As more Millennials assume leadership positions around the world, organizations are becoming increasingly concerned with how to ensure their success. Click here to view the original article.
As more Millennials assume leadership positions around the world, organizations are becoming increasingly concerned with how to ensure their success. However, most existing research on those born between the early ‘80s and late ‘90s is skewed toward understanding what a narrow, typically Western, population wants. Conclusions based on such a limited sample could lead to bad decisions (and missed opportunities) around attracting, retaining, and developing millennial leaders in a global business environment.
To broaden our understanding of what Millennials want at work, INSEAD’s Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation conducted the first of what will become an annual survey of Millennials — and the largest study of its kind. We surveyed 16,637 people between 18 and 30 years old, in 43 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. The data was collected from May to August 2014, and the results are presented in “Millennials: Understanding a Misunderstood Generation.”
While the data have limitations (for example, random sampling could not be used and some regions/countries had more responses than others), the size of the sample and its global reach allowed for clear patterns to emerge. When asked about the desire to become leaders, the importance of work-life balance, and the expectations around retirement, we found that some common assumptions rang true, while others did not. But perhaps most importantly, we found that almost all views varied considerably by culture.
Millennials are interested in becoming leaders — for different reasons. On average, 40% of respondents claimed that becoming a manager/leader was “very important.” This ranged from 8% in Japan to 63% in India. And the reasons (money, opportunities to coach, building career foundations, etc.) also varied across cultures.
High future earnings stood out as the most dominant theme globally, yet the range was quite wide. Half of respondents from Central/Eastern Europe chose high future earnings as a reason to pursue leadership, while only 17% of Africans did. African Millennials seemed to care most about gaining opportunities to coach and mentor others (46%), a response that didn’t resonate as much in other regions — less than a quarter chose it in Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries, Central/Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. We also found that the opportunity to influence an organization was chosen by nearly half of those in Central/Eastern Europe and North America, but by only about a quarter of those in APAC countries and the Middle East. Companies should consider these findings when structuring incentives and leadership development programs.
What Millennials wanted to see in a leader varied even more. For example, in North America, Western Europe, and Africa, at least 40% of respondents said they wanted managers who “empower their employees.” Yet only about 12% of Millennials in Central/Eastern Europe and the Middle East chose that quality. We can only speculate about the reasons, but the diverging preferences may be associated with a lingering imprint of the autocratic governance structures that were very much the norm in Central/Eastern Europe until not long ago, and are still in place in many parts of the Middle East.
Instead, 58% of respondents from Central/Eastern Europe believed that technical or functional expertise in a manager was important (in other regions, only a third or fewer respondents agreed). In the APAC countries and the Middle East, however, no single response drew more than one third of respondents.
Work-life balance doesn’t mean the same thing to all. Millennials strive for work-life balance, but this tends to mean work-me balance, not work-family balance. They want time for themselves and space for their own self-expression. Overall, the dominant definition was “enough leisure time for my private life” (57%), followed by “flexible work hours” (45%) and “recognition and respect for employees” (45%).
Which responses or regions were outliers? In both Central/Eastern and Western Europe, “overtime compensation” scored relatively highly (52% and 45% respectively), indicating greater interest in regulated labor issues. In North America, 59% chose “flexible work hours,” perhaps indicating a stronger preference for autonomy. On the other hand, North American millennials do not seem averse to working long hours if it speeds up career progress — 42% found this proposition interesting. It was the same in Latin America, and it was 51% in Africa. However, nearly half of respondents in every region said they would give up a well-paid and prestigious job to gain better work-life balance. Central/Eastern Europe was the exception, as 42% said they would not.
Most Asian millennials defined work-life balance as having enough time set aside for their private lives, but this average hides differing country-by-country attitudes. In Singapore, 76% defined work-life balance as having leisure time to spend privately, while in Thailand, only 29% did. In India, 42% defined it as “flexible working conditions,” while in Vietnam, 76% saw it as “offering external activities (e.g. sports, cultural events).” Many Asian Millennials also seem to stress the importance of social ties more than their Western counterparts. For example, they rely more on support from friends and family.
That said, some attitudes were similar across the world. For example, spending time with family ranked among the highest of priorities in every region we surveyed. And perhaps surprisingly, we found that working for the betterment of society was not a priority for a majority of Millennials anywhere.
The “fear of not being able to retire” isn’t as widespread as it’s made out to be. The data show that this notion, often written about in the West, is not generally supported. Notably, in the Asia-Pacific, 58% of Millennials expected to retire by age 60 (in China, it was higher). And Central/Eastern European Millennials predicted the oldest retirement ages, with more than 27% expecting to retire at or after the age of 70.
We must be careful not to imply more than the data tells us. For example, it would not be fair to assume Millennials in regions with higher than average expected retirement ages (Europe and North America) are less confident about their financial future. Those findings could simply show a higher degree of confidence about future health. What we probably can assume is that Millennials in regions with lower projected retirement ages (APAC) feel more confident about their financial ability to do so. We also found that Millennials in Central/Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America most widely believed that they’d enjoy a higher living standard than their parents.
Generally, Asian Millennials are positive about their prospects for a secure financial future – with the possible exception of Australia. This outlook seems to correlate with the economic growth the region has experienced in their lifetimes. But while they do not necessarily fear retirement, they do they fear getting stuck in a job that they do not like and that is not challenging.
When we asked about work-related fears, we found that the top three were getting stuck with no development opportunities, not being able to realize their career goals, and not finding a job that matches their personality. Certain regions had “outlier fears,” or responses that were significantly different from those in other parts of the world. For example, in Africa, more Millennials (22%) worried that they wouldn’t get the chances they deserved because of their ethnic background. This differed from the average across other regions (12% in North America, 2% in Latin America, and 1% in Central/Eastern Europe). These regions noted other big fears. In North America, it was: “I will work too much.” While in Latin America, it was: “I will underperform;” and in Central/Eastern Europe, it was: “I won’t be valuable to the organization.”
To attract, retain, and develop Millennial leaders, companies and managers need to take these regional differences into consideration. What matters to a Brazilian Millennial might differ from what matters to a Singaporean Millennial, which differs from what matters to an American Millennial. But while it’s important to understand what’s valued in a particular culture, it’s also necessary to remember that people vary greatly within cultures. If there is one thing we know about Millennials globally, it is that they want to be seen as individuals.
Henrik Bresman is an associate professor of organizational professor at Insead and Academic Director of the HEAD Foundation, a Singapore-based education think tank. Follow him on Twitter @HenrikBresman. The INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute is a think tank for the creation and dissemination of information on growth economies. Universum is a global talent research and employer branding firm.