May 15, 2015

Generation Y: Not the Monolith You Thought It Was

Cast OffLast summer, the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI), the HEAD Foundation, and employer branding firm Universum teamed up to conduct what these groups call the largest independent study ever conducted on millennials.” Surveying more than 16,000 millennials from across the globe, the study delves into a variety of topics, including millennials’ fears, hopes, beliefs, and desires. Over the past few weeks, we explored the results of this massive survey. And now, without further ado, we offer the sixth and final piece of Universum et al.’s research: “How Experience Changes Millennials.”

The repeated refrain of Universum et al.’s research up to this point has been, “Go granular” — as in, “Stop treating millennials as an undifferentiated mass; successful millennial-targeted talent strategies require that we dig deeper and understand millennials as individuals living in different places around the world.”

And now, as if to firmly and decisively drive that point home, Universum et al. go one step further in abolishing the myth of the monolithic millennial generation: not only do millennials differ across geographical locations (countries, regions, cities, etc.), but they also differ across gender lines and age groups.

Young Millennials Vs. Old Millennials

Asked to define “challenging work,” older millennials say challenging work means being involved in something innovative and creative. Meanwhile, younger millennials see challenging work as work that pushes them outside of their comfort zones.

“I believe this is because the older millennials have often had a first job or more; also, they have tried a job that demands thinking,” explains Karl Kwarnmark, marketing manager at Universum. “They are more likely to [know] the difference between a hard-working job and [a] white-collar [role].”

SkateIn other words, older millennials have more experience in the work world. They understand that work will often — if not always — push us outside of our comfort zones and require us to think, and think hard. To more experienced, older millennials, challenging work is work that requires creativity and innovation, work that requires them to think outside the daily realities of life and the office. Younger millennials — less experienced in the ways of the work world — have, in a way, a lower bar for what constitutes “challenging.”

Older millennials often have lower tolerances for jobs they don’t like than their younger counterparts have: 7 percent more younger millennials than older millennials say they’d rather have a job they hate than no job at all.

Kwarnmark says that, once again, these differences emerge as a result of the younger millennials’ relative lack of experience in the work world. They’re less picky than older millennials because many have never had the experience of working a job they hate. Many older millennials, on the other hand, have worked jobs they hated, and they’ve realized they’d rather have no job at all than be miserable all the time. Perhaps the younger millennials will come to agree some day.

Men Vs. Women

According to Universum et al., the gap between younger and older millennials is wider than the gap between millennial men and millennial women, but the fact remains that differences do exist between the genders.

For example: female millennials are, generally speaking, less concerned with becoming leaders than their male counterparts are.

“The data shows that women are more likely to associate leadership positions with stress and a lack of work/life balance, which could be a reason fewer women than men said thei were ‘very interested’ in these positions,” says Kat Lynn, associate marketing director of Universum Americas.

PunchMoreover, male and female millennials have different ideas about what constitutes an ideal manager or leader. Women, on average, want their managers to be good role models who are fair and impartial; men were generally more in favor of managers who demonstrated expertise in their fields. 

“I think preferences around management styles are fairly personal, so each person’s ‘ideal manager/ leader’ will look a little different, regardless of gender,” Lynn says. “That said, the data shows that women are more likely to be interested in a manager who’s a good role model. It’s interesting to see that women seem to prefer to learn by example. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to want managers who have demonstrated competency.”

What All of This Means for Employers and Talent Management Personnel

Various other differences exist between the age groups and the genders when it comes to millennials. These differences could exist for a variety of reasons — and we don’t have the space to cover all of them.

Instead, what we offer here is one final attempt to convince anyone we haven’t convinced yet that much of the talk about “millennials” is just garbage. This generation is not the swarming mass of lazy narcissists you thought it was, nor does the generation consist of a sea of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed idealists ready to save the world.

Millennials, it seems, are people too: different from previous generations, and different from one another. So, if you’re going to court millennial talent, remember one thing: you’re not courting millennial talent; you’re courting a human being. Get to know candidates for who they are, and your hiring efforts will be far more successful than they would be if you were to continue lumping every millennial — or baby boomer, or Gen. X-er — into the same pile.

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Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of