Part 5 of 6: Blog Series on What Millennials Want from Work, Charted Across the World – “We are more different than you think”

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

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Not surprisingly, country-level economics and culture shape how Millennials think about critical career issues. While studies often talk about regions like Asia-Pacific or Western Europe as a unified whole, in truth individual countries within regions often are as different as one region to the next.

By examining individual countries within regions, we found out:


There is perhaps no region as diverse as that of the Asian Pacific (APAC). Consider APAC countries like Japan, Singapore, India and Australia—each is a world apart socio-economically and culturally. There are of course commonalities among APAC Millennials. With the possible exception of Millennials from Indonesia and Japan, most respondents say they expect a higher standard of living than their parents enjoyed (with a regional average of 43 percent strongly agreeing with the statement). It is also striking to see the share of APAC Millennials who expect to retire before the age of 60. Those from Thailand, Malaysia and China report the lowest expected retirement age (over 60 percent say they plan to retire at 60 or earlier); few in the region expect to have to work beyond the age of 65. An interesting exception: 45 percent of Australians say they expect to work beyond the age of 65. (And of those, nearly 20 percent expect to work past 70.) Some may look at the figure from Australia as a pessimistic one, but it’s important to note the older expected retirement age may simply be optimism about personal health and/or a desire to work into later years. FIGURE 1 / FIGURE 2

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We found diverse opinions related to what makes an ideal manager/ leader. A manager who empowers his/her employees is sought after in Singapore (51 percent chose the characteristic compared to 26 percent across the APAC region as a whole); the same quality was not very relevant for neighbouring Malaysia (only 11 percent expressed interest in a manager who empowers). Manager fairness (i.e. setting transparent performance criteria and evaluating it objectively) was an important quality in Indonesia (53 percent chose it), but far down the list of priorities in Japan (only 9 percent chose it). FIGURE 3

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APAC Millennials are more or less alone in claiming to listen to their friends’ career advice—a finding driven in large part by Millennials in India (43 percent say friends’ opinions influence their career decisions), China (28 percent) and Hong Kong (21 percent). FIGURE 4

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Indian Millennials are also unique in that so many say they heed the career advice of parents (30 percent say parents are very much involved in career decisions, compared to 12 percent on average across all APAC countries). Asian Millennials believe government has the strongest ability to influence society (which of course may perhaps simply reflect the political situation in these countries); the sentiment is felt most strongly in China (64 percent), Hong Kong (57 percent) and Singapore (52 percent). Most Asian Millennials define work-life balance as having enough time set aside for their private lives, but the average hides different attitudes country-by-country. In Singapore 76 percent define work-life balance as having leisure time to spend privately, while in Thailand only 29 percent do. Digging deeper, those from Thailand actually prefer that definition (“leisure time for private life”) over any other, which is to say each possible answer simply received fewer responses among Thai Millennials. This suggests the phrase “work-life balance” perhaps does not have the same level of traction in Thailand as in other countries. FIGURE 5

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In our research we found most Millennials prefer to work in teams, but few have taken the concept so much to heart as Millennials from India; 45 percent in India “strongly agree” they prefer team-based work compared to an APAC regional average of 29 percent. For a generation so often tagged as idealistic and interested in the social good, Millennials in Asia do not stand out as particularly interested in working for the betterment of society. This low average, however, is due in large part to the influence of Chinese Millennials. In China, 14 percent cite “working for the betterment of society” as a priority, versus 34 percent in Vietnam and 37 percent in Indonesia. One area where Asian Millennials stand out is the importance of having ample time for hobbies. In countries like China, Hong Kong, Japan and Vietnam, hobbies are taken very seriously; nearly 40 percent in the APAC region say they would prioritize having time to enjoy hobbies, versus an average of 33 percent globally, and averages below 20 percent in Africa and Central/Eastern Europe. FIGURE 6

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Before diving into the details of the survey results for the African continent, we need to issue an important caveat. Naturally, we do not believe it possible to capture the complexity of a continent with 47 countries using data from merely the largest two; that said, in order to communicate results in brief, we narrowed our focus to Nigeria and South Africa (the continent’s two focal points of business activity, accounting together for roughly one third of African GDP). For Nigerian Millennials, what stands out most is their fragmentation—or the degree to which a significant portion of respondents occupied two extreme ends of a 5-point scale. This tendency is not as strong in South Africa. For example, when asked to what extent friends’ opinions influence career decisions, 16 percent of Nigerian Millennials reported “a lot” and 29 percent chose “not much at all.” (Whereas the figures for South Africa are 3 percent and 38 percent, respectively.) In another example, we asked to what extent Millennials want work autonomously; 32 percent of Nigerian Millennials strongly agreed and 19 percent strongly disagreed. The same extremes for South Africa were 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively. FIGURE 7

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We also found South Africa aligns much more with North America and Western Europe when it comes to major talent topic areas. For example, compared to Nigerian Millennials, South Africans are much less likely to say their parents influence their career decisions (16 percent of South Africans say parents are very involved compared to 52 percent in Nigeria) or to describe themselves as entrepreneurial (27 percent strongly see themselves as entrepreneurial versus 52 percent in Nigeria). However, Millennials in both countries agree that the most attractive aspect of assuming a managerial role is the opportunity to coach and mentor others, a finding very much unlike other regions of the globe (41 percent in Nigeria and 49 percent in South Africa believe mentoring others is the most attractive aspect of leadership, compared to the global average of 22 percent). FIGURE 8

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In addition, Nigerian Millennials stand out in that they want a manager to be a role model (37 percent of Nigerians cite the quality versus 25 percent in South Africa), whereas South African Millennials are most likely to favour being empowered by their leaders (53 percent cite it versus 20 percent in Nigeria). FIGURE 9

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Millennials in both countries are most likely to define challenging work as an occupation that takes them out of their comfort zone (34 percent). FIGURE 10

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African Millennials also stand out as wanting to work for the betterment of society (important to 36 percent in Africa versus 22 percent globally). Millennials in Nigeria and South Africa say if given the chance to prioritize, having a successful career would be a top consideration (56 percent name it compared to 38 percent globally). Those in South Africa are more likely to elevate time with family above career compared to those from Nigeria, but responses from both were not very different. Unlike their peers in Asia, African Millennials don’t seem particularly interested in cultivating hobbies (only 11 percent listed it as a priority versus 38 percent in APAC). FIGURE 11

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For this study, respondents from the Central and Eastern Europe region come from Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic. Of these three countries, Russia is most often the outlier. Millennials from the Czech Republic tend to resemble those from Western Europe, while responses from Poland typically lie between those from Russia and the Czech Republic. When asked how much they care about work titles, Russian Millennials seem largely uninterested in titles (42 percent say it’s not important at all), whereas titles seem relatively more important in the Czech Republic, where 24 percent cite titles as “very important”). Russian Millennials are much more attracted to leadership roles (36 percent consider them very important) than Poles and Czechs (17 percent and 18 percent say becoming a manager/leader is very important, respectively). High future earnings are considered the most attractive part of being a manager/ leader for more than half of Russian Millennials, whereas compensation is seen as an appealing perk for 32 percent of Czechs. FIGURE 12 / FIGURE 13

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Russians view themselves as more entrepreneurial than their peers; 23 percent strongly agree they are entrepreneurial, versus just 15 percent in Poland and 6 percent in the Czech Republic. Moreover, Russians seem more willing to endure stress and longer working days to reach leadership positions (30 percent strongly agree they are up to the challenge compared to 17 percent in Poland and 3 percent in the Czech Republic). FIGURE 14 / FIGURE 15

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Finally, Russians (59 percent) and Poles (56 percent) favour having a manager who’s a technical or functional expert, whereas Czech Millennials prefer managers who empower them (39 percent versus 6 percent in Poland and 14 percent in Russia). FIGURE 16

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When choosing their definition of challenging work, more than half of Russian Millennials (57 percent) want to work with talented people who inspire them; Polish Millennials (64 percent) want to learn new things; and Czech Millennials (39 percent) typically want to be involved in innovative work. FIGURE 17

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Russian Millennials are more confident about the prospects of enjoying a better standard of living than their parents (62 percent strongly agree they will be better off than their parents, compared to 24 percent in Poland and 34 percent in the Czech Republic). FIGURE 18

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Few Millennials in Central and Eastern Europe see parents or friends as having a high degree of influence on their career decisions. In fact, they stand out globally in that many do not consider family an important support system for their career (33 percent in Central/ Eastern Europe say parents are not involved at all compared to the global average of 15 percent). Regarding who or what has the most influence on society, 54 percent of Polish Millennials and 42 percent of those from the Czech Republic believe private business is most influential, whereas 45 percent of Russians see individuals as most influential. FIGURE 19

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We asked Millennials about their priorities in life, and the answers from Central and Eastern Europe were particularly interesting. A top choice for all three countries was “to grow and learn new things” (on average 55 percent of Millennials in Central/Eastern Europe chose this response). In Russia, respondents were much more likely to say they would also emphasize being wealthy (36 percent cited it among Russians, versus 15 and 14 percent in the Czech Republic and Poland). FIGURE 20

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Although Latin American extends from Mexico in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south—a massive span of geography—the preferences and opinions of Latin American Millennials are not as diverse as other regions. Beginning with those areas where Millennials tend to have similar views, Latin Americans generally believe job titles are important (63 percent of Latin American Millennials say so compared to 55 percent globally). They also believe business should contribute more to society (a notion that is particularly strong in Colombia, where 71 percent agree with the statement). On average 41 percent of Latin American Millennials feel individuals rather than government or private business have the strongest ability to influence society, whereas 24 percent of Millennials globally think the same. FIGURE 21 / FIGURE 22

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The largest proportion of Latinos define challenging work as learning new things, whereas Brazilian Millennials associate it more often with stepping out of one’s comfort zone. FIGURE 23

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The majority of Latinos (76 percent) expect to have a higher standard of living than their parents did; the number is lowest in Argentina, where 33 percent agree with the statement. Intriguingly, Millennials are perhaps most fragmented with regards to parental influence. When asked how involved parents are in Millennial career decisions, respondents from countries like Chile and Colombia are fragmented; a significant percent agree (25 percent in Chile and 21 percent in Colombia) and another significant percent disagree (17 percent in both countries). Nevertheless, the majority (71 percent) agree that parents are an important source of support. FIGURE 24 / FIGURE 25

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Latin American Millennials are more enthusiastic to reach leadership positions than their counterparts in North America, Central/Eastern Europe and in Western Europe. Some 49 percent say it’s “very important” for them to become a manager or leader during their career, compared to 40 percent in North America, 32 percent in Central and Eastern Europe and 30 percent in Western Europe. Latin Americans largely prefer their managers to be empowering (except in Brazil where it’s only important for 12 percent). Brazilians, however, tend to favour managers who behave like role models (chosen by 46 percent). FIGURE 26

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The three countries we focused on in the Middle East (the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Lebanon) have very different economies and political histories; for example, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) GDP per capita has soared to a level three times that of Turkey and Lebanon. Also, there’s a sizeable population of expatriates in the UAE, unlike other countries in the Middle East that participated in our study. Surprisingly, the differences between these three countries are not as big as one might imagine. Millennials in the region care deeply about innovation (Turkey and the UAE in particular), with a large share (48 percent) saying they would quit their jobs if their employers were not innovative enough. FIGURE 27

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Middle Eastern Millennials are typically less open to accepting stress and hard work to reach leadership positions (46 percent agree extra stress and work time is worthwhile, compared to the global average of 64 percent). Interestingly, many (particularly in Lebanon and Turkey) agree that it’s better to have no job than a job they hate. In the Middle East 31 percent strongly agree that no job is better than a hated job, versus just 19 percent globally. FIGURE 28

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Regarding who or what has the strongest ability to influence society, the three countries we surveyed are far apart. Some 51 percent of UAE Millennials believe government is most influential, while in Turkey the majority (46 percent) cites private business. In Lebanon Millennials believe individuals have the strongest influence (46 percent mention it). FIGURE 29

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For most Middle Eastern Millennials, work-life balance is defined as having enough time for one’s private life (64 percent); however, there are other notable differences in terms of what Millennials value. Acceptance of parental leave is important for 30 percent of Lebanese Millennials, while offering external activities is important for 40 percent of Turkish Millennials and 46 percent of UAE Millennials value flexibility around working hours. Middle Eastern Millennials are particularly afraid of getting stuck in their careers—a fear we found resonated in other regions as well. Turkish Millennials, however, differ from the rest as nearly half (46 percent) fear they will not find a job that matches their personality. Regarding challenging work, some 38 percent of UAE Millennials typically define it as working outside their comfort zone, whereas 37 percent of Lebanese and 31 percent of Turks associate it with having a higher level of responsibility. FIGURE 30

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Finally, the three countries of the Middle East differ in how they would set personal priorities. In the UAE, Millennials were most likely to desire a successful career (67 percent), though a significant number (42 percent) want to work for the betterment of society. In Turkey, Millennials place the highest value on growing and learning new things, followed closely by having a successful career. Lebanese Millennials emphasize the same top two priorities as Turks, however, they value career over learning new things. FIGURE 31

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North America has the highest degree of homogeneity (something expected given the cultural and commercial proximity of the United States to Canada). Millennials in both countries have roughly similar, albeit not identical, attitudes regarding career prospects and influences, among other things. Unlike Millennials in many other regions, North Americans are less optimistic about achieving a higher standard of living than their parents. Approximately a quarter of respondents strongly agreed their quality of life would exceed that of their parents. FIGURE 32

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We asked Millennials about their greatest fears, and found US Millennials worry more about career issues than their Canadian peers. They are, for example, more afraid of getting stuck in their careers (40 percent versus 30 percent of Canadians) and of working too much (31 percent versus 24 percent of Canadians). FIGURE 33

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 3.31.25 pmScreen Shot 2015-11-02 at 3.31.43 pmUS Millennials are more attuned to whether their employer empowers its employees—48 percent cited it versus 34 percent of Canadians. Also, US Millennials are much more concerned about issues of diversity; 28 percent say it’s very important that their fellow employees and managers come from diverse backgrounds, whereas just 14 percent of Canadians feel the same way. FIGURE 34 / FIGURE 35

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On the question of who or what has the strongest ability to influence society, 42 percent of Americans name private business (and they say government has the least influence). Canadian Millennials’, however, distribute their opinions more evenly across government (25 percent), private business (29 percent) and individuals (39 percent). FIGURE 36

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Work-life balance is an important topic everywhere but particularly in North America, where respondents had stronger opinions. Millennials in both the US and Canada largely agree it’s essential to have enough leisure time (73 percent cite it), but flexibility is also an appealing option for more than half. Considering that they view work-life balance so favourably, U.S. and Canadian Millennials are surprisingly open to the concept of putting in long working hours to speed up their careers—42 percent agree with the idea. FIGURE 37 / FIGURE 38

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Other points of difference? Forty-four percent of Americans agree they are entrepreneurial, compared to 34 percent of Canadians. And Millennials from both countries (around 60 percent) agree on the importance of family, but Canadians seem to take their hobbies more seriously (37 percent) and US Millennials are more eager to work for the betterment of society (34 percent) and to be learning new things (53 percent). FIGURE 39 / FIGURE 40

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So far we have compared Millennials’ responses to individual survey questions across different geographies. But are there patterns amidst all the findings— personas that can help identify specific career types? Are there countries that resemble “twins” in terms of how Millennials think about their careers?


1. Strivers and climbers. These Millennials seek traditional management-track corporate careers. They see work as a path to personal growth and self-fulfilment and are attracted to “work hard, play hard” corporate cultures where they’ll be able to socialize with similarly ambitious and intellectually curious peers. Their greatest career-related fear is getting stuck on the corporate advancement ladder. This is the most common profile for respondents in all fields of study globally, except humanities, for whom it is slightly less common than the “work–life balancers” (see below). Overall, 33 percent of respondents fall into this group. This profile is particularly prominent in Latin America, with the majority of students in several Latin countries falling into this group. Other countries with higher-than-average proportions of respondents in this group include Italy, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Lebanon, and Singapore.

2. Work–life balancers. These Millennials place a high priority on work-life balance, and are unwilling to trade their leisure time or physical well-being for career acceleration. They tend to be younger, and are not concerned about being victims of age discrimination. They believe the right job should match their personality type. They are sceptical about their ability to achieve the same standard of living enjoyed by their parents. Respondents from many different fields of study fall into this group, but it is particularly prominent among those who studied the humanities and the natural sciences. The majority of respondents in northern Europe and the German-speaking countries fall into this group. It is the most common group in other Western European countries (France, Spain, and the United Kingdom), the United States, and Canada. However, this is not strictly a “rich north” grouping — higher-than-average proportions of respondents in Indonesia and Vietnam also fall into this group. Globally, this is the second most common group, with about 25 percent of respondents falling into this category.

3. Technical experts who are cautious about fit. These Millennials are attuned to corporate prestige and the social cues around it — indeed, they are the most likely to be influenced in their career choices by family and friends. While they place a high priority on having a successful career, they see that success as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They want to find jobs where there will be a personal fit between them and the culture, and are concerned about working too much and being unable to separate their work and personal lives. While they are optimistic about corporations being open to diversity, they are concerned that they may be discriminated against due to their sex and/or ethnicity. They are most likely to have studied engineering, IT, or management. The majority of respondents in India and Nigeria fall into this group. Other countries where this profile is highly prominent include Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. Globally, this group is slightly smaller than the “work–life balancers,” with 24 percent of total respondents.

4. Socially ambitious, but pessimistic about corporate life. These Millennials are ambitious and hard-working, and want to become wealthy and socially prominent, but don’t necessarily see corporate careers as leading to success. They were the least likely to say that becoming a manager is important to them, and they did not assign a great deal of importance to recognition in the form of titles. They are most afraid that they won’t realize their career goals and won’t be taken seriously by the organization that employs them. Many of them are also concerned about being discriminated against due to their gender, sexual orientation, or age. They are pessimistic about their long-term economic prospects, with the majority believing they will not achieve the standard of living enjoyed by their parents. This group was most common in countries that have faced a high degree of political unrest over the past ten years, and/or where a once-booming economy that has collapsed or stagnated. It was the most common group in Japan, where 72 percent of respondents fall into this category. Other nations with a heavy tendency towards this group include Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Argentina, Chile, Ireland, Poland, and Russia. Globally, this was the smallest group, with only 18 percent of respondents. Naturally, no country’s respondents came from a single group — we found a diversity of perspectives in every country studied. The countries with the most extreme concentrations of students in a single profile were Japan, India, and Austria. Conversely, the countries that came closest to mirroring the global average, in terms of how respondents were spread across groups, were Malaysia and China.

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