives or managers who belong to the previous X-Generation can get along with these young people? How can they lead the way?
This last question probably puts forth the underlying conflict between generations. We (X-Generation) think that the new generation should learn from the more experienced older ones just because they are new and inexperienced. However who is really inexperienced here? The workplace has changed so fast due to digital revolution, it created a new world where the older generation has many things to learn from the younger one. What are they? Let us explain:
The new Russians, who were born after 80’s spent their teenager and early adult life in a booming Russian economy. They grew up in a steadily prospering middle class despite the 2008 crises which was a hick-up to them. The new generation met with the internet when they were only 12 and learned how to socialize online due to the hardships of Russian geography such as tough cold winters and urban life marked with endless traffic. Using the first accessible laptops which Generation X only encountered in their first job, they accessed to global media fast, encountered global values early on such as internet freedom, online creativity and consumerist culture with increasing physical access to goods and services in Russia. Back in the Soviet days, their parents had to work hard, read a lot, have great governmental connections to end up in a good university and find their own match. Yet the new generation have all the information at their fingertips via Wikipedia, so why bother reading that much when one can close the knowledge gap in any subject with few simple clicks. It creates confidence through accessibility rather than confidence through knowledge possession. They don’t have to know it, but they can learn it anytime thanks to 24/7 online access. While this looks artificial and lazy to X-Generations, it is simple, practical and efficient to them. Moreover, easier access to university education and constantly growing economy hence easy job search enabled a sort of confidence bordering with complacency.
On the social front, Internet drove a “new social” for new generation. They live “multi-connected” by checking their smartphones every 15 minutes with some update. They have hundreds of “Contacts” while we prefer bunch of “Friends”. They “poke” each other online while X-Generation prefer to call people. But what does it mean for the new Russians? It means they feel connected, empowered and confident. I guess you wouldn’t feel alone if you received 95 “likes” and 25 “Come on!” comments to your post that states, “I’m going to a business interview, wish me luck!”. So, is this a good thing? Is it good to have such confidence without competence and experience? If the future of Russian business is really in their hands, can we trust the new generation to lead us?
I think the answer is “Yes”. Because this generation has many features that the previous ones did not have. They can think freely and creatively since they are less bounded by authority. Their career ambitions are defined with meaning in job, respect and freedom instead of the size of the paycheck only. And this is where the beauty lies. They have many things to teach others who are behind. Moreover, since they are socially equipped, they get rapid responses to their ideas while making use of others ideas in an ego-free manner. Even though this sounds very “cliché”, there is really a whole lot to learn from these collective young minds because not only are they the workers of today and tomorrow, they are also the consumers. Understanding them means preparing your business for the future.
Then we have to approach this new generation in a more careful and respectful manner. They are gaining power in Russia where the unemployment rates are at the lowest in Europe. My biggest advice to managers from Generation X? Adapt your workplace and organizations to fit their needs. Banning Vkontakte or Facebook is not a solution because they can have access to every web site through their smart phones thanks to high speed internet. Reviewing reward systems would be wise. You can better utilize “soft” tools such as inviting them to a new project, enabling them to contact the upper management and sending them to trainings instead of traditional motivators such as salary increase and promotion only. You should listen to their ideas as well as give them a chance to test these ideas. Even though the laziness that strikes one at first glance is frightening, with a bit of courage it is possible to get out of the box solutions from this creative and free thinking generation.
How about overcoming the generation conflict? Move towards social and digital world personally to connect with them. The new Russians want to connect with you on Facebook and learn about your career on LinkedIn. While you may find the idea of exposing yourself with your pets and home outfit to them, it makes you a human being with a personal life which enhances the connection between you and them. You still think connecting with your direct reports is weird, well, the real weird is you who is trying to hide in the open.
And one more thing: the next time a young looking guy with ruffled hair walks into your meeting with his messenger bag and sits at the large meeting table, try to explore his ideas instead of giving him the strange looks. Because you may be talking to the next start-up millionaire. The choice is yours.