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Millennials are misunderstood, research confirms

However, they are still ambitious and believe in their own ability to steer their career. Being one finding among many, this comes from the largest independent study ever conducted on Millennials, done in partnership with the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI), the HEAD Foundation and Universum. The project was undertaken to better understand the many stereotypes of Millennials in the workplace and gain additional insights about this important cohort, those born 1984-1996, and soon to be the bulk of the future workforce.  

Of the 16,000 global respondents, 73% chose work-life balance over a higher salary and 82% value work-life balance over their position in a company. Unlike generations before them, 42% agree or strongly agree they would rather have no job than one they hate, this is most prevalent in Chile, Lebanon and Peru. Although some broad themes prevail, the research identified key regional differences as well as differences between younger and older Millennials.

"Millennials will constitute the majority of the workforce in just five to six years from now," said Petter Nylander, CEO, Universum. "From an employer branding perspective, companies that cater to the needs of Millennials will lead in attracting, recruiting and retaining them. The scope and depth of the research has identified regional and national differences, confirming that a granular approach to managing and communicating to this generation is necessary for success."  

According to Vinika D.Rao, Executive Director, INSEAD EMI, “The availability of trained and committed talent continues to be among the major impediments to doing business in emerging markets”, adding that “it’s imperative to understand what influences the career decisions and leadership behavior of this much talked-about generation.”  

Contrary to popular belief, Millennials make their own choices  

Family and friends are not key career influencers for Millennials. Only 5% said their friends strongly influence their choices. The only exception is in Asia Pacific where they value the opinions of their friends. For Millennials born closer to 1996, their friends' opinions are less important than for older Millennials. For only 10% of respondents the opinions of their parents are important. This highlights a disconnect between the notion of "Helicopter Parents", who hover over their children guiding their choices, and the impact they actually have on their children's career decisions. The Millennial generation is more independent than first thought.    


Although they value work-life balance, Millennials want to lead  

Becoming a leader or manager is a key career driver with 41% confirming it's very important to them. The primary drivers for becoming a leader are money (35%), influence (31%) and the opportunity to have a strategic role (31%). This demonstrates that for Millennials, the driver to become a leader is inward-focused, not related to the traditional leadership role of managing and coaching other employees. The exception to this is in Nigeria and South Africa where an average 70% of Millennials say it's very important for them to be a manager or leader of people. Younger Millennials are also relatively more interested in coaching and mentoring as part of a leadership role.  

While leadership is a key goal, the importance of titles varies greatly around the world.  Although important in Africa, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Latin America, titles are unimportant in Central & Eastern Europe and irrelevant in North America and Western Europe. Younger Millennials care even less about titles than those born nearer to 1984.  

As important as becoming a manager is, only 24% strongly want a fast-track career with constant promotions. Most Millennials' focus is to grow and learn new things (45%) - the second most important goal in their life after work-life balance. The biggest fear for 40% of respondents globally is to get stuck in a job with no development opportunities.  

"In the near future, Millennials will occupy every consequential leadership position in the world, be it in business, academia, government or in the non-profit sector. Will they be ready to lead? If so, how will they lead? How can the preceding generations identify, understand, develop, and prepare them to take on the monumental challenges the world will be facing? How will the answers to these questions depend on the local and regional context in which these future leaders live and work? The pursuit for answers to such questions was the & lsquo;raison d’&ecirctre’ for this study", commented Henrik Bresman, Academic Director, the HEAD Foundation, and Associate Professor of Organisational Behavior, INSEAD.  

Not all Millennials want to be managed the same way  

Stark differences exist between regions in relation to the image of the perfect manager. Empowerment is valued in North America, Western Europe and Africa, whereas fairness and expertise is key in Central & Eastern Europe. Millennials in Latin America value a role model able to give advice and in the Middle East managers should have all the answers. Managers able to act as role models is an important expectation of younger Millennials and women.  

When asked how often they expect to receive feedback on their performance from their manager, an average of 26% expect weekly feedback. This climbs to 35% in Central & Eastern Europe, 31% in North America and 30% in the Middle East. This is a far cry from annual personal development plans - Millennials expect a high-touch approach to management.  

Millennials view the world through rose tinted glasses quite different to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. The friendliness of the people is the most important criterion of a future employers' culture, chosen by 64% of respondents. And their definition of diversity is cultural diversity (85%). Finally, only 8% fear they will not get the chances they deserve because of their gender. This is even less of a concern for younger Millennials.  

“By reaching out to a large number of respondents in these dynamic economies, this study provides an interesting comparison on millennial behavior in mature and emerging countries. It shows why over-simplified generalisations about them can prove dangerous to organisations and policy makers, and debunks some of the common perceptions about them,” concluded Ms. Rao.  


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