Foreign Assignees, Millennials Have a Different Cultural Perspective of Age

Making foreign and American talents adjust to the companies that hire them are enough to keep global mobility specialists on their toes. Assignees have to be both a good corporate and culture fit that another concern is overlooked: generation gap.

Tech-savvy, social-media-oriented millennials will make up 44 percent of the workforce in a few years’ time, says Financial Planning. These young professionals, ranging from ages 20 to 35, will be interacting with colleagues old enough to be their older siblings or their parents.

Yes, the interaction could prove to be productive, but it will not be without its share of friction. While millennials can readily forego compensation if it means more workplace flexibility, the Gen-Xers who happen to be their senior executives would most likely be in favor of longer work hours and a more rigid work ethic.

Millennials may yearn for recognition and applause every time they get the job done; in contrast, their Gen-X superiors, who had been born and raised during harder times, will not need endless affirmation in their relentless pursuit of accomplishments.

Trust that there would be debates on both sides when it comes to decisions made. There would be adjustments in small things like communications, such as a Gen-Xer manager who prefers personal meetings in contrast to a millennial staff who may prefer to use an online chat application.

In the US where Americans have been raised in an egalitarian workplace that respects meritocracy regardless of social class and workplace position, everyone is regarded as a peer.That approach has helped soften the bumps created by the generational gap. However, a Gen-X executive may insist on a more disciplined work schedule, for example, but he won’t be affronted if his millennial temp calls him by his first name.

Don’t expect your assignee to go by the same value system, or adapt the same approach. Various foreign cultures have a different perspective on age, elderly workers, and senior leaders who had paid more than their dues.

Your twentysomething Asian assignee in the US may insist on calling his direct supervisor, “Sir,” instead of his first name.

Assignees from Scotland may insist on hearing out their elderly colleagues, even if the latter clams up If the Scottish assignee is the Gen-Xer or the baby boomer, he will make sure his point is made and understood before the meeting is over. Scottish culture honors their senior citizens diligently, and in the workplace that can literally mean giving him more than the average employee or manager’s time in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, your young Chinese assignee, regardless of his marital status, will take time out to reach out to his elderly parents. Again that’s part of Chinese culture. So expect him or her to take a leave during special days (such as birthdays) even if that only means he can be available on Skype to greet them during that time. A Chinese assignee might allocate a certain part of his salary to be sent to his parents back home; he might ask your help how to do this in the most economical way.

It is safe to say that a Chinese assignee will never confront out loud or show disrespect in any way to his more mature senior. He might even be solicitous of the elder employee’s opinion or go an extra mile just to help him with work.

Greek assignees  might consult their older colleagues not just out of respect, but out of admiration. In Greece, seniors are believed not just to have put in their time, but their advanced years and extensive experience in the workplace have given them a wisdom that the younger generation is not yet privy to.

A foreign assignee’s treatment of his senior colleague depends on his cultural perspective of age. You might have to orient him gently about the level of equality found in corporate America. One way to do this is take him on friendly tours around the city, especially in places like Northern California which respects diversity and has a lot of ethnic communities. The conversation on this kind of cultural difference can happen over coffee. Be prepared to listen to his own insights, as you give him the lay of the land.

On the other hand, you might find yourself occasionally grateful that there is less generational misunderstanding that happens between your foreign assignee and his veteran American boss.