• Steve Morris

Culture, Millennials and the Challenge for Leaders

Millennials can be defined as those born between 1983-1995. There has been a lot of conjecture about this group, some of it exaggerated hyperbole (e.g it’s the “me, myself, I generation”). Even though millennials wrongly get stereotyped as a selfish bunch, there is no doubt that they have different expectations of work success and happiness compared to the generations before them. In many ways they are pioneers in how employee/ employer relations should function.  

Research from around the world tells us that employee motivation and engagement is also relative to cultural context. For example, although globally, the relationship between an employee and their immediate supervisor has a major influence on motivation levels, how people are motivated changes from culture to culture. In France, for example, employees are often most satisfied when they see their boss as persuasive or paternalistic, whereas German and British employees tend to prefer a more consultative and democratic leadership style. 

Therefore, leadership styles must adjust in relation to cultural context if all employees are to be engaged and motivated

The relationship between leaders and employees is evolving.  

Career Success: The top priority for millennials is engagement & enjoyment of work. I would argue that this is also the number one priority for any employee of any generation!

Retention: 80% will stay loyal to the company if they feel a positive work culture exists*. Work culture is also dependent on national culture however. What an American employee considers to be a positive work environment may not be anything like what a Chinese worker considers to be a great environment to work within.

Problem Solving: Many employees feel problem solving opportunities are a key component to job satisfaction and retention. This is not quite so prevalent however, in cultures where Power/ Distance differences are high between employees and their bosses, or from cultures where uncertainty is often avoided. In these environments problem solving opportunities can be a nightmare!

Leadership: In many cultures, millennials prioritize their boss as a coach/mentor and they want leaders who make them feel valued and appreciated. Similarly, 80% of the impact on employee’s engagement is due to the relationship/ influence of their primary leader. What this tells us is that if only 13% of the world’s workforce is engaged in their jobs (see last week’s blog), then managers and leaders are doing a pretty poor job of making them feel valued!

Employees look to a boss who is knowledgeable/ expert in their field. Only 15% prioritize a boss as an ‘allocator of work’. People want to feel is if they have mastery, autonomy and purpose in their job. It is therefore the duty of managers and leaders to learn the rules of engagement to tap into human potential.

In general, ‘soft skills’ are appreciated highly by millennials. (e.g. openness, honesty, communication) and people look for high emotional and social intelligence in leaders to remain engaged and motivated, whatever the cultural context.

* Gen Y and the World of Work: A report into the workplace needs, attitudes and aspirations of Gen Y US (Hays Group 2013)

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