Millennials across cultures: same or different?

The millennial generation is the largest growing segment of the global workforce and millennials have much in common regardless of geography – they share many of the same concerns, aspirations and expectations inside and outside the workplace.  This generation is more globally connected than its predecessors – not only can they connect digitally and source information at the click of a button, but they are more likely to have lived overseas and operated in multicultural environments.  So, perhaps the differences between millennials across borders and cultures should be minimal?  Yes, but also no.   

Technology reduces distance 

Technology has made the global workplace a smaller place but only when it is available.  Technological advances mean that information is readily available and virtual communication across borders is easier than ever.  But remember that technological advances develop at differing levels and speeds, and that new technologies are adopted and prioritised differently across the globe. 

Consider the context 

Millennials are said to switch employer more frequently than previous generations. In fact, according to The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018 43% of millennials  envision switching jobs within two years. However, when jobs are scarce, this becomes less prevalent as the desire for security increases. While ‘A job for life’ is virtually non-existent, a longer tenure within one firm is very attractive given the economic and political uncertainty in many developed economies. The need to pay back student loans and get on the housing ladder also play an important role in influencing the millennials’ decision to remain with an employer.   

Conversely, a growing national economy with low rates of unemployment is more likely to give millennials the confidence to switch employers more frequently.  In fast growing economies such as China and India, the lack of highly skilled workers gives millennials the confidence to move on and leverage when negotiating their next opportunity. 

National culture plays a role 

It is important to be mindful about overgeneralising and using national stereotypes. Certainly people working in large cities often have a different mind-set to those working in more rural areas. Londoners and New Yorkers may have more in common with each other than each city does with its rural counterparts in England and the US mid-west.  However, understanding how shared national values and beliefs contribute to local workplace attitudes and expectations among millennials can be helpful. National cultures do often tend to exhibit shared values and attitudes which translate into different working styles and preferences. 

  • Cultures with a relatively low tolerance for uncertainty such as France or Germany often exhibit a need for structure, reliance on expertise and a preference for longer-term planning.  Millennials from these cultures will probably spend longer with the same employer and be more concerned by the threat of job loss.  Millennials from cultures with a greater tolerance for uncertainty such as the UK or China might be more comfortable taking risks and changing company or even sector and profession more quickly.  
  • Millennials from cultures that have traditionally valued status and vertical hierarchy may place importance on senior job titles, career progression and decision-making power.  
  • In the US and the UK, which are considered culturally to be the most individualistic cultures in the world, millennials employees have greater expectations around managing their own careers, celebrating individual successes and voicing their own opinions.  They are also more likely to move to other regions or countries to progress their careers, have greater expectations around pay and be keen to take on more individual responsibility.  

What can you do to manage millennials across the globe? 

Remember that one size doesn’t fit all when working with millennials and you should adapt your approach to the local context. 

  • Talented millennials in fast developing countries such as China or India are the hardest to retain and they will move on; you will keep them for longer if you demonstrate a clear career progression where individuals can quickly move up through the ranks. 
  • Remember that job titles are important in hierarchical cultures; make sure that they reflect the status and seniority of the role  
  • People management matters in Anglo cultures so give millennials the opportunity early in their careers to develop their management sills – and give them access to training to develop their skills 
  • Millennials from uncertainty avoidant cultures are perhaps the least likely to leave you; keep them engaged and motivated by creating a collaborative culture, demonstrating job security and ensuring a healthy work life balance 
  • Finally, ask your millennial employees what is important to them, mentor them and help them to grow as individuals and maximise their strengths as employees within the organisation   
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