Generation Y in the workplace

What Millenials do in the workplace is a hot topic these days, with no lack of information on Generation Y characteristics, values and tendencies. However, it turns out that not only are generational stereotypes widely publicized, the majority of the insights out there are mainly based on US Millennials, or, at the very least, shared through the company’s US cultural lens.

While there are a number of robust, worldwide studies on Generation Y, also called Millennials, their findings provide little to no insight on the nuances within regions or cultural groups. Why do employees in Asia value a strong benefits package, while their Millennial counterparts in Europe and the Middle East are more interested in doing meaningful work or in having opportunities to collaborate? Little to no data exists to inform us as to what motivates, empowers or inspires global Millennials across borders. Generation Y members around the world can’t all be the same simply because the world is now a global marketplace with smartphones and social media, can they?

Language & Culture Worldwide (LCW) recently conducted a study on global Millennials to answer that exact question. The research goes beyond the hyper-focus on Millennials and technology to provide meaningful country-specific information on how to engage, develop and manage the youngest members of the workforce across cultures. LCW surveyed over 100 global Millennials, asking their insights on topics such as: what makes them different from other generations; what matters most to them in the workplace; and how do they compare to their peers around the world. The responses were then organized into general themes and ranked based on the number of participants in a similar region who shared those same insights, concerns or values. The responses came from Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), Asia-Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and US Latinos as a representation of just one of the many subcultures and subgroups in the United States. Here is what was learned.


What’s in a name?

What we call the youngest generation, born in or after 1981, varies depending on whom you ask. The term Generation Y is widely used internationally, while Millennials is a more popular term in the United States. To add another layer of complexity, in other countries the youngest generation is called something completely different. In China, Generation Y is referred to as the Post 80’s Generation — a reference to those born after the implementation of the One-Child Policy. Many European countries (such as Russia and much of Eastern Europe) refer to Generation Y as the Lost Generation, reflecting the current economic challenges the young are facing in the region. In South Africa, Generation Y is called the Born-Free Generation, as the first generation with no memory of apartheid.


Influences on culture

Each region of the world has specific influences and experiences that serve as the cultural context for how an individual in that culture forms his or her view of the world. Technology, education, family, language and governments are only a few examples of the many institutions that shape a culture’s core values and motivations. The global Millennials study identified common themes on what matters most in the workplace. Figures 1-3 reflect the three most common answers given for the survey question “What are the top 3 things that matter most in the workplace?” Although common themes such as “meaningful work, collaboration or good pay” came up in the survey, Figures 1-3 illustrate how those commonalities are in many instances prioritized differently across each region.

In Europe, for example, the fall of communism not only liberated much of Eastern Europe, but it also changed the face of Europe as a whole. The youngest generation knows a Europe without borders. As a result, Generation Ys from all over Europe now live and work outside of their passport country, migrating from home to other areas in Europe (or abroad) in search of economic opportunities. Although exciting, these changes do not come without difficulties. In addition to learning to adapt to a new culture, building new relationships or learning a new language — Eastern European Millennials are also faced with more complex challenges such as discrimination, recognition for their credentials and limited professional networks. The youngest generation in Europe has learned to stay flexible, open-minded and to be willing to move.

Millennials in the MENA region face completely different challenges. Their younger generation has to live with the aftermath of 9/11, and the vilified image of Islam in the Western world. The Arab Spring demonstrated that this generation is revolutionary, showing the rest of the world it knows how to mobilize, voice its opinion, and advocate for social change.

As only children, Chinese Millennials are raised by their parents and grandparents. Given the importance of family hierarchy, these children carry the hopes and dreams of six adults and two generations. Few other Millennials in the world have been the center of their family’s universe. China’s youngest generation wants to be recognized and rewarded in the workplace not only to show their family members they are doing well, but to show them they are also capable of providing for them.


Common values prioritized differently

Although common themes came up for Millennials around the world, each region prioritized those values and characteristics differently. For example, when asked what was most important for them in the workplace, Asian respondents shared that although money is important, the type of work is even more important for achieving growth. In Europe, doing meaningful work was prioritized over having a good work-life balance. While in Africa, equal rights (an end to discriminatory practices across races and genders) in the workplace was valued over meaningful work. It doesn’t seem so recent, but South Africa held its first multiracial democratic elections, won by Nelson Mandela, just 20 short years ago.

Reflecting back on the cultural context for each region, salary being strongly prioritized in Asia could be an example of how the societal and family pressure of taking care of older family members have shaped the priorities of Asian Generation Y in the workplace. Chinese and Singaporean governments have passed laws making it a legal obligation to take care of your elders. The prioritization of equal rights for African Millennials demonstrates that the region’s history with the slave trade, colonialism and race inequality still has a very real and strong impact in the region.


How are they different from all the other generations?

Many, if not all, of the insights shared in the global Generation Y survey are values and characteristics important to every generation. Marion White’s numerous research articles on rethinking generation gaps show that many Millennials want a lot of the same things from their employers as Generation X and Baby Boomers. Although all generations may agree on the importance of challenging, meaningful work or flexibility in the workplace, the behavioral interpretations — how we live out these values — can vary widely among different cultures, and sometimes between individuals. A collaborative working environment for your Baby Boomer employee might mean having a face-to-face meeting with the whole team to brainstorm on a problem, while for your Millennial employee it could mean having unrestricted access to information.

LCW’s global Millennial survey findings show that providing challenging, meaningful work, communicating and helping employees see their contributions are all key for improving employee engagement. Organizations, managers and individuals are encouraged to take it one step further and find ways to incorporate these engagement strategies in concrete actions and behaviors that resonate in the appropriate cultural context.