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A Survey of 19 Countries Shows How

Generations X, Y, and Z Are — and Aren’t —


Different
 Henrik Bresman
 Vinika D. Rao
August 25, 2017

In the near future, three of the most studied generations will converge on the workplace at
the same time: Generation X, the age cohort born before the 1980s but after the Baby
Boomers; Generation Y, or Millennials, typically thought of as those born between 1984 and
1996; and Generation Z, those born after 1997, who are next to enter the workforce.

In a survey of 18,000 professionals and students across these three generations from 19
countries, we found some important differences in their aspirations and values. We hope that
results from this survey, conducted by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, Universum,
and the HEAD Foundation, will be useful to companies seeking to retain, develop, and attract
employees from these talent pools. However, it’s important to note that our findings are a
snapshot of where these employees are at this moment in time; employees’ needs and
expectations often evolve over the course of their careers, and we hope future surveys will
update these findings.

Leadership Ambitions
We found that across the globe, becoming a leader was important to 61% of Gen Y, 61% of
Gen Z, and 57% of Gen X respondents. But responses varied by country: For example, in the
Nordic countries respondents were significantly less likely to covet leadership roles than
those in Mexico. Among Gen Y respondents, 76% of Mexicans said attaining a leadership role
is important, but only 47% of Norwegians said the same. 77% of American Gen Y
professionals said that gaining a leadership position was important to them.

Organizations should keep these preferences in mind. Those in markets lacking enthusiasm
for leadership, including Denmark, Sweden, and France, across which only 56% of Gen Y
professionals said becoming a leader was important to them, will find their talent pipelines
harder to fill; those in countries like Mexico, the U.S., and India will have to find ways to
manage expectations and provide leadership experience or other motivation for ambitious
workers.

In general, Gen Y and Gen X professionals are more enthusiastic about the coaching and
mentoring that comes with management jobs than the higher responsibility. However, Gen Z
cites higher levels of responsibility and more freedom as attractive attributes of leadership.
Geographically, Gen X respondents in Spain put coaching and mentoring others as what is
most attractive about leadership, but this was a lower priority for respondents from
Germany, Norway, Denmark, Britain, and the U.S., who all put challenging tasks as the most
attractive aspect.

Men and women’s leadership preferences also differed across generational cohorts. For Gen
X, 63% of men and 52% of women said becoming a leader was important to them. Among
Gen Y and Gen Z professionals, it was 63% of male respondents and 61% of women. (Other
research has similarly found that younger women are as ambitious as their male peers but
that companies may be draining female employees ambitions.) Our survey respondents
gave varying reasons. In general, Gen X women are more likely to enjoy the challenging work
involved in leadership, as well as getting to coach and mentor others. Gen Y women also put
opportunities to coach others ahead of other activities, while Gen Z women felt that high
levels of responsibility was the most attractive thing about leadership. Men across all
generations were more interested in future earnings and high levels of responsibility.

When we asked about barriers to leadership, high levels of stress in particular put off Gen Z
respondents in countries such as Japan, France, and the U.K. This was the same among Gen Y
professionals, with respondents from the U.S., Switzerland, and Finland standing out in terms
of citing this concern. Gen Xers in all these countries concurred; German, Swiss, and Emirati
Gen X respondents were most worried about achieving work-life balance.

We also found that women, across both geographies and generations, were more likely to be
put off by stress, more likely to feel they lack the confidence to lead, and more likely to fear
failing than their male colleagues. But women also worried about different things in different
countries. In China Millennial women were most concerned about being unable to find the
developmental opportunities they need to progress, while Chinese Gen X women worried
more about not being able to enjoy their retirement. Both generations feared not finding an
alignment between their personalities and the jobs available. In the U.S. female Millennials
worried most about not being able to realize their career goals. In Sweden female Millennials
were most concerned about being overworked.

It will be crucial for companies to understand the different concerns holding women back in
their global workforces. Most multinational companies have globally or regionally defined
inclusion initiatives, rather than ones customized to a national level. But what women want
in China differs greatly from what those in India want. Leadership development initiatives
may have to be tailored by country to address these differences.

Entrepreneurial Ambitions

We found a strong interest in entrepreneurship across all three generations. Our results
show that one in four students (Gen Z) is interested in starting their own business. And
among those already in the workforce (Gen Y and Gen X professionals), one in three yearned
to be entrepreneurs. Gen Y professionals in Mexico (57%) and the UAE (56%) were the most
interested in starting their own businesses.

When asked whether they would want to work for an international company or start their
own business, respondents in Gen Z favored working for an international company, while
Gen Y and Gen X professionals preferred starting their own business. Only 27% of Gen Y
professionals in Mexico reported wanting a career at an international company. In India 43%
of Gen X wanted to start their own businesses and 25% to work for an international
company.

To keep those interested in entrepreneurship close to the firm, leaders might want to
consider “intrapraneurship,” giving employees the ability to work on startup projects within
the firm.

Relying on Technology

When we asked which technologies are likely to revolutionize work in the coming decade, we
learned that Gen Z was most enthusiastic about the potential of virtual reality (VR). This was
stronger in certain countries such as Mexico and Singapore and weaker in countries such
as India. Gen Y professionals also saw VR as the technology most likely to revolutionize their
work in the coming decade, putting it ahead of wearable technology, project management,
and audio/video conferencing. Companies may want to consider virtual reality as a tool for
recruiting these cohorts.

Gen X, on the other hand, believed virtual reality technologies would have a low impact on
their work. They had the most enthusiasm for project management tools, with certain
countries, such as Germany, Japan, and Russia, also expressing excitement about cloud
computing and e-learning tools.

We also asked whether respondents saw technology as helpful to or hindering their work
lives. More older professionals considered technology a hindrance in Britain, Sweden, and
Norway. Technology was most viewed as helpful by Gen Xers in Denmark, Sweden, and
Mexico. Among Gen Y, respondents in Mexico, Sweden, and Germany perceived technology
most favorably. And Gen Z students in Germany, Japan, and Mexico also saw technology as
useful, while those in China, the U.S., and Canada were more likely to view technology as a
hindrance to their work.

While these cohorts want very different things from technology, both young and older
workers agree that their organizations’ digital capabilities are not up to scratch. Over 70% of
Gen Y and Gen X professionals thought their employers’ digital capabilities are important, but
only around 40% of both generations said their companies’ digital capabilities are high.

Finally, more than 70% of respondents across all generations said flexible working
arrangements represent an important opportunity for their work lives in the next 10 years.
The Swiss across all generations put flexibility as a top opportunity. So did Singaporeans in
Gen Y and X (Gen Z Singaporeans put flexible working locations first). Chinese and Japanese
respondents were excited about the international job opportunities and working with clients
and colleagues in other countries.

Training

Respondents differed in their preferences for work training. When asked if they would take
an online course if offered one by their employer, 70% of Gen Z respondents said yes, while
77% of Gen Y and 78% of Gen X professionals said they would take it.

Given the choice between an online course and an in-person one, 69% of Gen Z chose an in-
person program, compared with only 13% choosing an online one. It was the Gen Xers who
gravitated most toward online training, with 25% of respondents choosing this option. But
21% of Gen Y professionals also said they preferred online training over in-person teaching.

Fitting In

All generations were concerned about whether their personalities fit with where they work
(50% of both Gen Y and Z respondents and 40% of Gen Xers). Japanese Millennials (66%)
and Spanish Millennials (57%) were most concerned about fit; this was observed among
Japanese Gen Zers (60%) and French Gen Zers (64%), too.

Japanese, Danish, and Indian Gen Xers also put fit as an important priority. But what most
bothered Gen X in general was not being able to enjoy retirement, getting stuck with no
opportunities, or losing job security. Not being able to enjoy retirement emerged as a top
concern in the UK, the U.S., and Spain.

In sum, firms and leaders need to understand the different preferences among these
generational cohorts in order to make better decisions about leadership development,
technology, training, and culture-building.