Millennials comprise a very large percent of today’s global workforce, across many countries and many different cultures. Regardless of an area’s traditional culture, its Millennials typically have very different tendencies and expectations than older generations. This post is part of a series intended to help global business leaders raise their awareness of continuous shifts in cross-cultural diversity by exploring how Millennials are re-shaping cultural attitudes in selected countries.
China is home to an estimated 400 million Millennials—nearly 30% of the country’s population. About 90% of China’s Millennials own a smartphone, and many are well-traveled or have studied abroad. But what do these facts tell us about Chinese Millennials in the workforce, or how they may affect cultural change?
First, consider the Group Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model®. I come from the USA, a highly Individualistic society where, even from a young age, my decisions and achievements were generally considered independently from any group. I remember when I learned to write in cursive, my teacher established a reward system to encourage students to practice. If you wrote a perfect letter, you received a gold star sticker.
Well, I was determined to get a lotof stickers. The “gold star” system was a really effective source of motivation for me because I come from an Individualistic background. Acknowledgement of my personal accomplishments often makes me feel valued.
But this mode of Individualistic thinking is not universal. In a more Group-oriented society, students would probably feel uncomfortable with such personal praise and attention. Rather, they might feel that an individual prize might cause classmates to lose face or that the teacher is equally responsible for high student performance, which could cause the teacher to lose face.
Strong Group orientation is a very important part of Chinese culture. Family and community needs frequently influence choices about an individual’s education, career, or marriage.
Now, the tricky part: In many ways, the Group orientation of Chinese Millennials continues to play a strong role in their personal or professional preferences and decisions. However, the rapid integration of technology into society has begun to spur some notable change in this Dimension of Chinese culture. The instant gratification of smartphones and the immediate availability of social mobility through apps such as WeChat fosters greater individualism. This means that Chinese Millennials may behave less formally and prefer a more egalitarian work style than older generations.
For instance, you might increase productivity by creating a more open workspace where employees of different levels all work in the same area. A few years ago, such an idea likely would have been rejected immediately—if anyone even brought it up. Yet today, some multinational Chinese companies may not even have assigned desks.
Increased exposure to international and Western ideas also generates more Individualistic values. For example, gay marriage has historically been frowned upon in Chinese society because it challenges traditional ways of carrying on the family name and values. Chinese Millennials, however, are generally more accepting of LGBT+ rights and tend to show more support for social equity of other marginalized groups as well. In the workplace, this openness and self-direction means that Chinese Millennials are typically less concerned with some of the traditional ways of behaving and may share their opinions more readily.
Of course, China’s traditional cultural tendencies are still alive and well, so it is important for non-Chinese business people to be aware of the cross-cultural differences between China and their own cultures. However, it is equally as important to adapt to evolving markets and demographics. As Millennials play an increasingly important role in the global workforce, consider how you may need to adapt your style to meet the needs of your diverse work teams.