New survey reveals how different cultures and generations approach work

New study reveals the differences between generations and their approach to the workplace. It turns out they are not so different after all

A recent survey by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation has produced some interesting insights about differences and similarities of the generations influencing the global workplace. (See: A Survey of 19 Countries Shows How Generations X, Y, and Z Are – and Aren’t Different by Henrik Bresman and Vinika D. Rao, HBR, August 25, 2017)

The survey was conducted among 18,000 professionals and students across three generations from 19 countries.  The intent was to provide organizations with better generational preference data to help decision making about leadership development, technology, training, and culture-building.  The three generations are:

  • Generation X: Age cohort born before the 1980s but after baby boomers
  • Generation Y (Millennials): born between about 1984 and 1997
  • Generation Z: those born after 1997 (next to enter workforce)

Leadership ambitions

Across the globe, becoming a leader was important to:

Gen X

Gen Y

Gen Z

57% 61%



There were important differences between countries.  For example:

  • Across Denmark, Sweden, and France only 56% of Gen Y sought a leadership role. In Norway, this number was 47%.
  • Those wanting a leadership role were significantly higher in the US (77%) and Mexico (76%).

Businesses will need to pay attention to potential challenges in their leader pipelines.

Also of significance is the fact that different aspects of leadership motivate different groups:

  • Gen Y and Gen X professionals are more motivated by the coaching and mentoring that comes with management positions than higher levels of responsibility. Gen Xers in Spain put coaching and mentoring others as a high priority, but this is a lower priority for those in Germany, Norway, Denmark, Britain, and the US.  These latter groups see challenging tasks as most attractive.
  • Gen Z respondents are more attracted by leadership responsibility and greater freedom.

Gender preferences also differed across the generations:

  • For Gen X, 63% of men and 52% of women said becoming a leader was important to them. Among Gen Y and Gen Z, it was 63% for men and 61% for women.
  • Gen X women are more likely to enjoy the challenging work related to leadership, as well as getting to coach and mentor others.
  • Gen Z women find high levels of responsibility most attractive.
  • Men, regardless of generation, were more interested in future earnings and high levels of responsibility.

Barriers to leadership were also perceived differently:

  • High levels of stress put off Gen Z respondents in countries such as Japan, France, and the UK. There were similar results for Gen Yers and Gen Xers in the US, Switzerland, and Finland.
  • Gen X respondents in Germany, Switzerland, and The Emirates were most concerned about achieving work-life balance.
  • Women across geographies and generations were more likely to be put off by stress, more likely to feel a lack of confidence, and more likely to fear failing than men.

Country differences again played a role in perceptions:

  • Chinese Millennial women were most concerned about being unable to find development opportunities to progress. Chinese Gen X women worried more about not being able to enjoy their retirement. Both generations were afraid of not finding alignment between their personalities and available jobs.
  • Female Millennials in the US were most worried about not being able to achieve their career goals.
  • Swedish female millennials worried most about overwork.

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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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