SINGAPORE: Millennials, defined as those born between 1979 and 2000, make up the largest generation in the Singapore workforce today, according to human resource consultancy Aon Hewitt. It estimates that there are 1.2 million millennials, making up 22 percent of the resident population.
The topic of millennials came to the fore last month, when Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam opined that many employers have given feedback that something is changing in the new generation.
“People do not stay long on the job, and are impatient to move on. Fewer believe in learning the ropes, taking time to develop skills on the job and working their way up,” said Mr Tharman, noting that the shift in attitudes is “in some ways a natural result of the tight labour market we had for several years now”.
Singapore’s unemployment rate - at 1.9 per cent in 2015 - is much lower than other countries in Asia and in the West. The unemployment rate just over 3 per cent in Malaysia and Hong Kong, and stands at 9.6 per cent for the European Union.
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According to a 2015 survey by recruiter Robert Half, nearly four in ten (37 per cent) of millennials/Gen Y employees say they will look for a new job when refused a pay rise. In contrast, the most common response (32 per cent) for Gen X professionals and Baby Boomers (41 per cent) is to wait for the next performance review and ask again.
Source: Independent research commissioned by Robert Half among 500 Singapore office workers in 2015.
“The expectations of millennials are high because they are living in an age of low unemployment in Singapore. They expect a pay rise or a promotion as they are confident they can find employment elsewhere if their expectations are not met,” said David Jones, senior managing director of Robert Half Asia Pacific.
This observation was also made by Mr Tharman, who had added that the younger generation will need to learn old values of hard work and perseverance to succeed.
So how should workplaces manage millennial employees? Recruitment consultancies Aon Hewitt and Robert Walters tell Channel NewsAsia this entails managing and meeting expectations in key priority areas, like career progression. Goldman Sachs, for example, revamped HR practices last year, to provide junior bankers with quicker career progression and more stimulating tasks.
Mr Gitansh Malik, regional leader for the Aon Best Employers Asia Programme at Aon Hewitt said that millennials “have higher expectations from their employer and are more prone to attrition”, compared to earlier generations.
“To manage these expectations, the best employers focus on creating a work environment that enables accelerated learning for millennials along with continuous feedback on performance and promotion potential,” said Mr Malik.
Mr Dominic Salomoni, director, Commerce, at Robert Walters Singapore, noted that while “employers risk disconnecting with their millennial workers” if they fail to acknowledge the importance they place on career progression, it is also important make sure the millennials have realistic expectations.
“Equally, as recruitment consultants we often have to remind millennials that they may need to reassess how quickly they expect to progress within their career or their high salary expectations if they want to secure their dream role or work for a company they admire,” said Mr Salomoni.
According to recruiters, other key priority areas for millennials are job flexibility, company culture, and having a sense of mission.
“Millennials may just leave if they’re not finding their work fulfilling enough, hence implementing a CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme can also make the difference when attracting millennials,” said Mr Sebastien Hampartzoumian, senior managing director, PageGroup Singapore and India.
While employers may grumble that millennials are a "high-maintenance" bunch, recruiters say there must be greater inter-generational sensitivity from all.
Employers must recognise that millennials are different from their predecessors in many ways, and these difference call for a modified management approach, said Mr Jones from Robert Half. And as for millennials, he advises them to adjust their expectations, as this can work against them "in tougher economic times".