Millennials get a bad rap. And grumblings get louder when it comes to the workplace. You’ve probably heard phrases like, “Millenials don’t have the same work ethic, they need hand-holding.” or “They’re entitled and want constant praise.” But those grumblers also tend to ignore one big, hard truth: According to Pew Research, Millennials are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income, than their two immediate predecessor generations. In some ways, it’s not surprising—Millennials on the whole got more from their parents and were told they could do anything they wanted to do. And then out in the real world, there are some real barriers. It’s not surprising they may need a bit more reassurance.
Let’s move beyond that for a minute. What’s interesting to me actually is looking at the Millennial generation from a global standpoint—are Millennials in the US the same as those in China, India or Europe of the same generation? The answer is yes…and no. Understanding these similarities and differences is vital for recruiting and keeping this generation (who, let’s face it, are the future of your company) happy and productive.
Work/life balance and flexible schedules—In a change from the previous generation, which valued hard work and advancement, Millennials in many areas of the world—especially in Northern and Western Europe—prefer to have a work/life balance. It’s not that they’re afraid of hard work; it’s just that work isn’t necessarily their main priority in life. It’s something they’re willing to change jobs over. The exception tends to be Asian countries, where working hard and long sometimes over-rules work-life balance.
Authority and culture—In a study of its own global workforce, PwC found that “Millennials place a high priority on workplace culture and desire a work environment that emphasizes teamwork and a sense of community. They also value transparency (especially as it relates to decisions about their careers). They want and need the support of their supervisors…” There are also the views on authority to consider. In the US, where individual contribution is highly valued, Millennials have fewer qualms about speaking their mind in front of authority figures. Contrast this with those in Singapore or Japan for instance, where hierarchy is very important and employees are more likely to defer to authority figures in an open forum.
Aspirations—Many older folk interpret the focus on work/life balance and flexibility to mean Millennials have no drive or goals. Actually, it’s quite the opposite—and “aspirations” mean something different around the world. US Millennials are indeed driven, but their goal is to find meaningful work that they’re passionate about. In India and China, however, it’s less about passion (in fact, you might get a giggle if you use the word in the workplace) and more about ambition, thanks to cultural pressure to be extremely successful. Yet one aspiration does hold true across the world for Millennials, and that is the drive to be entrepreneurial.
In truth, what Millennials want is not necessarily so different from other generations; they just see things differently. For example, the PwC study found that the desire for work flexibility was common across every generation, so much so that respondents noted that they’d be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in order to get it.
Millennials are not the enemy. They’re just a new generation with potentially new ideas and in some cases a different way of doing things. Embrace them for who they are instead of grumbling about their differences, and see what impact they will have around the world as they grow into tomorrow’s leaders.