Co-Existence of Generations X, Y, and Z
In the near future, three of the most studied generations will converge on the workplace at the same time: Generation X, the age cohort born before the 1980s but after the Baby Boomers; Generation Y, or Millennials, typically thought of as those born between 1984 and 1996; and Generation Z, those born after 1997, who are next to enter the workforce.
In a survey of 18,000 professionals and students across these three generations from 19 countries, we found some important differences in their aspirations and values. We hope that results from this survey, conducted by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation, will be useful to companies seeking to retain, develop, and attract employees from these talent pools. However, it’s important to note that our findings are a snapshot of where these employees are at this moment in time; employees’ needs and expectations often evolve over the course of their careers, and we hope future surveys will update these findings.
We found that across the globe, becoming a leader was important to 61% of Gen Y, 61% of Gen Z, and 57% of Gen X respondents. But responses varied by country: For example, in the Nordic countries respondents were significantly less likely to covet leadership roles than those in Mexico. Among Gen Y respondents, 76% of Mexicans said attaining a leadership role is important, but only 47% of Norwegians said the same. 77% of American Gen Y professionals said that gaining a leadership position was important to them.
Organizations should keep these preferences in mind. Those in markets lacking enthusiasm for leadership, including Denmark, Sweden, and France, across which only 56% of Gen Y professionals said becoming a leader was important to them, will find their talent pipelines harder to fill; those in countries like Mexico, the U.S., and India will have to find ways to manage expectations and provide leadership experience or other motivation for ambitious workers.
In general, Gen Y and Gen X professionals are more enthusiastic about the coaching and mentoring that comes with management jobs than the higher responsibility. However, Gen Z cites higher levels of responsibility and more freedom as attractive attributes of leadership. Geographically, Gen X respondents in Spain put coaching and mentoring others as what is most attractive about leadership, but this was a lower priority for respondents from Germany, Norway, Denmark, Britain, and the U.S., who all put challenging tasks as the most attractive aspect.
Men and women’s leadership preferences also differed across generational cohorts. For Gen X, 63% of men and 52% of women said becoming a leader was important to them. Among Gen Y and Gen Z professionals, it was 63% of male respondents and 61% of women. (Other research has similarly found that younger women are as ambitious as their male peers but that companies may be draining female employees ambitions.) Our survey respondents gave varying reasons. In general, Gen X women are more likely to enjoy the challenging work involved in leadership, as well as getting to coach and mentor others. Gen Y women also put opportunities to coach others ahead of other activities, while Gen Z women felt that high levels of responsibility was the most attractive thing about leadership. Men across all generations were more interested in future earnings and high levels of responsibility.
When we asked about barriers to leadership, high levels of stress in particular put off Gen Z respondents in countries such as Japan, France, and the U.K. This was the same among Gen Y professionals, with respondents from the U.S., Switzerland, and Finland standing out in terms of citing this concern. Gen Xers in all these countries concurred; German, Swiss, and Emirati Gen X respondents were most worried about achieving work-life balance.
We also found that women, across both geographies and generations, were more likely to be put off by stress, more likely to feel they lack the confidence to lead, and more likely to fear failing than their male colleagues. But women also worried about different things in different countries. In China Millennial women were most concerned about being unable to find the developmental opportunities they need to progress, while Chinese Gen X women worried more about not being able to enjoy their retirement. Both generations feared not finding an alignment between their personalities and the jobs available. In the U.S. female Millennials worried most about not being able to realize their career goals. In Sweden female Millennials were most concerned about being overworked.
It will be crucial for companies to understand the different concerns holding women back in their global workforces. Most multinational companies have globally or regionally defined inclusion initiatives, rather than ones customized to a national level. But what women want in China differs greatly from what those in India want. Leadership development initiatives may have to be tailored by country to address these differences.
We found a strong interest in entrepreneurship across all three generations. Our results show that one in four students (Gen Z) is interested in starting their own business. And among those already in the workforce (Gen Y and Gen X professionals), one in three yearned to be entrepreneurs. Gen Y professionals in Mexico (57%) and the UAE (56%) were the most interested in starting their own businesses.
When asked whether they would want to work for an international company or start their own business, respondents in Gen Z favored working for an international company, while Gen Y and Gen X professionals preferred starting their own business. Only 27% of Gen Y professionals in Mexico reported wanting a career at an international company. In India 43% of Gen X wanted to start their own businesses and 25% to work for an international company.
To keep those interested in entrepreneurship close to the firm, leaders might want to consider “intrapraneurship,” giving employees the ability to work on startup projects within the firm.
Relying on Technology
When we asked which technologies are likely to revolutionize work in the coming decade, we learned that Gen Z was most enthusiastic about the potential of virtual reality (VR). This was stronger in certain countries such as Mexico and Singapore and weaker in countries such as India. Gen Y professionals also saw VR as the technology most likely to revolutionize their work in the coming decade, putting it ahead of wearable technology, project management, and audio/video conferencing. Companies may want to consider virtual reality as a tool for recruiting these cohorts.
Gen X, on the other hand, believed virtual reality technologies would have a low impact on their work. They had the most enthusiasm for project management tools, with certain countries, such as Germany, Japan, and Russia, also expressing excitement about cloud computing and e-learning tools.
We also asked whether respondents saw technology as helpful to or hindering their work lives. More older professionals considered technology a hindrance in Britain, Sweden, and Norway. Technology was most viewed as helpful by Gen Xers in Denmark, Sweden, and Mexico. Among Gen Y, respondents in Mexico, Sweden, and Germany perceived technology most favorably. And Gen Z students in Germany, Japan, and Mexico also saw technology as useful, while those in China, the U.S., and Canada were more likely to view technology as a hindrance to their work.
While these cohorts want very different things from technology, both young and older workers agree that their organizations’ digital capabilities are not up to scratch. Over 70% of Gen Y and Gen X professionals thought their employers’ digital capabilities are important, but only around 40% of both generations said their companies’ digital capabilities are high.
Finally, more than 70% of respondents across all generations said flexible working arrangements represent an important opportunity for their work lives in the next 10 years. The Swiss across all generations put flexibility as a top opportunity. So did Singaporeans in Gen Y and X (Gen Z Singaporeans put flexible working locations first). Chinese and Japanese respondents were excited about the international job opportunities and working with clients and colleagues in other countries.
Respondents differed in their preferences for work training. When asked if they would take an online course if offered one by their employer, 70% of Gen Z respondents said yes, while 77% of Gen Y and 78% of Gen X professionals said they would take it.
Given the choice between an online course and an in-person one, 69% of Gen Z chose an in-person program, compared with only 13% choosing an online one. It was the Gen Xers who gravitated most toward online training, with 25% of respondents choosing this option. But 21% of Gen Y professionals also said they preferred online training over in-person teaching.
All generations were concerned about whether their personalities fit with where they work (50% of both Gen Y and Z respondents and 40% of Gen Xers). Japanese Millennials (66%) and Spanish Millennials (57%) were most concerned about fit; this was observed among Japanese Gen Zers (60%) and French Gen Zers (64%), too.
Japanese, Danish, and Indian Gen Xers also put fit as an important priority. But what most bothered Gen X in general was not being able to enjoy retirement, getting stuck with no opportunities, or losing job security. Not being able to enjoy retirement emerged as a top concern in the UK, the U.S., and Spain.
In sum, firms and leaders need to understand the different preferences among these generational cohorts in order to make better decisions about leadership development, technology, training, and culture-building.
By Henrik Bresman and Vinika D. Rao
AUGUST 25, 2017