The Future of International Working – Generation Y

Matthew MacLachlan

17 Jun 2013

Baby boomers, Generation X, the Millennial Generation – these are all terms used to describe specific generations within society. Baby boomers were born during the post-World War II baby boom. The term Gen X describes the generation following this baby boom, so people born between the 1960s and the 1980s. The next generation is Gen Y, or the Millennial Generation, used to describe the generation born between the 1980s and 2000s. But why are these names important? Why do we need to differentiate between Gen X and Gen Y? And how do generational differences impact on international working?

Like every generation but perhaps even more so, Millennials differ from their parents. They were born in a completely new globalised world and think nothing of having contacts in all four corners of the world or travelling across the globe for leisure, educational or professional opportunities. They are also completely comfortable with technology and use it at a much higher rate than their parents – and in the workplace more fluently than their seniors. Finally, many of the Millennial generation have come to the workplace during a time of economic recession and have different attitudes to work and the job market as a result.

These factors have all influenced Millenials’ values and attitudes towards what they find important in life. And this directly relates to the way they want to work and what they want to get out of work. Here are just a few examples

  • ‘Generation me’ – the sky is the limit, I can do whatever I want to
  • The internet and social media are an integral part of any role
  • I want to give meaning to life
  • Professional development is just as, if not more, important than money
  • I need flexibility and balance at work

So what is the implication for international working? Having grown up with globalisation, working internationally is something Generation Y takes for granted and expects as part of their career. This means that organisations need to think differently when trying attract and retain Millennial talent. This generation want opportunities where they can make a difference and add value through their work and if they have the right skills and expertise they don’t necessarily expect to wait for these opportunities. Gen Y also likes to be consulted and see their opinions taken on board. Global organisations should try to ensure that they offer this generation early opportunities to work across borders or go on an international assignment as this will play to their strengths and can give them the variety and the challenge they require. They are more comfortable with change and ambiguity and can use technologies effectively to work across borders and time zones. And these new opportunities to use their strengths and develop new skills can often be more important than higher salaries or large bonuses.

The Millennial generation is often criticised for being overly ambitious or demanding but HR, Talent Management and Learning and Development teams need to adapt their existing programmes to offer a more tailored approach to the needs and strengths of this generation. This will enable the organisation to harness their enthusiasm and keep them longer in the organisation to become its leaders of the future.



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