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.
We Americans have a certain reputation (I am told) for being quite abrupt. We tend to speak frankly and aim for maximum efficiency, sometimes at the expense of building meaningful relationships with new colleagues or associates within or across cultures. If we consider this in terms of the Relationship Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model®, Americans are Transactional in their approach to workplace relationships. This means they often focus more on the purpose a relationship serves than on the value of developing personal connections.
Enter the American Millennial.
I should acknowledge that American Millennials have a certain reputation (I am told) for being more selfish and superficial than our predecessors. We take selfies, spend money recklessly, and don’t take our jobs very seriously. And yet, it appears that we Millennials actually feel a deeper sense of commitment to our work—but take a more Interpersonal approach to relationships.
To grasp this more fully, first we need to examine the formative events and underlying values that shape different generational perspectives. Baby Boomers, the parents of Millennials, experienced major U.S. social shifts. The Civil Rights and subsequent Black Power movements, feminist marches, and anti-war protests sparked an unprecedented dialogue and debate about social justice. Quite suddenly, for Boomers and those that followed (Generation X, Millennials), it became more acceptable to acknowledge cultural liberalism and discuss issues surrounding social equity.
One important by-product of these social movements, aside from making Generation X and Millennials more socially liberal, was the spike in the national divorce rate, most notably in the 1970s. Approximately half of American Millennials grew up with divorced parents, probably in large part because social change helped destigmatize divorce. This undoubtedly influences the ways in which Millennials view commitment and approach relationships.
Today, the stereotype surrounding Millennial romances is that we fumble from one dating app to the next, cycle through a string of casual flings, and get married later in life, if at all. Instead, it seems that Millennials are quite driven to make their relationships work—but do so on their own terms. That is, they generally do not feel the same social pressure as Boomers or Generation X to earn a stable income, get married, and have children (in that order). Rather, they tend to embrace diverse identities and accept unconventional dynamics, such as long-distance relationships.
But this post is not about liberalism or romantic partnerships. It is about relationships and the cross-cultural preferences and tendencies of a major demographic in the global workforce.
So consider this: My description of how we American Millennials tend to commit to romantic relationships parallels the way we commit to our jobs. Millennials generally appreciate diverse identities and experiences, and they often choose—or remain loyal to—their work based on their values.
Millennials’ search for a personal connection to their work means they are more likely than previous generations to seek Interpersonal relationships with colleagues and managers. For example, Millennials may expect their bosses to take an interest in their personal goals or major life events—they tend to prefer close relationships with their supervisors and bosses, perhaps as a result of the more open relationships with their parents. This means that Millennials often respond strongly to positive feedback from the older generation, and they generally take direction well when they feel supported by their supervisors.
With that in mind, Millennials’ managers may be most successful if they are willing to engage in regular conversation with Millennial employees or even schedule time for teams to socialize. Managers can organize group meals, join a recreational sports league, or invite people to attend social events after work, such as concerts or movies.
Although it may seem contrary to the Transactional Relationship approach that many Americans take, these activities could go a long way in building the mutual trust and respect that helps maximize engagement and productivity on multicultural teams.