Wavelength: Millennials and the Public Service

Duane Herperger CAPAM Strategic Communications LiaisonDuane Herperger, CAPAM Strategic Communications Liaison

‘Wavelength’ is part of an ongoing series dedicated towards CAPAM contributors exploring ideas about issues and opportunities associated with public administration.

Succession planning for senior leadership in the public service means different things to different countries.  In some governments, this represents guiding to positions of power those that you know and trust, whether loyal allies, close acquaintances, or even family members.  In other governments, senior leadership rejuvenation means enticing a broad range of individuals and nurturing the “stars” according to a merit-based system that is open and transparent.  For the latter, significant efforts are put into attracting, retaining, and developing new candidates to the public service, and the current demographic wave of desired young adults are now represented by millennials. 

The public sector must understand millennials’ motivations, aspirations and belief systems in order to develop strategies that will resonate for this group.  There is significant competition for these potential future leaders in both the private sector and civil society, and appealing to their sense of values will oftentimes make the difference in their determination of career choices.  However, despite being generally portrayed as homogeneous through a narrow, Western-world lens, it should be blatantly obvious that millennials around the world are not the same.  Distinct regional differences exist as influenced by culture, socio-economic factors, and country-specific circumstances.  Understanding the variance is essential and in this Wavelength article, we examine regional attitudinal differences among millennials from a variety of sources.

INSEAD’s (formally L’Institut européen d’administration des affaires) Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation conducted a survey of millennials in 2014 that included 16,637 people between 18 and 30 years old, in 43 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America.1  Their findings were quite revealing in demonstrating a cultural divergence of views associated with leadership, an example being:  
“Millennials are interested in becoming leaders — for different reasons. On average, 40% of respondents claimed that becoming a manager/leader was “very important.” This ranged from 8% in Japan to 63% in India. And the reasons (money, opportunities to coach, building career foundations, etc.) also varied across cultures.

High future earnings stood out as the most dominant theme globally, yet the range was quite wide. Half of respondents from Central/Eastern Europe chose high future earnings as a reason to pursue leadership, while only 17% of Africans did. African millennials seemed to care most about gaining opportunities to coach and mentor others (46%), a response that didn’t resonate as much in other regions — less than a quarter chose it in Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries, Central/Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. We also found that the opportunity to influence an organization was chosen by nearly half of those in Central/Eastern Europe and North America, but by only about a quarter of those in APAC countries and the Middle East.”

Millennials want to be leaders for different reasons

The entire report, which may be accessed at: http://www.headfoundation.org/reports/KC10240_Universum_Millennials.pdf, provides interesting insights into cultural differences of the millennial generation on a number of fronts including:
  • testing long-held hypotheses associated with leadership positions and rapid career development, challenging work, work-life balance, government influence, and friends and family;
  • investigating attitudes regarding standard of living, retirement, and greatest fears;
  • identifying influences, including how to reach millennials, the role of parents in their work lives, and other sources of influence;
  • rethinking stereotypes around desire to attain a leadership position, how they want to be managed, challenges of leadership, career aspirations and work-life balance;
  • analysing individual countries within regions and identifying similarities; and
  • identifying differences by age and according to gender.
Youth perceptions of their governments play a huge factor in the likelihood of their pursuing a career in the public sector.  In the fall of 2016, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) surveyed more than 7,600 youth ages 16 to 24 years old in 30 countries.2  Regarding attitudes towards their governments, the survey found that millennials are disconnected and worried about corruption to a varying degree:

Governments and youth are disconnected.
Relatively low percentages of youth surveyed feel that their government cares about their wants and needs, with significantly more low-income youth feeling disaffected (72 percent) than high-income youth (54 percent). Young people in Latin America are particularly disaffected: only 10 percent feel their government cares.

Government and Youth are Disconnected

Youth are very concerned about corruption.
Eighty-one percent of survey respondents said corruption is a major problem for their countries, with 90 percent or more in Latin America (94 percent), Sub-Saharan Africa (91 percent), India (92 percent), and Rising Income Asia and Oceania (90 percent).

Youth are very concerned about corruption.

The Global Shapers Survey 20173 (#ShapersSurvey), first undertaken in 2016, presents information and data that were compiled and/or collected by the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.  The analysis drew from nearly 25,000 young people aged 18-35 worldwide.  While most of the report consolidates information into generalised findings, it does pull out regional differences where appropriate within the text and includes appendices that provide results by region and country.  Of particular interest is the section on governance and civic engagement, which indicates that trust levels in most institutions are low, and that a major frustration about government leaders is abuse of power and corruption.  Equally compelling is the section on business and the workplace that addresses factors deemed important by millennials. 

Global Shapers Survey 2016

What quickly becomes evident when one delves deeper into trying to understand and attract millennials is that they cannot be taken as a cohesive group.  There are regional and country-level differences that impact what this age group deems important.  

Understanding these differences will go a long way towards ensuring that the best and brightest young people in any country will consider a rewarding career as a public service professional, and that they will remain engaged to potentially take on a senior leadership role to lead the next generation.
1     Henrik Bresman “What Millennials Want from Work, Charted Across the World,” Harvard Business Review, February 23, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/02/what-millennials-want-from-work-charted-across-the-world#comment-section.  Accessed October 10, 2017.
2     International Youth Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The 2016 Global Millennial Viewpoints Survey”, International Youth Foundation, January 2017. https://www.iyfnet.org/library/2016-global-millennial-viewpoints-survey. Accessed October 10, 2017.
3     Global Shapers Community, “Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017”, World Economic Forum. http://shaperssurvey.org Accessed October 10, 2017.