Vietnam: Generational Gaps in Employee Satisfaction

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By Lien Hoang

Low employee engagement costs Vietnam $13.5 billion in productivity annually, a problem deepened by generational frictions in the fast-growing economy of $200 billion, a survey showed March 22. The poll from Nielsen and employer services provider Anphabe also reported 85 percent of companies in Vietnam experience office tensions linked to postwar generational divides, while 97 percent expect to have a harder time maintaining workplace satisfaction.

The study drew on Generations X and Y trends seen worldwide, but refracted in a Vietnamese lens, as the communist country transforms into a market economy with middle-income status. That transition is reflected in the Southeast Asian nation's changing attitudes toward money and career.

Anphabe founder and CEO Nguyen Thi Viet Thanh said productivity is suffering because 39 percent of the 26,000 people her company polled don't feel engaged at work. That takes a toll on loyalty too, which is especially evident across age groups: Gen X-ers surveyed said five years is the ideal time to stay with one firm, while for Gen Y-ers it's three years.

“Vietnamese are different from employees in other countries,” Thanh said March 22 in announcing the survey. “They are more emotional.”

X vs. Y

To engage young people emotionally rather than rationally, Nguyen said, employers should emphasize their staffs' contributions and growth prospects, not just salaries and benefits.

In a country of 92 million people, Generation X (born 1970-1985) makes up a plurality of the workforce, but Anphabe and Nielsen project Generation Y (born 1986-2000) will claim that spot by 2020.

Vietnam has clear social codes about respecting one's elders, which creates workplace discomfort when young bosses are in charge of their elders, and other generational shifts are becoming apparent too.

“The fact that Gen X grew up in larger families with siblings, that actually taught them people skills,” Nielsen market research director Nguyen Thi Hong Nhung told Bloomberg BNA after the survey launch.

By contrast, Generation Y is more individualistic. As with China's one-child policy, Vietnam adopted a two-child policy after the war with the result that the fertility rate was two children per woman in 2014 versus 6.1 in 1974, according to the World Bank.

In these smaller households, parents are more likely to tell children they're “special,” Thanh said. This younger cohort is more likely than Generation X to think work should be a fun place rather than a duty, bosses should be friends rather than superiors and salaries should be spent rather than saved, the Anphabe/Nielsen survey concluded.

This helps explain why human resource directors said workplace satisfaction will be a tougher slog down the line. Amid their quest for self-actualization, members of Generation Y got a “happiness at work” score of 59 percent in the study, which graded Generation X at 69 percent.

The survey recorded the biggest generational gaps in happiness in the sectors of manufacturing, apparel, insurance, hospitality, logistics/transportation and agriculture.

“So if you're in those industries,” Thanh said, “it's very hard for you to keep different generations happy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For More Information

For more information on Vietnamese HR law and regulation, see the Vietnam primer.

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