Coming of Age: Why Millennials’ Evolving Worldviews Matter

by | 07 August 2015

Building on my last post, which took a quantitative look at Millennials (or Generation Y), I would like to focus in this post on a more global view of the attitudes and values of the Millennial generation, the oldest members of which are now in their early 30s. The question at hand is: Does this generation hold fundamentally different beliefs from its predecessors? And if so, what is the consequence for the organizations we lead?

Plus: Closer look at Millennial demographicsWelcome to Generation C

Taking a global perspective is especially important because, as we saw in my last post, even the U.S. demographics show a strong and diverse international influence. As JWTIntelligence puts it, “Millennials are regarded as the first global generation, with more overlapping values and shared experiences than any before them.” Here in the U.S., we’ve been concerned about whether the next generation has the same work ethic, style and so forth, and how it will fit into and collaborate with an aging workforce. But this is happening against a backdrop of a greater concern for organizational leaders: engaging and attracting the best talent from an increasingly globalized workforce.

Although Millennials’ formative experiences vary across the world, some general patterns emerge:

Purpose is key … but so are economics

Millennials believe the businesses they work for should have a sense of purpose. According to Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey, 60 percent of respondents cited this as a reason they chose their current employers, and correlated it with the employee success and satisfaction.

But money is important. It’s just part of a broader spectrum of motivations. In every region of HBR’s 2015 survey, Millennials identified increased earnings as the primary motivation for seeking leadership positions. Nearly half of Deloitte’s 2015 respondents identified “profit” as the most important function of business, and of 12 possible areas of impact, profit, production and wealth generation were the only three where respondents felt business is meeting expectations.

Millennials are independent and resourceful — with a dose of wanderlust

Millennials are independent and entrepreneurial — but not necessarily disloyal. According to Deloitte’s 2014 study, 70 percent worldwide see themselves working independently rather than in a traditional organization — 82 percent in emerging markets. Additionally, 71 percent of Millennials in JWTIntelligence’s BRIC survey say they will start their own business if they can’t find a job; 61 percent responded that starting a business was a good investment. Two-thirds of Millennials worldwide are “very interested” in work opportunities abroad, as reported by Telefonica in 2014, and 37 percent in PwC’s NextGen study saw it as an essential part of their career path.

Millennials value balance … but who doesn’t?

Work-life balance is a consistent priority but has different connotations in different parts of the world. “Enough leisure time for my private life” was the leading response across the world in HBR’s study, but from there we see tremendous variation. In North America, 59 percent favored flexible hours, while “recognition and respect for employees” was the second-leading answer in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

This is a good reminder that work-life balance is a concern across generations. The challenge for business leaders is understanding the growing number of ways that organizations support well-being and personal growth.

So, where does this leave us as leaders of organizations?

Some of these may be surprising contrasts to conventional wisdom on Millennials, and many will confirm basic predictions from the past. Here are some useful questions to ponder as we consider implications of this research:

1. Were the conclusions drawn over the last several years about Millennials premature?

Generation Y coincides with a greater availability of data than ever before. It was natural we’d start identifying mega-trends while the Millennials were teens, and it’s surely why they’re the most studied and talked-about generation in history. But a decade has passed since this generation started college. Can we expect any generation’s political and social views at 20 to be exactly the same at 30?

2. Are the features that seem unique to the Millennials part of broader trends?

Millennials appear to be putting off marriage and having fewer children. Do we ascribe this to the economic uncertainty that Millennials grew up with? Or is this pattern an extension of long-term trends such as declining global fertility rates or five decades of steady increase in the U.S median age at first marriage? Are “new” cultural norms in the U.S., such as multi-generational families, an exclusively Millennial innovation or the influence of emigrant cultures, where such family structures are more common?

3. Do changing social norms lead us to conclusions based on our own generation’s outlook?

For example, fewer Millennials have started families than ever before. Does it mean that they have fundamentally new beliefs about families because this behavior diverges from a “normal” life pattern? But in terms of gender roles, living arrangements and the like, many more options are considered “normal.” If we base too much on this difference, we’ll miss the commonalities that arise – for example, those U.S. Millennials who chose a “traditional” family path are (surprise!) moving to the suburbs, exactly like their predecessors.

4. Are we viewing Millennials through the lens of the developed world?

Surveyed Millennials worldwide express concern over their generation’s economic opportunity. Does that mean the same thing in the U.S. and Europe, respectively emerging from and mired in historic recessions, that it does in the growing BRIC countries, where Millennials are focused on economic opportunities that simply didn’t exist in their parents’ generation? Or in Australia, where Millennials have never seen a national recession?

As generations mature and gain experience, the stories of their lives grow more complex. And the Millennials are no exception. We’ve really just scratched the surface here, but I hope that gives you a sense of the questions we should be asking to make sure we meet the needs of our next generation of leaders. In my next post, and the final post in the series, we explore these issues in further detail.

Dylan Taylor is President & COO of Colliers International. He leads more than 16,300 professionals in 502 offices in 67 countries. In 2011, Dylan was named one of the top Young Global Leaders in the World by World Economic Forum. Connect with Dylan on LinkedIn.