Image of Gen-Y / Millenials in the work environment

Next-Gen Worker or Next-Generation WorkStyle?

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No Need To Design Differently For Gen Y/Millenial!

There is an awful lot of online chatter being taken up by the “generational debate,” and a lot of this has focused on Gen Y/Millenial as the pampered children of the Baby Boomers.  This is a very western perspective, as we don’t have a “Baby Boomer generation” per-se in Asia.  So while it may be important to understand what makes the 75 million so-called  “Millennials” in the U.S. tick, what about the 218 million young adults in China (and that’s only the “10 year cohort” born from 1980-1990, sometimes referred to as ‘Deng’s Children’), or the staggering 426 million “Millennials” in India?

The socio-economic drivers of generational change are not the same in Asia and the US.


So while some characteristics are similar across East and West – including growing up during a time of general economic prosperity, having fewer siblings and more educational opportunities, and taking the internet for granted – there are also some significant differences.

The economic opening up of China that started during the eighties, the relative freedoms this brought, the rise of an educated, consumerist middle class and the “one child policy”, all mean Gen Y have come of age in an environment radically different to the China their parents knew.  The situation is similar in India and other developing countries in the region.  These young adults have been provided with a level of education, lifestyle, international exposure, and financial security that has been said to have contributed to a fundamental shift in values in China.

There is a much bigger “generation gap” between Chinese and Indian “Millennials” and their parents, than exists between the same generations in the US.


But are these significant societal influences sufficient to drive fundamental changes in Gen Y workstyles, suggesting that we need a different approach to workplace design in Asia?  In contrast to years of hyperbole about the need for organisations to cater specifically to Gen Y, recent global research suggests that what this generation values at work isn’t all that different to Gen X, or even to their parents.

In fact “Millennials” are aligned with older generations in seeking high engagement, inspirational leadership and performance-based recognition at work.  Although some research suggests Gen Y are less focused than Gen X on workplace collaboration and the freedom to innovate, as they mature into management roles it’s likely “Millennials” will spend more time collaborating and creating, and less time producing and learning.  The desire for greater flexibility to manage their work/life balance and for more job security may also become a higher priority as Gen Y take on family responsibilities.

 It’s about time we busted some common myths about Gen Y in Asia and broaden our thinking to respond to the needs of “Next-Gen workstyles”, rather than just “Next-Gen workers”.


Image of Gen Y/Millenials in the workplace

Gen Y / Millennials are as diverse as other generations in the workforce

Let’s uncover 4 common myths about Gen Y!

Gen Y are not loyal (employers need to buy their love) – Myth #1

Contrary to some earlier claims that Gen Y are more willing than older generations to change employers for more money and fancier titles, new data on job mobility reveals that as “Millennials” mature, they are are staying with their employers for longer periods of time. 

Asia’s “Millennials” also display remarkable brand loyalty, although they are savvier and more critical of mass-marketing than previous generations – using the power of the internet to their advantage.  They are quick to find out if something is inaccurate, and distrust a brand if they feel misled.  Organisations who “walk the talk” on the decisions they make about workplace design are more likely to be trusted and respected by Gen Y.

Gen Y have no values (they are self-centred and superficial) – Myth #2

China’s “Millennials” are among the world’s most optimistic people, and are highly conscious of the environment and the effects of pollution.  Almost 70% of Chinese Gen Y’s feel climate change is “a pressing issue”, which is twice as many as their counterparts in America and second only to Latin America.  This sense of social responsibility manifests in their purchasing decisions and career choices, leading Asia’s Gen Y to buy from brands that are environmentally friendly and give back to the community.

For Gen Y, the office isn’t just a place they work in from 9 to 5 then go home; they desire an environment and work culture that’s an extension of themselves and their home life – a place that supports what they value.  Increasingly, organisations are thinking about the environmental and community benefits their workplaces can deliver, because expressing company values through workplace design sends powerful messages to current and future employees, including “Millennials”.

Millennials can’t communicate (they have lost the art of conversation) – Myth #3

China now has around 520 million smartphone users, and India 123 million, compared to 165 million users in the US.  In Asia, the majority of these users are urban “Millennials”, who believe mobile calls will be the main way to communicate in the workplace in five years.  Even more than their peers in other countries, “Millennials” in China place much greater emphasis on the role of instant messaging platforms such as WeChat.  Their ability to develop constructive “virtual” relationships and ease with multiple communication channels is an asset to organisations’ operating dispersed teams.

However, do not mistake this for a preference for text over talk.


New entrants to the workforce have clearly stated their desire for face to face collaboration and mentoring as an important part of their learning and professional development – closely tied to Chinese Millennials’ job satisfaction.

Workplaces that consciously create opportunities for tacit learning and on-the-job mentoring to complement formal training, will help position companies to retain their young talent.  Tapping into the creative mindsets and fresh perspectives of Gen Y also requires a slightly different approach in Asia.

Respect for hierarchy and elders may be less ingrained than in older generations, but many Asian “Millennials” still feel uncomfortable speaking up in more structured situations.


Collaboration and brainstorming settings that are low key, easily reconfigurable and egalitarian in their seating arrangements are more likely to encourage “Millennials” to contribute to group discussions.

Gen Y are more mobile (they can accept non-territorial workplaces more easily than older employees) – Myth #4

While its a fair assumption that “Millennials” are more adept than their older colleagues in exploiting technology to enhance productivity, just like older employees Gen Y need a sound argument for the benefits of mobility before they are willing to accept and adopt sharing practices such as group-assigned desking.  Gen Y’s desire for more freedom of choice in the workplace, and for more informal settings, should not be mistaken for rejection of traditionally assigned desks, rather they view diversity of places to work as a necessity.  The death of the desk is more likely to be driven by the obsolescence of desktop PCs than by “Millennial” furniture preferences.

Gen Y need to feel a sense of belonging and have the ability to express their identity in the workplace as much as anyone.


A number of Gen Y “employers of choice” such as Google and Facebook, recognise the importance of immersion in the business for younger employees.  Their corporate policies and campus designs encourage people to spend as much time as possible “in the office”, providing anchored desks within teams as well as plenty of different spaces to work, socialise or unwind.

Although there are some distinct attributes of Millennials in Asia, like any generation they are full of contradictions and are changing as they mature.

 Designing for archetypes is at best ineffective, and at worst could be misaligned with real needs and ignorant of knowledge-worker diversity.


More than any demographic profile, technology and workstyle change are driving new approaches to designing effective, empowering and engaging workplaces for all employees.  These environments will be most successful when underpinned by research into the unique characteristics and behaviours of the people they are designed to support.

The next generation workplace should always be a work in progress.

Originally posted to my LinkedIn Profile PULSE here and drawn from a number of presentations I have done on the same topic in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.