Understanding Y: Global Millennials

As many of UYD readers know, there is no lack of information (or stereotypes) on millennials and their impact in the work place or our communities. Many of the top global consulting firms have conducted robust, worldwide studies on this generation. Yet their findings provide little to no insight on the nuances of each region or cultural group. Why do gen-y in Asia value a strong benefits package, while their millennial counterparts in Latin America are more interested in cross-functional opportunities? It is not really possible that all of gen-y are the same around the world, simply because the world is now a global marketplace where we use smart phones and have social media? It turns out that not only are generational stereotypes widely publicized, but the majority of the insights out there are mainly based on U.S. millennials, or at the very least, shared through the company’s U.S. cultural lens.

UYD is out to create a platform that highlights global millennials and their perspective on culture, leadership, and impact. This month UYD teams up with European millennials to provide insights on the gen-y experience in Europe, their cultural and social drivers, and how their unique experiences have shaped what matters most to them both personally and professionally.

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  1. The Basics

What we call the youngest generation, born in or after 1981, varies depending on whom you ask. The term ‘Generation Y’ is widely used internationally, while ‘Millennials’ is a more popular term in the United States. To add another layer of complexity, in other countries the youngest generation is called something completely different. In China, Gen-Y is referred to as the ‘Post 80’s Generation’—a reference to those born after the implementation of the One-Child Policy. Many European countries refer to Gen-Y as the ‘Lost Generation’, reflecting the current economic challenges the young are facing in the region. In South Africa, Gen-Y are called the ‘Born-Free Generation’, as the first generation with no memory of apartheid.

Statistically, generation-y accounts for 1.7 billion people, representing 25.5 percent of the world’s population. Millennials, who are already emerging as leaders in technology and other industries, will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. According to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth, unemployment increased by as much as 25 percent in the developed economies and European Union. In 2009, for example, the global youth unemployment rate rose from 11.8 to 12.7 percent, the largest one-year increase on record.

  1. Cultural Drivers

It is important to talk about global millennials in their own context because each region has specific influences and experiences that serve as the cultural context for how an individual in that culture forms their view of the world. Technology, education, family, language, or government are only a few examples of the many cultural divers that shape a culture’s core values and motivations. Each of these influences impact how we prioritize our values, and then demonstrate them with others.

For example, the fall of communism not only liberated much of Eastern Europe, but it also changed the face of Europe as a whole. The youngest generation knows a continent without borders. As a result, gen-y from all over Europe now live and work outside of their passport country, migrating from home to other areas in Europe (or abroad) in search of economic opportunities. Although exciting, these changes are not without their challenges.

“It’s one thing to move from a small town to the city, and maybe rent with some of your closest friends. It’s another thing all together to move to a completely different country, learn a new language, and figure out how to be successful in that environment” shared one Romanian millennial currently living in London.

The youngest generation in Europe has learned to stay flexible, open-minded and be willing to move. In addition to learning to adapt to a new culture, building new relationships, or learning a new language—Central and Eastern European millennials are often faced with more complex challenges such as discrimination, recognition of their credentials, or limited professional networks. This is also the case now for gen-y migrating from Spain and France for example, to more economically stable European countries such as Germany or Sweden.

  1. The Gen-Y Experience in Europe

Recent social and economic challenges present a completely different set of hurdles for the youngest generation in Europe. Across the EU unemployment stands at over 20%, while in Spain and Greece around half the young workforce is jobless. According to the Economist magazine, “in the early 2000s the median income of Europeans between 16 and 24 was growing faster than that of other generations.” Today’s European millennials face joblessness or underemployment even when they are more educated and better traveled than all the generations that came before them.

Over Educated & Under Utilized

Similar to their peers around the world, European millennials followed their parent’s advice and got a higher education, often going directly into graduate school as a way to become more competitive. Yet many still live with their parents (or in shared apartments) and often delay marriage, having children, or purchasing big ticket items like homes and cars due to joblessness or underemployment.

UYD connected with Susan Salzbrenner, German millennial and founder of Fit Across Cultures to get her perspective on the key trends and challenges European millennials are currently facing and the possible impact each have in the workplace and community. A growing trend for European millennials is contract work or temporary positions. These limited time work arrangement often forces a gen-y employee to focus on ways to please their boss in hopes for an extension of their employment, instead of sharing fresh and innovative ideas or perspectives in fear of losing an opportunity. They have learned to prioritize job security, at the cost of verbalizing their own ideas or collaborating with others. “Obviously this doesn’t help your career development because you’re constantly thinking short term, trying to [remain employed],” Susan says. While some are struggling to stay employed, others are creating their own opportunities by teaming up with fellow members of gen-y to start businesses or social innovations. European millennials may not always voice their opinions at work, but many are very vocal about what is happening in their communities.

Dividing But Also Conquering

The current refugee crisis and migration wave in Europe really divides the millennial generation. It is also a great example of gen-y’s impact on their community. Many are very vocal about their perspective, both for and against the influx of refugees, as compared to their parents or grandparents. They are also utilizing their skills and education to make an impact. For example, a group of millennials based in Berlin created Flüchtlinge Willkommen, or “Refugees Welcome”, a platform that matches refugees with individuals that are willing to host them in Germany and Austria. Others are connecting with their local non-profit or non-governmental organization to volunteer and support their cause. Regardless of their position, both sides of the crisis demonstrate a growing value for political discourse in Europe.

As you can probably imagine, the millennial experience will vary greatly across a continent with over 50 countries, each with their unique culture and history. Yet many of the ideas and trends covered in this article have greatly influenced what it takes for European millennials to survive and thrive in their workplace, families and communities. Learning a little bit more about the influences and experiences of European millennials can help each of us gain some insight as to what shapes their values and ultimately why they behave the way they do in the world. Our job at UYD media is to get you curious enough to start asking questions and engage in passionate discourse to help each of us use our difference.  

About The Author

OanaOana is an innovative and experienced intercultural trainer and organizational consultant with a specialization in workforce development with over 7 years of international development experience in countries such as Ghana, India, Mexico, Romania, and China.

She works with global leaders to offer cross-cultural training solution to help organization develop global acumen and embed cultural competence into their organization. Oana is an expert in leveraging technology and social media to achieve blended learning outcomes that go beyond a single classroom experience. Her research on global millennials, “Are All Gen-Y Cut From the Same Cloth: Understanding and Engaging Millennials, Globally” was recently featured by Diversity Best Practices, MRA, and MultiLingual Magazine.

Having spent her early years growing up in Romania, Oana’s own experience on the difficulty of emigrating to the United States in the late 1980’s fueled her desire to create a strong community that enables individuals to succeed across cultures. Oana is also a Millennial.

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