Creating a ‘More Nuanced Picture of Millennials’

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PaintingGiven the constant hand-wringing and the absurd prevalence of click-baiting thinkpieces, we may think we know who “the Millennial” is. According to a new report from Universum, in conjunction with INSEAD’s Asia campus, the Emerging Markets Institute, and the HEAD Foundation, our picture of millennials may be way off the mark.

“When we embarked on this [study], we were wondering: is the conventional wisdom about this group – about being work shy, about having helicopter parents, and so on – is that really fair image of these people?” says Jacob Andelius, a senior consultant at Universum. “When we met [millennials] in our daily work, we seemed to get the impression that they were really hard-working and really open to going the extra mile. We wanted address some of that.”

According to the study, millennials are a largely misunderstood generation. This is in part due to the fact that most of the research on millennials has been U.S.- or Euro-centric, Andelius says. This is the reason why Universum partnered with a range of globally-focused companies for this study: to expand the reach of millennial research.

“A lot of the thinking that has been prevalent about this group has been more about U.S. millennials and European millennials,” Andelius says. “It has less bearing on the hundreds of millions of millennials in Africa, APAC [Asia-Pacific countries], and South America.”

Aside from geographical biases, the limited scopes of previous studies have also played a role in our misunderstanding of millennials.

“The millennials are such a huge group, and all the previous studies kind of put the wrong mark on it,” Andelius says.

Andelius mentions the Telefonica Global Millennial Survey, which he believes focuses too much on technology adoption, which slants the research. Andrelius points to similar flaws in PwC’s massive millennial studies. Despite the wide net PwC casts — 44,000 respondents in all — all survey participants are either employees of PwC or PwC partners.

“Naturally, the people who come to work for PwC, they’re not an eclectic mix. They’re one specific type of character,” Andelius says. “We haven’t seen that many independent studies that have taken on the whole subject as it is. Really, it’s been heavily influenced by the scope of the studies so far.”

“If we can somehow contribute to a more nuanced picture of millennials, I think we’d be happy to do that,” Andelius adds.

Cultural Differences Between Millennials

Andelius says that one of the most shocking findings of the survey was the diversity between millennials of different countries.

“If you go across the globe to APAC, [the differences are] just stunning. If you put a Japanese millennial alongside an Indian millennial, they might as well come from different planets, in the way they approach these things and the answers they provided for us,” Andelius says. “[They have] very, very different priorities and very, very different mindsets, in terms of the kind of leader they want to follow, and in terms of how they view work.”

Large organizations that operate on a global scale need to pay special attention to the cultural diversity of millennials.

“Many multinationals have these big, fast-track programs that they kind of put over their organizations, but if you look here and see how big and considerable the differences are in terms of what millennials value … it’s really hard to see how you could truly have a global one-stop-shop program for fast track,” Andelius says.

For example, millennials in the Middle East tend to value being a role model, whereas many Russia and Eastern European millennals value expertise. A one-size-fits-all global training program won’t meet these needs equally.

“[Millennials] have different priorities,” Andelius says. “You really need to be mindful of who you’re talking to, and you need to have that granularity.”

Recruiting Millennials Across the Globe

Cultural diversity among millennials should influence the way organizations recruit talent, too, Andelius says.

“Organizations that recruit globally are actually in a position to think about what kinds of people sense to hire,” he explains.

Employers can “do their homework” and profile the strengths and focuses of their internal cultures, which allows them to “go hunting across the globe” for employees who might make better fits for their culture than the company’s normal talent pool.

“Based on where we consider ourselves strong and where we put the focus in our internal culture, maybe it makes sense for us to start looking to some areas and some geographies where we perhaps haven’t recruited that much in the past,” Andelius says.

For example: do the trends among Japanese millennials suggest that a company might want to expand their hiring efforts in that country? Do the general values of Russian millennials tend to match the company’s general values?

Overall, Andelius calls the survey “one big ‘aha! moment'” for Universum.

“If you’re going to approach this group, you have to go beyond averages,” he says. “You have to drill down to the most granular level possible as an employer. Otherwise, you’re going to hurt yourself.

Read more in Cultural Diversity

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of