Malaysian Millennials shaking up the workplace


“In order to be an employer of choice, you have to understand the new talent pool, because your branding has to be acceptable and receptive to the new generation,” says Melissa Norman, Country MD for Kelly Services Malaysia.“In order to be an employer of choice, you have to understand the new talent pool, because your branding has to be acceptable and receptive to the new generation,” says Melissa Norman, Country MD for Kelly Services Malaysia.

Throughout the history of the world, significant and massive technological changes have tended to produce equally significant and massive disruptions in society, culture, and civilisation itself. The invention of gunpowder weapons eventually led to Europe’s supremacy in the battlefield and a legacy of Western colonisation across the entire world. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions led to the demise of the artisan guild systems, rapid urbanisation and the regular commute to the workplace.

The same trend continues today. The ICT Revolution has given rise to an entire generation that is disrupting traditional 9-5 employment. Known as the Millennials or Generation Y (Gen Y), they are generally thought to have been born somewhere between the early 80s and the late 90s. PwC, for instance, in their 2012 global and supplementary country-specific reports on the Millennial generation, standardise it as 1980-2000; others from 1982-2004.

During this time, a quantum leap in terms of global telecommunications and the rapid penetration of computers – as well as computer internetworking – has also ushered in social changes, to the extent that Millennials entering the workforce have radically different expectations. Millennials have grown up in turbulent economic times, hardly remember the Cold War (if at all), and accept the ubiquity of Internet-connected devices wherever they may be.

In Malaysia, not everyone believes that our Gen Y necessarily fits the global pattern neatly. Creative Paramedics, a local marketing agency, wrote in their blog earlier this year that due to Malaysia’s circumstances, they reckon Gen Y actually took place 5 years after PwC’s definition (i.e. people born between 1985 and 2000). Jack S. (not his real name), a senior director in a global PR and media agency, puts the birth years even later into the 90s. “Some define them as people who started work in the 2000s – but I don’t regard myself nor many of my peers as Millennials,” he added.

Both Creative Paramedics and Jack believe that cultural and socio-economic factors play a critical role in influencing the Millennials’ behaviour, leading to subtle differences between ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ Millennials. According to Jack, “Westerners have long been prepared to live a financially-independent life once they reach 18, whereas many Asians tend to be more dependent on – and responsible for – their parents. With the weakening ringgit and increasing property prices, these must be (financial) factors that many Malaysian Millennials will eventually need to consider.”

Based purely on observation, Jack noticed that Millennials are far more motivated if they are able to  take ownership of their work, freed from micromanagement. “While monetary rewards are still important, they place great emphasis knowing that their contributions are valued, are empowered by the ‘work hard, play hard’ culture, and demand quick career progression. On the other hand, I would say that Gen X tends to lean towards financial stability – though interestingly, some of these Millennial traits are evident in them. It could perhaps just be a gradual shift in work/life culture,” he clarified.

Hipster teenage girl with smart phone and takeaway coffeeGiven this, therefore, employers looking to attract Millennials will have to change how they view the work, the workplace, and the working culture. This will become especially important in the next few years, as according to the PwC report, by 2025, Millennials are expected to form 75% of the global workforce.

This is up from approximately 40% in 2009, as Melissa Norman, Country MD for Kelly Services Malaysia, pointed out in an interview with BFM at the time. “In order to be an employer of choice, you have to understand the new talent pool, because your branding has to be acceptable and receptive to the new generation,” she continued, a conclusion that employer branding consultant Universum also arrived at in their 2014 report on Malaysian undergraduates.

Melissa also highlighted the fact that the tech-savvy Millennials expected their workplaces to be at the forefront of the tech curve and allow for the use of social media, IM and so on at work.

Job satisfaction and professional growth is important for Millennials, Jack said. “It’s no longer just about the remuneration, but also a clear career development plan for them. Within a year, employers need to have in mind whether a particular hire can specialise in a particular niche and receive specific training for that.”

Another interesting observation Jack made is that of the candidates that have applied to the agency he manages, most of them searched by address and were keen to work closer to home, demonstrating the need for employers to pay closer attention to work/life balance.

“Ultimately, I believe all organisations need to adapt culturally – progression requires evolution – and like all brands and products, we need to remain relevant to our stakeholders. For a service industry like the one I’m in, talent is our most prized asset!”

There is evidence that Malaysian employers are already changing their recruitment practices and working culture in response to the Millennials. In her 2009 interview with BFM, Melissa pointed out that many of Kelly Services’s clients have begun to see the need for change, although at the time, they may not have totally understood it yet.

Jack concurs. “It has not been as progressive as the West, but many large organisations (Google, IKEA etc.) have publicised this new working environment with such fervour that it makes non-conforming impossible. Which is a great thing!

“Personally, I believe many of these Millennial traits are good for the Asian worker. Whilst we have long been admonished for our work ethics, employees need to stand up for their rights for greater balance in life. Only with such a collective shift in our mindset can conventional Asian work culture be more balanced. Of course, it should not be completely liberalised to the point where we sacrifice the idea of ‘an honest day’s work’.”

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