New research points to traditional attitudes of German millennials

In its 2018 Top 10 Global Consumer Trends report, Euromonitor paints a familiar picture of Millennial behaviour. Some of the soundbites include the generation born between 1982 and 1999’s tendency for ‘flexible, adaptable and personalised experiences,’ its denial of brand loyalty and an unwillingness to start a family or buy a home until much later in life. It also points towards an intuitive grasp of technology as a factor which makes Millennials natural or ‘adaptive’ entrepreneurs – selling, communicating, networking and crowdfunding their way to success.

Fundamentally, it claims, they ‘reject traditional jobs’ and 9-5 lifestyles and instead seek out roles ‘they can build themselves and align with their personal interests and passions.’ All the while, they enact these plans without a need for a reliable income, downplaying too, any incentives for potential financial gain. From the statistics which accompany the report, the message from Millennials seems very clear ­– 59% expect to be self-employed during their career, with only 11% stating financial security is important.

Is this an accurate portrayal of an entire generation, though? Certainly, some of these findings do match with the attitudes shared by large numbers of Millennials across Europe. But, even on an anecdotal level, we recognise that many of these pronouncements may seem a little overstated or even untrue when overlaid on Millennial friends and colleagues.

These were some of the doubts raised by researchers at global financial services firm, Allianz, when they sought to offer a critical eye to the Millennial debate, peering a little closer at the trend and unearthing some surprising though perhaps more agreeable  insights in their 2018 Top 10 Global Consumer Trends report. Based on interviews with over 5,000 currently employed 18-35-year olds across Germany, the UK, the US, China and India, rather than a generation made up of free spirits who embrace flexibility and freedom, with a desire to create their own ultimately ‘self-employed’ futures, the Millennials in Allianz’s study are more complex. The report, in fact, finds six distinct categories highlighting a broad spectrum of attitudes and desires.

While there are Free Spirits as described above, Allianz also point toward young workers who have restlessly changed employers during their careers, but who do so in the hope they will eventually find a job that satisfies them, and a company that will offer long term security. Termed Seekers, they share a platform with the Attached group who have gone through a similar experience but who now believe they’ve resolved their search and found a degree of contentment at work.

On the other hand, there are Millennials who have defied the stereotypical ‘flighty’ label and instead worked for the same business for several years. These workers are not happy, though, and intend to one day leave their employer for another, better suited career. While some are Tied to their employer through necessity, with no clear plan of escape, others are described as Springers who are confident their existing employment predicament is just a stepping stone to a happier scenario soon. A final category are the Traditionalists, who, like their name suggests, chose a deliberate career path with one employer, with whom they intend to develop and ‘climb the ladder’ over a long period of time.

What the research reveals is that the two largest categories by a significant margin are Traditionalists (35%) followed by Seekers (27%). And across all categories, the overall conclusion is that, first and foremost, Millennials favour the stability and security offered by permanent positions over the flexibility and freedom associated with self-employment. Only 16%, overall, matched the Free Sprit category.  

What’s interesting, too, is that these attitudes are more distinct in Germany than elsewhere, with the results further punctuated by idiosyncrasies which set German Millennials apart from their (more stereotypical) 18 to 35-year-old European and US peers. The research should give German based businesses food for thought when developing strategies which seek to introduce Millennial talent into the workforce. But before we consider the German specifics of Allianz’s findings, let’s first look at some of the broad conclusions reported about this emerging generation. 

According to Allianz, there are two billion Millennials (119 million in Europe) in the world today and by 2020 one third of the global workforce will consist of those born after 1982. Furthermore, despite the perception that those within the 18-35 age bracket are largely worried about their future, the report confirms that when it comes to careers, most are optimistic about their prospects. Generally, too, they envisage a better future for themselves, with over 80% expecting their lives to improve, despite an overwhelming acceptance that they will work far longer than previous generations.

While the Allianz report reveals a yearning for stability and security at work, is does undoubtedly confirm a restlessness amongst Millennials who seem happy to move around in their search for ‘the right thing’ even if that right thing is another permanent job. Over 40% indicated that their current employment situation wasn’t ideal. It seems that what Millennials demand from a state of permanence in their employment is a sense of purpose associated with acquiring (80%) and using skills (82%), doing work which is linked to socially responsible activities, as well as enough time outside of work to do other things (82%).

Even so, and again in contrast to the widely accepted view of Millennials’ attitudes to work, there is a consistent desire across different countries for a job which offers opportunities for advancement (74%) and is challenging (66%), as well as for gaining high status at work and an income which matches it (69%). These factors increase again, of course, when associated with respondents who match the Traditionalist category. When it comes to excelling through doing occasional overtime, though, the willingness is comparatively low (61%) and fits with the fact that only 57% of Millennials in the study consider work a central part of their life. 

Although seemingly shunning the Free Sprit ethos of self-employment, Millennials in the Allianz study are mainly supportive of remote working (64%) saying it allows for greater flexibility in their working lives. Furthermore, while usually considered a collaborative and social bunch, when it comes to working in an open plan office – which are favoured by most modern organisations today – only 48% believe those environments are good for communication, while 52% state the open plan model is bad for concentration. And though Millennials are prone to travelling the world, moving abroad to boost their careers only appealed to half of respondents.  

Finally, when asked about how the world of work will change and evolve, there was a high level of agreement from respondents that the pressure to perform at work would increase (70%), and that roles would become more demanding (71%). Machines and computers too, Millennials expect, would play a greater role in working life (73%). Where Millennials were more sceptical about the future was with regards to flexibility and pay. Only 57% believe the hours of work will become more flexible, while as few as 48% see overall remuneration and earning power improving.

So, what about German Millennials then? As indicated earlier, across several factors, 18-35-year-old Germans showed differing and, in some cases, more extreme variations of the trends unearthed by Allianz. For a start, the current workforce in Germany consists of a slightly greater percentage of Millennials (39%) compared to in the UK (37%) and the USA (38%). What’s striking though is that, bar China (45%), a larger portion of German Millennials (34%) were following a Traditionalist career path than elsewhere, with 65% overall stating a stable and secure job was paramount.

Progression too is important for 72% of German Millennials, more so than their peers in the UK (69%). They also tend to seek out challenging work – across all categories – ahead of their UK and US counterparts, with 84% of those in Traditionalists careers favouring stimulating roles compared to 75% in the US and 70% in the UK. Similarly, when it comes to status, having a role which represents high standing within an organisation is imperative to considerably more German Traditionalists (85%) than it is to those in the UK (69%).    

Furthermore, when it comes to finding meaning at work, across each of the three measures – acquiring new skills, using skills and having time to enjoy life outside of work – on average, German Millennials showed a greater desire for these factors than their peers across other countries. Yet, if these are the things Germans crave, they also demonstrate better awareness through their expectations that work will become more demanding (77%) and that there’ll be more pressure to perform (72%), compared to Millennials in the UK (62%, 64%). 

A somewhat contrasting message to these figures, though, and one which may prove challenging for businesses trying to capitalise on Millennial talent, is that across each of the countries, Germans appeared to have the lowest work ethic. In the report, this is measured through willingness to do overtime if it means excelling in your role. Only 56% of Germans overall stated they would, below the average of 61%, with the data for Traditionalists clearly indicating a break from attitudes of working Millennials elsewhere – while 70% of UK traditionalists and 76% of those in the US consider overtime a prerequisite to doing your best, the number falls to 64% in Germany. Perhaps linked to this is expectations concerning pay. Whereas 40% of UK and over 50% of US Millennials expect earnings to go up over the next ten years, Germans have little confidence in their future earning power, with only 24% of respondents believing wages will rise.  

Other glaring differences between German Millennials and their Western peers emerge when analysing data concerning the work environment. While the jury tends to be out on whether open plan offices are good for productivity and communication, Germans seem adamant that the open plan model is a bad idea. Only 24% support it compared to 48% in the UK and USA. German 18-35-year olds are also more sceptical about remote working, generally seeing it as leading to increased working hours (54%) rather than providing flexibility (46%). In the UK (62%) and the USA (74%), on the other hand, the association of remote work and flexibility is strong. Millennials in Germany are also the least likely to consider moving abroad for work (30% vs. UK 49%; US 51%).

The Allianz report’s main take-away message for businesses is to avoid automatically assuming all Millennials are the same, especially playing-down perceptions that they’re a generation of Free Sprits uninterested in stability, structure, security and status, and instead focusing on exploring needs on an individual basis. While Millennials do change jobs more frequently, their needs aren’t too dissimilar to the generations before them, and their flightiness when it comes to employment is likely facilitated by broader volatile social and economic conditions, as much as a need to find an environment that meets their wishes.

But the power is in the hands of Millennials, who aren’t afraid to move around until they find the perfect employer, with the onus on businesses to offer environments and incentives that will make them stay ­– be it money, security, opportunities to learn etc. The 59% who expect to be self-employed in Euromonitor’s study may allude to this through a belief that self-employment means taking control and creating their own futures, versus being subject to an employer’s whims or fluctuating fortunes, which never quite live up to expectations.    

For German employers there’s lots to digest here, but some quick conclusions could be as follows: compared to their peers in other countries, German Millennials favour the traditional career path, they’re ambitious and keen to learn, they want opportunities to progress, do challenging work and be rewarded with status and a salary which matches it. They also want to stay here in Germany and be based in your office too (although be it in a private cubicle). Yes, they may shun overtime to enjoy life outside of work, but what sort of culture do you want to create anyway? And could you create compromise by surprising your Millennials with unexpected financial gains?

We’ll leave the rest of the thinking up to you…

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