Why millennials and mobility are a perfect match

24 October 2017

There is a lot of talk about millennials these days, much of it referring to this generation as a radically different breed of worker, as if evolution made a step change sometime in the early 80s and anyone born after that time is fundamentally and genetically different.

Instead, millennials – like every generation that preceded them – are simply a product of their time. The changing world has shaped them and their expectations, and, of course, they will shape the world for the next generation. But is this difference a problem? A recent post by Mercer takes a rather pessimistic view of affairs, highlighting the gap between the expectations of millennials and what firms are prepared to offer. Yet the balance of opinion suggests that global mobility is an area of business that will benefit from their arrival. Of course, global mobility departments will need to adapt their approach as the workforce gradually evolves, but here are three key reasons why millennial attitudes will help the mobility function in the future.

1. They have a more entrepreneurial outlook

Millennials have grown up in the world of the gig economy, while their seniors may still be struggling with the demise of the “job for life” concept. They understand that flexibility is key to career progression and are therefore ‘entrepreneurial’ in their approach to career progression. Global assignments give them new skills and experiences which can be used as they progress, and they see enormous value in this.

In fact, a key distinction between millennials and older generations is that the key benefit of travelling is to learn and grow – rather than seeing it as an opportunity to make money. Research by Mercer reports that 98% of millennials saw travel as a chance to develop their career, whereas only 27% saw it as a chance to boost their income. This is why there is also a willingness to take on shorter and more flexible assignments, and considering other options such as more frequent business travel, international commuting, and extended business trips. The 5-year assignment is no longer relevant because they evaluate the opportunity to travel in terms of the professional and personal value – not the duration or compensation.

2. They are more comfortable with technology

Millennials are not only comfortable with technology, but they expect to use it as a key part of their relocation. This is a benefit to global mobility initiatives because it increases the fluency of communication and makes it easier for organizations to maintain contact with employees overseas. One of the key reasons for expat failure is a sense of disconnection from the main hub of the company, but technology can help bridge this gap.

There are tangential benefits too. You cannot collaborate with yourself, and millennials’ preference for using workgroup technology will help older generations to accept and even embrace more innovative working practices.

3. They have fewer ties

There is a temptation to confuse Millennials with “younger workers”. Some reports, therefore, draw the conclusion that the lack of family ties is a great advantage to global mobility. It goes without saying that it is easier (and therefore less expensive) to relocate a professional without a family. It is equally obvious that younger workers are statistically more likely to be unmarried and childless.

A more interesting observation would be to look at the other social factors that affect millennials as a generation (and not an age group), such as the decreased likelihood of owning a home and the fleeting nature of modern commodities. In many countries, home ownership is financially beyond many millennials. This is not just down to their age, but the fact they happen to have grown up at a time when property prices are at an all-time high compared to earnings. Renters are easier to relocate than homeowners, giving global mobility departments another reason to be pleased with the arrival of the Millennial generation

Generation Z is hard on their heels

And what comes next? People born around the turn of the century are increasingly being branded as Generation Z or ‘centennials’. Graebel conducted a survey into their attitudes on global mobility and found that they also have a clear view of the advantages of working overseas. They are keen on global assignments: 81% of college seniors want to work abroad. But a more revealing statistic was perhaps that a large majority of Gen Z respondents said they would postpone important life decisions (buying a home, having children) in order to be able to work abroad. Millennials themselves were also optimistic about the generation that follows them, stating in the Deloitte Millennial survey that 61% believed Generation Z would have a positive impact as their presence in the workplace expands.

Working overseas is clearly important to future generations and their enthusiasm will help global mobility departments meet the increasing need for flexible, agile work practices.

Pictures by Mohsin Khusro & Ian Schneider

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