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 reshaping cultural attitudes in selected countries.
I have a reputation among my friends and family for being a bit of a free spirit. I always enjoy learning new skills and pushing boundaries (much to the chagrin of my parents), actively pursue jobs and opportunities abroad, and regularly wait until the final call to board my flight (much to the chagrin of my travel companions). All of this is to say, I generally have a pretty high tolerance for risk.
This characteristic is reinforced by my cultural background and upbringing in the US, where change and social change is often viewed as a necessary and positive vehicle for progress. If we frame this within the Change Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model®, people in the US generally have a very High Tolerance for Change, as opposed to the Aversion to Change found in many cultures. In fact, the many Millennials around the world – an increasingly diverse and globally conscious generation – are less averse to change than their predecessors.
I recently read an article in El País, a popular Spanish news publication, entitled “Almost nine in 10 Spanish Millennials would go abroad for a job.” My first thought as a young, bold (and occasionally reckless) global traveler was, “Cool! Me, too!” My next, slightly more insightful and cross-culturally aware thought was, “I wonder whether American and Spanish Millennials have a similar Change Tolerance?”
Further research revealed to me that it is not so much a shared cultural acceptance of change that link these countries, but a shared spike in youth unemployment. For many years, the unemployment rate for US Millennials has been significantly higher than the national rate. Spain has struggled with a similar problem, though with more extreme implications: In 2009 the Spanish property bubble burst, creating a crash in property value and resulting in an extremely high unemployment rate. The country has been recovering well for several years, but overall unemployment still lingers at about 14%. As if this isn’t challenging enough, the unemployment rate is much higher for Spanish Millennials without an established career, at over 32%.
As it turns out, Spanish Millennials’ willingness to move abroad for work doesn’t necessarily represent a higher Change Tolerance. In fact, this decision likely reflects a lower cultural tolerance for staying in a country where it is extremely difficult to find work (let alone a full-time position with a sustainable wage). Instead of accruing large amounts of debt or continuing to live at home – as is the case for a lot of Spaniards in their twenties and even early thirties – many Spanish Millennials are redefining what it means to make sensible life and career choices in the face of an unreliable labor market.
Because this economic instability has had a harsh impact on their professional opportunities, Spanish Millennials (unlike American ones) may actually be less willing to accept change or risk in the workplace. This could mean they may be hesitant to take initiative, seek greater responsibility, or accept adjustments to established ways of making decisions, particularly in unfamiliar, multicultural environments.
So as a manager, it may be particularly important to build relationships and establish a strong sense of mutual trust with Spanish Millennial employees. Do your best to establish effective methods of intercultural communication and learn how you can offer the context, data, and/or support necessary to ensure they feel valued.
Finally, consider how their preferences may require you to adapt to the behaviors and tendencies of a range of work styles. These strategies can help young employees feel confident in their positions, increase motivation and productivity, and generate a sense of stability that is otherwise difficult for Spanish Millennials to secure in their professional lives.