Human Resources

Do Asia-Pacific millennials conform to the stereotype?

Millennials represent the nascent future of the workplace, or according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the not-so-nascent future: As of 2015, millennials have become the majority generation within the US workforce. But that new demographic is rising at a global scale, a fact that a lot of think pieces seem to forget.

The first major worldwide study on millennials is provided by the market researching firm Universum, and tackles the goals, values, and fears of the new workplace generation like never before. Its impressive mid-2014 poll draws on data taken from over 16,000 16-to-30-year-olds from 43 countries.

Blanket stereotypes aren’t always wrong, but they certainly don’t compare to the solid data on a specific area. Let’s examine a series of clichés, weighing each against the facts surrounding the largest area Universum polled: the 11 countries that comprise the Asia-Pacific region.

Are millennials lazy?

The place of difficult, challenging work in a millennial’s value system has been a subject of controversy: Tap “are millennials” into Google, and this section heading is the first autocomplete suggestion. Meanwhile, an Asia-Pacific stereotype contends that workers are drones who look just far enough ahead to see the grindstone that they keep their noses to.

Universum’s study took on the stereotype portraying millennials as, to put it nicely, “challenge-avoidant.” Results, interestingly, were mixed.

The Asia-Pacific region was distinct for the fewest responses of disagreement with the statement “I am up for the challenge of being a leader, including extra stress and work time.” At 9% disagreement, APAC millennials beat out every other region: they want to work hard.

But the definition of “challenging work” proved to be essential. Only 10% of millennials polled defined it as a constant, heavy workload, and the most popular concepts overall were consistent learning and innovative work, which both garnered 39% of respondents’ agreement.

The cliché of a lazy generation stems from different generational opinions of hard work; one business owner interviewed in 2010 cited millennials’ lack of effort, equating a “hunger” for success with putting in the “required hours”.

In short, while APAC millennials are eager to prove themselves through long hours and difficult tasks, they don’t measure that hard work through reams of paperwork. They aren’t challenge avoidant, but they don’t like meaningless challenges.

Can millennials be future leaders?

The values an Asia-Pacific millennial considers most attractive in a managerial or leadership role are more tightly grouped than any other region polled. In other words, an APAC respondent is likely to cite each of the 13 answers as attractive traits. Some rank higher than others, but they’re all pretty popular.

In general, APAC respondents agreed on the prioritization of the traits, which ranged from the higher ranking “high future earnings” and “opportunities to influence the organization” traits to the lower valued “high status” and “staff responsibilities.”

“For our job, it is very important to become a manager or a leader,” stated Dongil Yun, a 24-year-old Korean man interviewed for this article, “because becoming a manager is the only way to fulfill my income, my teammates’ dream, and everyone else’s.”

Yun went on to highlight the positive influence on his teammates should he gain a managerial position. His response exemplifies the motivations found in earlier studies like a 2012 paper from the International Journal of Human Resource Studies, which cited millennials’ “team-oriented mindset” as a factor that led to an “inclusive management style”.

There’s a strong consensus across the Asia-Pacific region: millennials want to gain positions of leadership within their organization or company. The only notable outlier here is Japan, where 20% of respondents hold that becoming a leader or manager during their career is “not important at all”.

Are millennials optimistic about the future?

One data point brought to light through the Universum study: APAC respondents strongly believe in the ability of government to influence society over that of the private sector, NGOs, or individuals. The agreement rate, 54%, was boosted by China’s 64% agreement and Singapore’s 57% agreement, and stands in stark contrast to every other region, particularly North America’s dismal sub-20% belief in government-led change.

A regional average of 43% of Asia-Pacific respondents also anticipate a higher standard of living over their lifetimes than their parents, and very few expect to work beyond the age of 65, with Australia as an exception. Interestingly, this optimism in individual futures doesn’t translate into a support of social good, as APAC millennials place a low priority in working for the betterment of society.

What do millennials fear?

A “fear of missing out” is the common stereotype of the generation in question, but it’s a simplification. The Asia-Pacific millennial, it turns out, is remarkably close to the worldwide average on the question of what millennials worry about most in the workplace.

Across the globe, millennials have three main concerns: “That I will get stuck with no development opportunities,” “that I won’t get a job that matches my personality,” and “that I won’t be valuable to the organization.” There were a few third-party responses in other regions, but the APAC region hit all three, proving millennials fear fitting in at their workplace.

Can millennials make their own decisions?

One stereotype holds that millennials fear their own agency, and look to friends and family for guidance. The global data doesn’t support this, but the Asia-Pacific-centered data actually might. The parents of APAC are more involved in their lives than parents in other regions: 66% of respondents acknowledged some level of parental involvement in their career decisions.

The trend of involving others continues with millennials’ friends: while the response “not much” to the question of friends’ opinions influencing career decisions never slipped below 55% for all other regions’ respondents, it received just 30% of the Asia-Pacific vote. Admittedly, this number was bolstered by India, China, and Hong Kong, countries that answered “a lot” to the respective percentages of 43, 28, and 21.

Yu Murakami, a 23-year-old Japanese woman, figures her familial influence constitutes 20% of her career decisions, adding, “My family or friends just give me advice for my career. So I could decide everything by myself after all”.

Yun’s influence, though, seems to fall farther up the sliding scale of family advice. “I started my job due to my father’s desire and wish,” he states. “This job was hard for me at first, but I didn’t give up, and now I’m enjoying my job.”

In addition, when defining what a balanced life meant to them, APAC respondents emphasized time spent with family far above other priorities, and this gap between priorities is unique among the other regions polled. This data may reflect a cultural appreciation for community, but the verdict is clear regardless: APAC millennials rely on friends and family more than the millennials of other regions, and therefore conform to this stereotype.

What does all this mean?

Asia-Pacific millennials can buck the stereotypes and they can fall in line with them. They can align with the habits of other millennials across the world and they can defy them, too. What’s more, country-level differences within the region impact the averages.

The main conclusion to be drawn from Universum’s study is that no single conclusion can be drawn. Only robust region-level research will help an employer push past stereotypes. Don’t trust opinions; trust statistics.


Adam Rowe is a freelance science and technology writer. He splits his freelance research time between finding bizarre science facts and bizarre science fiction, documenting it all @AdamRRowe.


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Adam Rowe

Adam Rowe is a freelance science and technology writer. He splits his freelance research time between finding bizarre science facts and bizarre science fiction, documenting it all @AdamRRowe.

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