India is home to the largest available workforce globally – almost 70 per cent of its population is under the age of 35. This demographic truth cannot be more telling. Even more significant is that a large segment of this population is the Generation Y brigade – also referred to as the ‘millennials’, those either just entering the workforce or those who have been working for one or two years. The entry of the millennial brigade into the country’s workforce raises important questions for organisations cutting across industries and sectors. For India’s millennial generation (people born between roughly 1980 and 2001) it’s all about ‘me’. In fact, for this demographic group ‘me’ is not merely important, it’s the only opinion that counts.

India’s millennials would appear to be the most opinionated, uninhibited, independent-minded generation in the nation’s history. But, despite unprecedented levels of self-obsession and independence, they do not operate in isolation. On the contrary, this demographic exhibits an unprecedented desire to share and belong to some form of community, both in the professional and personal context. This coming together of individualism with collective behaviour is indeed the Millennial Paradox.

As a demographic, millennials are not easy to classify. Are these digital natives individualistic or do they conform to community? Are they collaborative or pampered? Are they over-ambitious or multi-taskers in search of meaning? Wired to technology from birth, this cohort can either be an employer’s best weapon for innovation and growth, or they could spell trouble within the workplace which is otherwise dominated by GenX-ers and baby boomers. The contradictions within the individual millennial underscore the very concept of collective individualism, a theory recently highlighted by the Titan Industries Paradox Panel.

As this new force filters into the workplace, companies are realising their young workers are a class by themselves. Their attitudes, approaches to work, and expectations differ from the others in the workforce, giving employers fresh challenges to successfully integrate this group into their teams. With more than 50 per cent of the GDP being fed by the services industry and an under-30 age group, Gen X and the boomers will have to understand what makes Gen Y click.

Innovation is key to engaging and retaining this brigade. Research shows 85 per cent of Indian millennials feel innovation is essential for business growth and that lack of access to the latest technology at the workplace would hamper innovation and growth. Performance metrics score over legacy and tenure and companies are working on processes that provide these millennials with the wherewithal to do multiple tasks within the organisation that would ultimately set these young guns on their career paths early on. Around 70 per cent of Indian millennials think companies should be measured against employee satisfaction and retention.

While entrepreneurship and independence define this generation, Indian millennials like to work in a collaborative culture. They seek integration and have a strong sense of community and organisational interest in spite of their ambitious self-interest. Such instances of collective individualism are evident across the demographic. For the individualistic Gen Y, the workplace is a social construct, an example of collective behaviour. Going to work is about meeting people and socialising within the working community. Gen Y is team-focused and places great importance on working with and amongst a team.

A study by PwC shows that 69 per cent of Indian millennials will deliberately seek employers whose corporate responsibility behaviour reflects their own value. While they need to identify with and feel they own their workspace, social and corporate responsibility is a much bigger deal for Gen Y, with almost half (46 per cent) saying they prefer to work for an employer with a strong track record in this area (38 per cent among Gen X). Millennials want to earn a good living doing work that matters, because if they are told their time does not matter, they might begin to think that maybe they don’t matter.

But they do matter. The annual survey at Titan Industries involving employees, titled Tell Me Survey , seeks feedback from employees and provides insights into the attitudes of the Gen Y worker. Younger employees are more forthcoming, they are not hesitant and love experimenting and trying new things. They have better exposure and information on the market and competitors. Millennials, who are friendlier than their older generation, are open to new ideas and definitely like to mix fun with work. Work-life balance for them is not only about going home and managing family time. It is also about life balance at the workplace. Having forums that allow various sections of the organisation to come together regularly and being able to infuse fun at the workplace are important.

Today’s Indian workforce has a comfortable balance of all ages. Combining the experience and discipline of GenX with the maverick and youthful approach of millennials will help Young India power the country to the top. Companies must help this cohort realise its potential. At Titan Industries we have identified and underscored the importance of this demographic – as millennial employee and the Gen Y consumer. For a company like Titan Industries, with a host of powerful consumer brands, this generation is simply impossible to ignore. Managing this workforce through innovation, technology, to craft their development plans will have to go hand in hand with understanding collective individualism and the millennial paradox. That is how organisations will reap the benefits of Indian millennials.

(S. Ravi Kant is Executive Vice-President, Titan Industries)