The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

How do you characterize Millennials? According to the words of one real estate mogul who falls in the age group, $19 avocado toast, $4 coffee, and a trip to Europe every year are things that belie the weaknesses of this generation comprising those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. A penchant for these things—together with a lack of realism, practicality, and desire to work hard—may also explain why they aren’t buying things like homes. But is this the truth?

Millennials and what motivates them is a hot topic for companies and ACCJ members, as this age group will make up a majority of the workforce worldwide in the coming decades.

So, what is necessary to attract Millennials, then motivate and retain them? Simply put, I believe it is the same as it has been for all generations. There isn’t a universal answer. Because the specifics of this question differ in each case, there are multiple solutions that vary from country to country, company to company, and situation to situation.

Any discussion of generational characteristics necessarily leaves parts of the story out. Often, the deeper issues and underlying reasoning are overlooked, or not valued as much as they should be. Inevitably, the gap leads to misunderstandings and, ultimately, missed chances and reduced profits.

Just because an employee is a digital native doesn’t mean they are inherently skilled at technology. Nor does being a Millennial mean that the person has a desire to be congratulated unduly, that they require incentives such as espresso machines, or that strong corporate social responsibility programs are integral to their satisfaction. (Although, to be honest, espresso machines would be loved by anyone).

Each colleague and potential hire has a different personality, workstyle, and motivation, regardless of age or demographic and whether these things are openly communicated. Often, a short conversation—or many ongoing conversations (in the case of colleagues or team members)—to clarify the vision of the company, the goal at hand, and how each person fits into those will go a long way toward attracting and retaining talent.

Generations are shaped by moments in history, and these events guide the world views of each one. Today’s young adults came of age during the recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Like the generation that grew up during the Great Depression (1929–1939), Millennials emerged with pessimistic views about asset-based markets and a cautious approach to work and personal finance.

However, all people value authenticity. For Millennials, authenticity is sought in the intentions of those with or for whom one is working.

That said, as is often the case, trends in Japan differ from those in the West. This especially applies to young workers entering the economy and forging their futures. The world view of Japanese Millennials may be somewhat bleaker than that of their Western counterparts. The Japanese economy has been mostly stagnant, with repeated reminders that the retiring generation will put a strain on the pension and healthcare systems. Still, what motivates and attracts employees will depend on each person’s goals.

In the end, I believe working effectively with Millennials really requires what working well with anyone does: early and constant communication. Together with a healthy amount of forward thinking and adaptation to current tools, communication is the key to effective results. Without it, preconceived notions are likely to produce misunderstandings and ineffective workplaces.

Daniel Wallin is secretary of the ACCJ–Chubu Business Programs Committee and a relocation consultant with Relo Japan.
Often, a short conversation . . . will go a long way toward attracting and retaining talent.