In a world where people live longer and members of different generations find themselves sharing office space, effective communication across generations is an important competency to master. This is true no matter what part of the world you are in. To add to the challenges of generational dynamics, these generational differences and divisions are not exactly uniform, but have unique characteristics in each society. The generational divisions found in the United States (Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y/Millennials, etc.) do not translate seamlessly across the world, so a more complex and comprehensive picture needs to be drawn.
For instance, let’s take a look at the generational composition of – and the cultural diversity in – Russia. As we know, each generation is defined by the circumstances of their time. Major historical spasms, changes, and innovations call for different and adapted behaviors and even forge new attitudes and shifts in the value system. In Russia, such major historical transformation took place in the early 1990s.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 involved massive changes: a switch from a communist state to a Western style democracy, and from a planned economy to capitalism and a free market economy. It led to a general degradation of the old system and its institutions. Western pop-culture and attitudes, ideas of individualism, and freedom of expression have entered Russian society as well.
However, this change was painful and disorienting for many. Additionally, it widened the power and income gap, making a small group of people immensely rich while dragging many into extreme poverty. Political and economic instability led to crime rates doubling, as well as a sharp rise in alcohol consumption and suicide rates. In Russia, this period is referred to as the Daring 90s, a time of excess and chaos. It is not surprising that this period of recent Russian history has left the most noticeable imprint on the Russian people, and created a gap in the attitudes and aspirations between different generations.
The Sacrificed Generation
Today’s Russian pensioners are frequently referred to as the “Sacrificed Generation”. This generation has struggled the most in adapting to the new political and socioeconomic realities of Russia and today constitutes one of the most vulnerable social groups in the country. Most members of this generation continue to struggle to make ends meet. Very few found work continuity in the new Russia and remain in the workplace today mainly in academia.
The Bearers of Change
Russian Baby Boomers, born between the end of the World War II (or the “Great Patriotic War” as it’s known in Russia) and 1965, were “The Bearers of Change”, meaning the bearers of the Democratic Revolution of 1991. While many have suffered economic hardships in the 1990s and were unable to successfully adapt to the new competitive economy, some were able to acquire great success and wealth. On one hand, this generation is the last truly Soviet generation and their attitudes and work-style preferences reflect a Soviet system mentality. This is reflected in the workplace in a great respect for order and protocol, a preference for a structured and narrowly defined environment, and an emphasis on strong professional expertise, personal relationships and connections. On the other hand, those who have created great success for themselves did so by taking tremendous risks and hence, despite what one would think, this generation is not intimidated by change. With a systematic approach, they can learn and adapt new skills. In today’s Russia, many key government and corporate positions are occupied by representatives of this generation.
The Entrepreneurial Generation
The generation that was born between 1965 and 1983 is the Russian equivalent of Generation X. This is the “Entrepreneurial Generation”. They were all born in the Soviet Union and remember it on a scale from very well to very limited. However, most remember the 1990s very well as they were shaped by them… some were just entering the workplace during that time. They are the most individualistic and risk-taking generation. They ask more questions and require more contextual information for why something has to happen. They are driven by wealth acquisition, as it is associated with freedom for themselves and their families. As such, a robust system of financial compensation is a big motivational factor for them. However, most of their formative years were spent during the Soviet Union and in the Soviet education system, where rules were narrowly defined. When employing representatives of this Russian generation, it is important to have a clear action-consequence system as a way to promote and ensure ethical business practices. Many private enterprises are owned by this generation. They also constitute a large proportion of middle and upper management in multinational and state corporations.
Millennials, or Generation Y, are also referred to as “Generation Putin”, or “Generation Pu” in Russia. They were born between 1983 and 2000. This generation has very limited to no memory at all of the Soviet Union, and the 1990s is also a time they remember vaguely and only through the highs and lows of their parents, not their own. They grew up watching Hollywood cartoons and movies, and have had access to the Internet in a time when consumerism and easy access to information became the reality in Russia. They share certain traits with their global counterparts: they prefer meaningful work that brings not only money, but also fun and satisfaction, and they prefer to pay less deference to protocols and hierarchies.
However, there are significant differences that sets Russian Millennials apart: they are much more patriotic, religious, and overall conservative than their contemporaries in North America and Western Europe. They have grown up during Putin’s early years of leadership, during the time when Russia began to search for its new identity and new place in the world arena. They reflect that trend by reaching out to more traditional Russian values: National Pride, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Traditional Family. Generation Pu is also more risk averse than the generation before them. Many favor certainty and stability over risk and self-expression, with some exceptions of course: those involved in startups, for instance, take many risks. In addition to good financial compensation, well-designed career paths in a structured environment, access to a healthy work-life balance and meaningful outreach programs are all motivational factors for this generation. A large proportion of all office, service, and middle management positions in large multinational and state corporations today are filled by Russian Millennials.
The attributes of the millennial generation in the Russian workplace are similar to that of the millennials elsewhere. In addition to good financial compensation, well-designed career paths in a structured environment, access to a healthy work-life balance and meaningful outreach programs are all motivational factors for this generation. A large proportion of all office, service, and middle management positions in large multinational and state corporations today are filled by the millennial generation in the Russian workplace.
When considering entering the Russian market, expanding an existing operation, or implementing a new business strategy in Russia, it’s important to take into account this unique generational divide. A well-designed cross-cultural skill-building program aimed at deepening one’s understanding of the Russian market and the development of acute business solutions can be a first step to increase your success factor in Russia.
Yulia Carson, an experienced cross-cultural trainer, develops and delivers workshops on effective work with Russia. Yulia has trained teams and key leadership for multiple Fortune 500 companies, in IT, Banking, and Pharmaceutical sectors. A native of Kirov, Russia, she has spent the last 15 years dividing her professional and personal time between Chicago, USA, and Moscow, Russia.