Ideas for Leaders #515

Millennials 1: A Diverse Generation Often Misunderstood

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Key Concept

A new study of Millennials across the globe confirms some common assumptions about this generation while proving other stereotypes wrong. The most important lesson, however, is the heterogeneity of this generation, which is overlooked by employers. (Editor's Note: this article is based on Part 2 of the survey.)

Idea Summary

Assumptions about Millennials are rampant — for example, that they don’t want to work hard or pay their dues, or that work/life balance is more important than money or career. A new, exhaustive study, co-sponsored by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, the HEAD Foundation and Universum and covering Millennials from around the world, reveal a more complex profile of the generation that will represent 75% of the workforce within 10 years.

For example, more than 70% of Millennials surveyed indicated they hoped to achieve leadership positions, a result that coincides with previous studies. However, the major draw of a leadership position, according to the INSEAD survey, was “high earnings.” Money is more valued by Millennials than the stereotypes suggest.

As for working hard and commitment, 64% felt they were up to the challenge of stress and hard work that came with a leadership role. However, for a majority of respondents, challenging work meant being involved in innovative work and learning new things, not coping with a heavy workload.

Concerning the pace of careers, 60% of Millennials valued a fast-track path to leadership punctuated by constant promotions, confirming the accepted wisdom.

Also confirming the accepted wisdom was a question that asked respondents whether they would trade a well-paid and prestigious job for better work-life balance. The vast majority either agreed (47%) or were neutral; only 17% disagreed.

One area in which general results diverged from common wisdom concerned the influence of government. Most Millennials surveyed believed that private business or individuals — private business in the Middle East, North America and Western Europe and individuals in Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe — had a greater influence. The researchers emphasize that this reflected what Millennials believe occurs, not what should occur.

The most strongly divergent result concerns the involvement of family and friends in careers. The image of Millennials bringing parents to job interviews is wrong. Overall, only 26% of Millennials involved parents in career decisions, and 21% said friends had an influence.

Of course, it can be dangerous to make generalizations about such a large and dispersed population based on survey averages. This new research makes a major contribution of the discussion by highlighting the differences among different geographic regions. For example, while money was in the aggregate the major draw of a leadership position, Millennials from different parts of the globe cited different reasons for wanting to become leaders. Millennials from Central and Eastern Europe and North America wanted most of all to influence their organizations; Millennials from Africa, on the other hand, wanted the opportunity to coach and mentor others. In another example, fast-track careers, as noted above, were valued by 60% of respondents. However, there were significant differences among regions: respondents from the Asia-Pacific region and Central and Eastern Europe valued a fast-track career the most (67% and 70% respectively), while only 39% in the Middle East thought it was important. 

Business Application

This study yields a number of recommendations for managers.

  • Develop a granular strategy for attracting and managing Millennials, not one based on averages. The first of a planned annual survey, the INSEAD study highlights not only the regional differences among Millennials, but even the country-by-country differences within the region. Millennials are shown to be quite heterogeneous. Tailor your Millennial strategies to national preferences.
  • Align your employer brand to future Millennials. Companies may have strategies targeted to Millennials in the workforce, but most Millennials are in pre-employment status. These younger Millennials are more idealistic about work, more focused on work-life balance and less likely to involve family or friends in their careers. Now is the time to discover meaningful value, aside from salary and benefits, to offer future employees.
  • Pay attention to what Millennials value in their leaders. One of the greatest disparities among regions concerned leadership attributes. Employee empowerment garnered the most responses (31%) to the question of what survey participants valued most in leaders. However, only 13% of Central and Eastern European respondents chose that response — they valued technical and functional expertise (58%) much more than empowerment. Recruitment and retention strategies will vary greatly in different parts of the world.
  • Use the qualities and values of local Millennials to make purposeful hires. Make an inventory of the qualities and values of Millennials that align best with your company; then seek out Millennials from regions or with heritages that fit best with what is valued in your company.
  • Ensure that your employer brand resonates with (actual) Millennial characteristics. Younger Millennials, especially, want to work for a company that truly lives its values. The external image or reputation of a company is less important to them. How effective are your efforts to attract, retain and train new employees? Any issues may indicate that Millennials are not finding what’s important to them in your company.
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Idea conceived

  • December 2014

Idea posted

  • May 2015

DOI number



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