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What is driving Gen Y in the Middle East?

Research reveals opportunities to harness workforce strengths in the Middle EastLeading and motivating millennials: What Generation Y wants from employers and leaders.

New research reveals that the Generation Y workforce in the Middle East is exceptionally driven, hungry for educational opportunities and values the role of older colleagues. At the same time, there are opportunities for managers to adopt different leadership styles and support soft skills development to create a work environment that enables ambitious young Gulf nationals to thrive.

A new Ashridge Business School report A New Generation: The Success of Generation Y in GCC Countries based on a survey of 300 local Gen Y (those aged 30 years and under) employees across the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries provides new insights for managers and employers to better understand, lead and develop this workforce.

Gen Y is a critical talent pool in the GCC and in a multi-cultural, multi-generational business environment it is crucial to understand their motivations, aspirations and interactions with colleagues.

Dr Carina Paine Schofield, Research Fellow, Ashridge Business School said: “Generation Y in the GCC wants to work for organisations that develop their leadership and soft skills, foster more visionary and democratic managers and advance their careers through access to education and qualifications. Young nationals are ambitious, have great expectations and have huge potential, which are essential to the region’s socio-economic development and global progress. The UAE and other GCC countries are seeing more young professionals taking on senior roles, and with the right support, they are a huge asset. This research equips key decision makers to provide the right opportunities to future leaders.”

Key research findings include:

Gen Y is a strongly-motivated workforce

76 percent of Gen Y locals in the GCC say that the pressure to succeed at work is ‘strong’, and is highest in Qatar and the UAE (80 percent)

The strongest drive comes from themselves (59 percent) and is higher for females (66 percent) than males (56 percent), although parents/family and religion are also very influential.


Gen Y want managers who are ‘visionary’ and ‘democratic’ rather than ‘commanding’

Gen Y in the GCC value leaders who create shared values, share information and gain team contributions via participation. Traditional command and control leadership is rapidly falling out of favour

Gen Y in Bahrain, Saudi and Oman want more ‘democratic’ managers , while Gen Y in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE want more ‘visionary’ managers

Gen Y are also seeking their managers to develop their motivational (36 percent), leadership (33 percent) and team/management skills (27 percent).


Career success is measured by ‘a high salary’, ‘knowledge and expertise’ and ‘good work/life balance’

Success is very important, measured by high salary (54 percent), knowledge and expertise (46 percent) and good work-life balance (37 percent)

Gen Y value ‘qualifications’ (85 percent) and ‘formal training’ (83 percent) as a way to succeed

Executives/senior management and managers are also highly rated as valuable sources of learning

Although Gen Y appear very confident, the survey shows that greater self-esteem would help them succeed.


Gen Y want to develop their ‘people’, ‘leadership’ and ‘team management’ skills to succeed

Soft skills such as influencing, communication and leadership are highly-valued by Gen Y

Gen Y are also keen to develop decision-making and people motivation skills.

Business leaders face significant challenges in meeting the expectations of the millennial generation. The main differences in the generations are that Gen Y ‘speak their mind’, are more willing to share information, make instant decisions and are always switched-on from a technological perspective. Bucking the global trend, Gen Y in the GCC recognise and respect the importance of older colleagues’ experience, and admire their communication skills, decision-making capabilities, perseverance and patience.

Sue Honore, Associate Researcher, Ashridge Business School, said: “Driven by rapidly-changing technology, globalisation and greater international communication capabilities, Generation Y have burst into the world of work. Organisations can benefit from the demographic diversity in GCC countries by better understanding different perspectives, developing the ability of generations to share talents and facilitating collaboration to establish a major competitive advantage.”

Practical steps employers can take to harness the desire to succeed to engage and empower Gen Y employees: Ensure that managers can develop capability to flex their style. Support leaders who are being challenged to change and adopt more visionary and democratic styles by offering developmental opportunities. Structure development programmes and plans for women to encourage progression in the workplace and hone their leadership skills. Offer continued professional development programmes to employees at an early stage in their career, particularly around leadership development and people skills programmes to nurture future leaders. Provide formally-recognised qualifications and access to high-quality, structured training to upskill, develop and retain staff. Consider what career success means for Gen Y, and develop a more personalised approach towards talent development and retention. Develop the ability to share talents between generations and facilitate collaboration through coaching, mentoring and stretch-projects.

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