Knowledge Exchange

Is your organisation ready to work with Millennials?

David Deka (Class of 2021)

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or Gen Y, are the demographic cohort born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. For the first time ever, Generation Y will constitute the majority workforce globally in the coming year, and organisations must understand how they work in order to integrate the generation gap better, meet the expectations of young employees and prepare organizations for a ‘Y culture’. HKU Business School met with David Deka, MBA Class of 2021, who helped facilitate positive transformation for Millennial employees within Pernod-Ricard, a global Wine & Spirits behemoth, to share his experiences and insights.

HKU: Tell me about when you joined the company, I heard you were the youngest employee globally?

David Deka: At the age of 21 I joined the company as the youngest employee – the next youngest employee in my office was 6 years older than me. As a young employee who had just joined from an undergraduate degree, it was extremely challenging to integrate into the firm. There was a clear mismatch with my expectations from the organisation, and its existing functioning. In a nutshell, I found there to be massive cultural differences and challenges with the ways of working. It was definitely a big struggle in the beginning.


HKU: What was the most difficult part about being the youngest employee within the firm?

David Deka: It was the company culture. The cultural gap was exceptionally huge, hence, matching the company culture was the most challenging task. For example, there was a generation difference within the organisation hierarchy as well as a higher expectation with stakeholders to serve the senior generation. Consequently, I could hardly find any common areas of interests or topics to share.

Another example was the expectation of time management and holidays. I struggled to determine whether I would be okay to leave if the senior manager is still at his desk? Or was it okay to take holidays when the senior manager hadn’t taken as many as me. There was ambiguity about time management from a young employee’s perspective.

HKU: Can you explain more about the company’s initiative of the “Youth Action Council”?

David Deka: It originated because the young employees’ attrition rate was quite high. The company’s hiring trends clearly showed that the older generation stays longer, whilst on the other hand the young generation quits fairly early. Why is that? In order to retain young talents and promote their career development, management came up with a strategic initiative called “Youth Action Council” to drive positive transformation.

I was elected as one of 9 individuals from the 9 different functions, who came together from all over the world. The goal of the council was to partner with the company’s top management directly to bring the Millennial generation closer to the group’s strategic priorities. I was able to connect directly with the Group CEO to provide him with my thoughts and opinions.


HKU: What are the characteristics of Millennials and what kind of initiatives or changes will help a company retain young employees?

David Deka: Whilst participating in the council, I was also enlisted to attend the “One Young World” summit, an annual summit for tomorrow’s leaders, nicknamed the “Davos of young people.” I flew over to the capital of Canada, Ottawa, where I had a humbling experience learning about global leadership, innovation and sustainable development goals, ideas that millennials value deeply. Based on the learnings and new ideas attained from this global summit the group implemented new initiatives with the following real examples.

Millennials like to experience new culture and new environment.

Millennials want to constantly experience and explore new environments, and continue to challenge themselves through their work. Addressing this, we initiated a job exchange programme between employees with equal skills for a few months. The business launched this idea with the first exchange programme between Sweden and Hong Kong. Some of the young employees have really benefited from this new programme.

Millennials like the concept of travel and work.

Young people always want to have more holidays, 21 days of annual leave in reality is not enough. Hence, we came up with an idea of working in a overseas office while travelling there. Say, if a young employee travels to New York, then he or she will be able to work in the New York office for several days in order to save their holidays and also to experience new offices and meet new colleagues.

Millennials are more open to the sharing economy.

The Younger generation is more receptive in acquiring, providing, and sharing access to goods and services. The idea, in the end, was realised with the concept of ‘Home Viviality,’ an internal Airbnb like platform open to all employees of the group. This internal Airbnb platform provides the listing of their own places for colleagues.

Communication is vital for Millennials.

Throughout executing the mandate, I realised that the most important factor in accommodating Millennials in the workplace is effective communication. Senior executives or managers should constantly try to communicate with young people. Having the resources and curating the right environment to address the young generation’s needs, expectations and ideas, new innovation and transformation will naturally come after.


HKU: What’s your biggest achievement within the firm for Millennials?

David Deka: I would say representing the voice of 6,000+ millennial employees and developing 5 global initiatives that cater to an evolving workforce, which had a significant impact on company culture. The task was not at all easy. I had to reach out to 3,000+ social entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, and influencers to showcase company initiatives in the field of sustainability and social responsibility, and constantly lobby top management to persuade them to implement these new ideas. However, I am really proud of my contribution to the positive transformation of the company, which has contributed to the firm being mentioned as one of the best places to work in the industry.


Pre-MBA Industry: Beverage and Liquor
Company: Pernod Ricard
Job Title: Marketing Manager