Part 1 of 6: What Millennials Want from Work


This is the first of a six-part blog series to be posted monthly, on Millennials at the Workplace — a joint study by the Emerging Markets Institute, HEAD Foundation, and UNIVERSUM.

Whether or not you feel you understand Millennials currently, your long-term viability as a business likely depends on it. According to the 2014 PwC Annual Global CEO survey, 63 percent of executives say they worry about finding the right talent to ensure their organizations remain competitive. Across most of the world, Millennials make up at least a quarter of the total workforce. (In India that number is significantly higher at over 50 percent.) Deloitte estimates Millennials will make up 75 percent or more of the global workforce in little more than 10 years.

Our findings:

1. Millennials want to lead and to advance in their careers

Nearly 70 percent of Millennials across the globe say achieving a manager or leadership role in their careers is important. This feeling was strongest among respondents from Africa (84 percent) and lowest in Western Europe (61 percent). FIGURE 1

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2. Millennials define challenging work as a concept beyond long working hours

When asked whether they are up to the challenge of leadership – including the stress and hard work that’s involved in achieving it – 64 percent agreed. The sentiment was felt most strongly among Africans (70 percent) and least among those in the Middle East (46 percent). FIGURE 2

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3. Millennials prioritise work-life balance over money or status

Would Millennials consider giving up a well-paid and prestigious job to gain better work-life balance? The results were quite clear. Overall, 47 percent agreed, while only 17 percent disagreed (the remainder chose a neutral stance). Results region by region were fairly consistent with the exception of Central and Eastern Europe, where only 25 percent agreed with the statement and 42 percent disagreed. FIGURE 3

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4. Millennials do not necessary attribute full power to the government

Much has been said of Millennials’ optimism and their belief that government can have a large (and positive) influence on society. Those in the APAC region had the highest confidence in government – 54 percent said government (over the private sector, individuals and NGOs) had the strongest ability to influence society. Yet in most of the world, Millennials tend to ascribe influence more to private business or individuals. In the Middle East, North America and Western Europe, the private sector is considered most influential on society, while in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, individuals are ranked highest. FIGURE 4

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5. Friends and families of millennials do not affect the millennials’ career decisions

Perhaps the most enduring (and seemingly unfair) stereotype assigned to Millennials is their desire to involve family in their professional lives. (Many of us will have heard anecdotes of Millennials inviting parents to job interviews.) The research simply does not bear this out. FIGURE 5

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Recommendations for Employers

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  • Develop a granular strategy, not one based on averages. Having examined the views and preferences of Millennials across 43 countries, it’s clear Millennials are a heterogeneous generation. While commonalities exist, region by region Millennials are unbelievably diverse in their opinions and actions. Even country by country attitudes vary as widely as they do across regions. The Asia-Pacific region is perhaps the clearest example. Addressing Japanese Millennials the same way as you address Indian Millennials is bound to end badly, as these two groups are worlds apart when it comes to career decisions. Large global organizations must not jump to conclusions based on regional findings. As the differences within regions are sometimes bigger than differences between them, any strategy needs to be developed at the national level. What’s more, employers must also account for differences within different age segments of the Millennial generation.
  • Align your employer brand to future Millennials. Employers eager to develop strategies related to recruiting, hiring and development often focus on Millennials who are already in the workforce, yet the majority of Millennials are in a pre-employment status (i.e. in school). Compared to their older brethren, this younger cohort is:

          – More pessimistic about their future.

          – More idealistic about work.

          – More attuned to work-life balance, and more likely to prioritize it over money and status.

          – Less likely to heed the input of family and friends in their career choices.

          – More open to moving outside their “comfort zone” in a work setting.

With this in mind, organizations will have to think about how their messaging to Millennials will adjust in the coming years, tuning more closely to this younger generation of Millennials. What value can companies offer aside from salary and benefits that will be meaningful to this group? How should the organization structure learning opportunities to ensure this group is engaged and satisfied at work? And how will work-life issues like flexibility and mobility factor in?

  • Pay close attention to the qualities Millennials look for in their leaders. We found an immense amount of diversity in what Millennials consider attractive in a manager/leader role, as well as what they seek in a prospective manager – and the findings have important implications for the workplace. For example, Millennials in Central and Eastern Europe feel strongly about wanting a manager who offers technical or functional experience (58 percent chose this option), while that quality is relatively less important in the Middle East, where only 28 percent chose it. And in North America, nearly half (47 percent) say they want a manager who “empowers their employees”. Contrast that with the Middle East, where a paltry 12 percent identified empowering employees as an attractive quality. Results related to what Millennials find attractive in a manager/ leadership role (i.e. what they look forward to) is also different region by region. Those in Central and Eastern Europe look forward to high earnings (50 percent), while in Africa only 17 percent cited high earnings as an attractive quality in a manager/leader role. (On the whole, high earnings were a top-regarded quality for most Millennials.) Why does this matter? As organizations think about how they will recruit and retain Millennial talent, it’s clear that talent strategy must be tuned to the local level. What inspires a university graduate in London may not appeal to a graduate in Tokyo.
  • Consider making purposeful hiring decisions based on the qualities and values of local Millennials. What if a global organization was able to think clearly about the qualities of Millennials in different regions of the globe, and purposefully recruit from areas where Millennials have qualities and values that align well to a particular business strategy or needs? For example, different attitudes about stress, work life and leadership may influence the type of workers companies seek out in different regions. While language skills and other factors come into play, employers can make an inventory of the character traits required to be effective in different areas of the business, and then source candidates accordingly.
  • Ensure your employer brand message truly resonates with Millennials’ value system as it is, rather than as it’s imagined to be. Lastly, we want to emphasize how important it is to be living the values as they are communicated in your employer brand. Our survey found the inside of the organization (i.e. the lived experience of a company’s values) to be more important than the outside image, even more so for younger Millennials. The job characteristics, organizational culture and remuneration are all seen as more important than employer image and reputation (although regional differences certainly exist). Consequently, employers really need to sharpen their understanding of their unique employer value proposition (EVP), and find ways to communicate it, by moving the perception beyond general popularity to tangible awareness of its assets. As previously mentioned, employers are increasingly attaching KPIs to each part of their recruitment process, along with onboarding. Ongoing efforts to benchmark an organization’s effectiveness at attracting, retaining and training employees, including internal engagement surveys to find possible gaps between image and reality, constitute the bare minimum in employer branding practice.


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