Published on 26 Jul 2018

How much do you know about millennial leaders?

According to Aon Hewitt, millennials are currently the largest generation in Singapore workforce.

By James Lim

According to Aon Hewitt, millennials are currently the largest generation in Singapore workforce. Last year, they make up more than 30 percent of Singapore labour market based on the Labour Force Participation Rate published by the Singapore Department of Statistic. As the older generations retire and the younger generations advance in their careers, there will be more millennials taking up leadership positions in organisations. In fact, the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report highlighted that more than 44 percent of millennials are already in leadership positions. Millennials are no longer leaders of tomorrow but leaders of today.

Recent studies, such as “Deloitte Millennials Study”, “Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report”, “Universum Millennial's In the Workplace Series” and “Universum Generations Series” have uncovered several key findings about the millennials.

First of all, millennials want to lead and become leaders of their organisations. This is supported by Deloitte’s study in 2014 where one in four millennials are asking for a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills and in the 2015 study, it was found that 70% of the millennials surveyed in Asia want to get into a senior leadership position and 65% want to become the most senior leader in their current organisations. Universum’s study in 2016 also supported this assertion - the study highlighted that 68% of the millennials surveyed in Asia said that becoming a manager/leader is important to them. It was not a surprise that millennials are interested in leadership positions, but what was surprising is that, unlike what we think of millennials as a strawberry generation that is unable to withstand hard work, more than half of the millennials surveyed in Asia said that they are up for the challenge of being a leader even if it includes extra stress and work time. Hence, organisations should leverage that and create the opportunities for them.

The second key finding on millennials is that they value development and want organisations to develop them. This is supported by Universum’s study in 2016 where millennials surveyed in Asia identified that their greatest fear is that they will get stuck with no development opportunities. Studies by Deloitte have also supported this assertion. The 2014 Deloitte study mentioned that millennials believe they are not being given the opportunity to develop professionally and that their organisations could do more to develop their leadership skills. The 2016 Deloitte study highlighted that 63% of the millennials surveyed felt that their leadership skills are not being fully developed while the 2017 Deloitte study indicated that millennials expect to be developed throughout their work life and they are likely to leave if they are not learning fast enough. Given that millennials value learning and development and expect to advance rapidly in their careers, they would prefer working for organisations that provide plenty of learning and development opportunities to help them to get ahead in their careers. Any organisations that do not provide such opportunities are not likely engage or retain the millennials.

The third key finding on millennials is that they prefer to work in team than individually. This is supported by Universum’s study in 2016 where it was mentioned that millennials prefer to work in teams and they prefer team-based work. Deloitte’s studies in 2016 and 2017 also support this assertion by highlighting that millennials appreciate working in a collaborative and consensual environment and they would be more satisfied with their jobs and would stay longer in their organisations if there is a high level of cross-team collaboration. Particularly in Asia where we have a higher degree of a collectivist culture (in comparison with other regions of the world) where cooperation, collaboration, supporting and working with others are the norms, it is only natural that millennials in Asia prefer teamwork over competition at work.

Given millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025 (based on Deloitte estimates), organisations should take concrete actions to meet the expectations and preferences of the millennials.

Organisations could create more shared leadership opportunities by having people to lead one another in a group setting; as compared to just thinking about the traditional top-down leadership approach. In another word, a person who is a follower today may become a leader tomorrow in the group. For instance, create opportunities for millennials to chair and lead large-scale company events like corporate social responsibilities events, dinner-&-dance, and etc. By leading such events, it is inevitable that they will have to work with senior management to deliver the events through their sub-groups or committees; increase their engagement levels with the organisation.

Organisations could also offer more learning opportunities both digitally and at work. For example, learning opportunities can be delivered digitally by tapping onto the large amount of high quality, free/low cost content available over the internet such as MOOCs and videos from Coursera and YouTube. Organisations can also set up online learning platforms that allow millennials to create and share knowledge/content with their peers. In addition, given millennials’ preference for collaboration and teamwork, organisations can find ways for millennials to learn and develop insights together at work such as setting up innovation labs and getting a group of people/millennials to come up with new business idea/product or solve complex business problems together.

Organisations may also want to consider transforming their physical workspaces to be more collaborative. In other words, organisations with high number of millennials employees should have a mental shift and embrace the idea that employees are free to sit anywhere they want within (or even outside) the company premises to work and not be restricted to a dedicated desk. For example, walls can be broken down to create an open office and hot desking can be adopted instead of having fixed seating. Tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all known for having workspaces that allow people to collaborate and work together which likely contribute to one of the reasons why millennials aspire to work in these organisations.

While organisations can do many things to meet the expectations and preferences of the millennial leaders, it is also equally important for millennial leaders to understand that they have the ability to evoke a different reality for themselves in organisations by taking ownership of their own development, creating and connecting event or people (structures) within their workplace to fit their developmental needs.

About the author

Dr James Lim is senior lecturer, Division of Strategy, Management and Organisation at Nanyang Business School, NTU Singapore.

This commentary was published in Storm SG on 17 May 2018​​​​ and Transfin on 26 July 2018.