Post-90s Graduates Changing the Workplace

June 5, 2012
Editor: Sun Xi
China's post-90s generation, while adept at online networking, are believed to have communication issues at the workplace. []

China's post-90s generation, while adept at online networking, are believed to have communication issues at the workplace. []

Xiao Tian, a new employee at Chinese information technology and electronics company Lenovo, has been busy trying to convince his co-workers that although he was born in late 1989, he is not part of the post-90s generation.

Chinese classify people born after 1970 according to which decade they were born in. In this way, Chinese people from each generation are known as belonging to either the post -70s, post-80s or post-90s generation. This is mainly due to the rapid changing social formations caused by China's development since the reform and opening up. Unlike in the West, where generational cohorts are broader, China's rapid development means that each decade's generation exhibits their own distinct characteristics.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of college graduates will reach 6.8 million in 2012 and most of them were born between September 1989 and August 1990. This means that the first post-90s generation wave of new employees is poised to take their first steps into the working world.

Aside from their youth, the post-90s generation has been marked as a distinctive generation and has received a lot of social attention throughout their growth. Like Xiao Tian's colleagues who persist in categorizing him as post-90s despite his solemn denial of it, many company workers sense that these new employees are fresh and somewhat naive. Most of the time, they give off an air of bravado.

First Forays into the Working World

After four rounds of job interviews, China University of Geosciences graduate Wang Xin successfully landed his first job at a well-known Internet company, a feat that few of his classmates could have managed.

Wang said that he is very self-aware. He was attracted to the job because of the nature of the work rather than the salary or benefits. During the nearly two month process, he never once asked about remuneration.

"In the 1980s, people asked potential employers 'What kind of job can you provide me?'. In the 1990s, people asked 'Does the job come with insurance benefits?'. But these new graduates care more about what kind of training and growth the job can offer them," said Lin Lei, human resources chief inspector of Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group.

"The demands of the post-90s job seekers are more realistic. They attach more importance to salary, development prospects and fulfillment of their emotional needs," Lin added.

This means that what the post-90s generation demands from a first job is a good match to their interests, a suitable working environment, flexibility and other factors aside from salary.

A More Confident Generation

"As China's only-child generation in the truest sense, many of these graduates have grown up in an environment of rich material resources. It makes absolute sense that they would choose their jobs based on lifestyle factors such as flexible work environment," asserts Xiao Lin, human resources vice president of Unilever North Asia.

Although the post-90s generation faces less pressure in the competition for jobs, they do attach more emotional needs to their jobs, she explained.

Feng Zi'ang, a Shanghainese graduate born in 1990, received a job offer from Unilever. While studying at the Department of Sociology at Shanghai's Fudan University, Feng had been active in many community and volunteer activities.

It had also crossed her mind to study abroad, but she was reluctant for her parents to borrow hundreds of thousands of yuan for her expenses. Instead, she joined an international exchange program paid for by her school and went to Ireland for a forum during one summer vacation.

"It was super cost-effective, so I went there and had a great time," she said.

As for Xiao Tian, no matter how busy he gets at work, he still continues to spend an hour or more every day on (China's equivalent to Facebook) and on microblogs. He befriended a group of post-90s graduates who like him, are facing their first job interviews and career issues. Xia calls them his 'battle companions'. They keep in touch in the real world and share study resources and useful information.

Zhuo Hongxi is one of them. Currently a senior student at the Department of English at China Agricultural University, she said that she feels her contemporaries are more open-minded, a view shared by many of today's companies.

"Sometimes, it feels like the post-90s generation doesn't have much sense of hierarchy. They are very comfortable chatting with their superiors, something which was hardly seen in former young employees of earlier generations," said Deloitte China Staffing Director Wang Wenji. "It shows more significantly when they are using new media and online communication tools. They seem more comfortable and relaxed using social networks no matter whether it is to ask for help, collect information or express their opinions."

At the workplace, the post-90s generation also seems to show greater confidence. They like to be given the chance to prove themselves and expect recognition for their efforts. They are willing to try out new ideas and believe that they can do anything well if it is worthy of their time.

"But at the same time they are also more prone to feeling frustrated and don't like to listen to their elders preaching at them," Wang said. He believes that it is because they tend to self-evaluate themselves higher than other people's actual evaluation of them.

Lacking Patience

This group has also received a lot of negative evaluation, which they themselves have found hard to deny. Unlike former generations who were generally unsure of themselves or their futures when they entered the job market, the post-90s generation tends to lack patience.

Xiao Lin said that they should be given more tolerance and understanding. She thinks that the reason behind their lack of patience can be attributed to the great changes in their growth environment. Staying in the same job for five or 10 years seemed very normal for past graduates. But the current graduates tend to think 'Who knows what will even happen in five years time?'.

Xiao thinks that one reason for their being more realistic is that they encounter many life issues at an earlier age. "Studying abroad after graduation, finding a job, getting married and buying a house, all these issues that we experienced one by one at different stages of life they are now confronted with all at once, leaving not much cushion room for them."

Xiao believes that too much information and too many choices bear down on the new generation with greater pressure.

Marching to the Workplace

The advent of the post-90s graduates into the workplace has also forced companies to re-evaluate their management styles.

"This is only the first year that the new graduates are entering the job market, so no obvious influence can be seen yet. But as companies will certainly hire a majority of these fresh talents in the future, it will bring challenges," Wang Wenji said. He thinks that both employers and employees should strive to work out any differences.

Xiao believes that the generation's different mindset has the potential to revitalize the workplace. "In this sense, there is no need to be overly sensitive to how they express themselves, even if it's too direct or harsh. We just need to understand why they are saying what they say."

She said that the differences in opinion are really just differences in how the generations view life. "For the post-70s and post-80s generations, a sense of responsibility meant accomplishing your work and being responsible for others. But for the post-90s generation, it is about applying learned knowledge to promote the progress of something, or showing concern for others and bringing happiness to themselves and others," Xiao said. "This is probably in part due to their youth – we also probably thought like this when we were 22 years old but forgot about it after having worked for sometime."

As one of the post-90s generation to have been labeled as non-mainstream, rebellious, irresponsible, and Internet-obsessed, graduate Lin Fang responded: "We have our own personalities and it doesn't mean that we are not outstanding."

This is also the first generation to grow up with the Internet being a constant presence in their lives. The impact the post-90s generation will have on China in the future as they mature into adults and become employees is the question many are now asking. Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World believes that the post-90s generation are much more entrepreneurial than their elders.

The eternal struggle between personality and responsibility has transcended many generations. The need to observe and respect the rules that govern societies and businesses must be balanced with individual expression. And just like the graduates who came before them, the post-90s generation will have to figure out their place, at work and in the world.

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