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Wan Ezrin AirAsia

Trashing the myths about Millennials



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Don’t pander to the over generalised “whims and fancies” of the younger generation to boost employer branding, warns Wan Ezrin Sazli Bin Wan Zahari, group head of leadership and talent development at AirAsia.

I’m writing this the day after it was announced AirAsia had risen to the top three of the nation’s most popular graduate employers in a ranking survey.

I was amused, first, because we never “bribed” the sponsor nor graduates for votes, and second because when I go to conferences, talks and career fairs, I preach the extreme opposite of what most employer branding people say when they want to attract the younger generation – that being, we must be accepting how different (or weird) they are, and how we must accommodate their desires and fancies to stay relevant.

That it’s the “in” thing today, as well as the belief you had better do what everyone else is doing, otherwise you’ll become extinct.

Indeed, there is plenty of rubbish written about the Gen Ys and Millennials.

Here are just a handful: They are lazy, narcissistic, yet selfish and demanding; they leave work at 6pm sharp; they have unrealistic expectations for their career; they only want to communicate online; they don’t take on much responsibility, but think they should be paid more; they have an over inflated sense of ability; they are motivated by perks and high pay; they appear distracted at work; they want interesting and exciting work, but cannot deliver; they don’t take criticism well and could resign immediately.

All of the above are sweeping statements. They are unfair to Gen Ys and Millennials and even worse, they are dangerous for employers who blindly believe in them.

Please don’t drive employer branding by accommodating the whims and fancies of the younger generation. Don’t spoil them, and don’t destroy the company by making it weak and diluted.

In 401 BC (that’s like 2,415 years ago!), the Greek philosopher, Socrates said: “The youth today are insolent upstarts – they do not know their place; and have little regard for tradition, manners or their elders.”

Doesn’t the above sound like what we’re all complaining about today? Do we actually think these Gen Ys and Millennials will behave the way they behave today when they are 40, 50 or 60 years old?

What many HR people have failed to realise is that change in behaviour, attitude and motivation is not generational, but evolutionary.

Certainly we have differences between us – mainly related to technology and how we’ve become more reliant on it – but that doesn’t mean Gen Ys and Millennials have mutated into monsters and demons. They are our children. We created them; they grew up with us. So it makes more sense to focus on similarities and things in common than go berserk poking on petty differences.

Those who still disagree may ask: “OK Ezrin, what’s your proof that what you’re saying is correct?”

My proof is simple. My proof is in the overwhelming success of AirAsia. I have hundreds of examples, but for the brevity of this article, I’ll give three:

The CEO of AirAsia India was merely 32 years old when he got the post, our group head of business development is only 26 and our branding guy is just 28.

So let’s try not to compartmentalise people and stereotype them. Make your organisation inclusive for all: Millennials, Gen-Y, Gen-X, baby boomers and Homo erectus, “dinosaurs” and “prehistoric bacteria”!

Please don’t drive employer branding by accommodating the whims and fancies of the younger generation. Don’t spoil them, and don’t destroy the company by making it weak and diluted.

What many HR people have failed to realise is that change in behaviour, attitude and motivation is not generational, but evolutionary.

Instead, focus on making the organisation a better place. Make things transparent, remove hierarchy, keep the organisation as flat as possible, encourage free-flowing communication without barriers, encourage passion, grit and determination. Have a great vision – work hard and work smart towards it. Celebrate successes (and even failures, especially after everyone has worked so hard). Celebrate resilience, celebrate capacity to deliver, celebrate multi-tasking. And most importantly – be sincere and have fun doing the job.

What you don’t want to do is “bribe” ranking organisers, and have round after round of promos in colleges, so that you can ask students to vote for you because you are giving them freebies and false promises about how exciting your organisation is.

Stay authentic. Stay sincere. You’ll be successful and happy.



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