How to best attract and retain China’s 八零後 (bā líng hòu) and 九零後 (jiǔ ling hòu) generations?

八零後和九零後 bālínghòu hé jiǔlínghòu 80's & 90's Generation The Chinese society is changing quickly and the up-and-coming generation were born and raised under (often) very different conditions than the previous.

For one, they were single children. Sometimes, their family was fairly well off. Certainly the overall domestic education level was improved during their schooling days; some have also studied abroad. They have experienced continuous improvement and seen less setbacks.

Overall, my take is that they are often better educated than the previous generation and therefore equipped with better skill.

But they also face different challenges in life and therefore have different motivators.

I have come across several executives who find it difficult to lead and motivate people from these generations as they often have very high expectations while not being able to contribute much. Other say that they are spoiled and not as committed or hard-working as their older peers.

So, if these statements are (somewhat) correct, then what should MNCs do to best attract and retain these balinghou and jiulinghou?

I invite you all to give your view on this topic.

23 comments to How to best attract and retain China’s 八零後 (bā líng hòu) and 九零後 (jiǔ ling hòu) generations?

  • I think the basics are very important:
    Show them a career plan that motivates them. Provide some training to them. Meet regularly, face to face. Generally speaking, show that you care about them. Don’t show mistrust toward them.
    If they like their manager and they know they are making progress, they are more likely to invest their energy in their current company rather than looking for another job.

  • David Petersson

    Thank you for your insight Renaud.

  • David Petersson

    A kind clarification from Majdi Alhmah from LinkedIn:

    马吉帝 Majdi Alhmah • To clarify to our members:
    (八零后 ba ling hou) are the post 80s generation.
    (九零后 jiu ling hou) are the post 90s.

    Jiu Ling Hou are generally: picky, spoiled, pampered, many already have their own cars and might find it hard to start life from the bottom up and learn how to earn what they have. The good part about this generation, they are creative and outgoing, through empowering them to contribute their creativity they will feel more belonging and ownership. they can fit better in flat management organizations with minimum restrictions and focus on performance.

    Ba Ling Hou. Might fall into two parts:
    1) Ba wu qian: between between 1980-1985.
    2) Ba wu hou: between 1985 – 1990.
    The Ba Wu Hou seems similar to Jiu ling Hou. Ba Wu Qian, they are looking for learning and a stable life, many already have kids of about to have, so social activities in the organization can bring them together, clear rules, opportunity for growth are all important.

  • Sharon Yang

    As an after 80’s, an attracted position should let people like me feel: it will offer something good. and the date of returning is under control.

    Of course, the manager should consider: Will this people give/contribute something good.

    There have many ways to Roma, but if Roma has nothing that interest me, why should I go there?

  • Scott Wu

    They expected to be valued and respected in terms of their way of life and thinking. So if you can let them feel you really care about them, they will be mor than willing to work for you. But of course, good salary and benefit is the prerequisite.

  • Chao Xu

    Agree with Majdi’s Ba Wu Qian and Ba Wu Hou.

    if you looking at Needs Hierarchy, generally speaking, Ba Wu Qian is more focusing on meddle level of needs – Security ie: security of health/employment/family/resources/property; Love and Belonging ie: friendship and family, they also focusing on achievements and self esteem. On the other hand, the Ba Wu Hou and Jiu Ling Hou have less responsibility, they are more interested in being cool, out standing, they focus more on themselves.

  • Jeff Cui

    Hi David,

    First of all, China is a country with about 1.7billion people, and about 0.3 billion are “after 80 and after 90”
    Secondly, so far as I know, customs are different between city and rural area.

    So, I think you have to define your focus first. City or rural area?
    Also, I am interested in what you or your company would like to provide for these generations.

    Personally, I would like to give you one suggestion which is Chinese children(not all) feel like to follow others. (from clothes to cell phones)

  • Cedric Bhihe (毕生泰)

    (If the purpose of this thread is to perform a sociological analysis of China social strata, then disregard the rest of this post as I am largely incompetent.)

    IMH experience, the population that you address is not so different from any other most everywhere in the world. Trainings may vary, languages and core values also, but at that age most everybody caring to work in a large organization want and need to prove him/herself to his first circle. I found that most such individuals expect or appreciate:
    * empowerment, the which requires (i) a sense of purpose, (ii) trust and (iii) a feeling of fairness between the employer and the employee

    * actually learning something useful on the job

    * earning a decent paycheck (money) comes definitely third for most.

    Sounds familiar ?

    Note that if Chinese is a hindrance for the foreign observer or player, I have no doubt that he/she will miss most of it, instead falling back on western rationalizations of this and that and always harking on Kong Zi, the oppression of masses by a supposedly omnipresent Communist Party, und so fort und so weiter …. But people are people and at least on a social and professional level their wants and hopes are “expressed” in similar ways across cultures. In fact it is not the cultural background that shapes the way expectations are expressed, it is the dominant culture in which one lives. I say.

  • Rita Hong

    Balinghou has now grown up as the backbone of their families. Comparing to Jiulinghou ,they are more prone to meterialism specially when they have ”Propertities” uner mongage.Career growth and stability is essential to them. If they find the career path clear, working environment acceptable, they won’t easily quit. While Jiulinghou, personally i think it’s too early to discuss about them as workforce:)

  • Chen Kaka

    I agree with David’s opinions fully, But i am worried about their changing worse more than better.

  • Michael Asahara

    PRC is a dynamically growing nation. They are no different than our own growing pains. The “new” generation of professionals are educated in primary theory knowledge, but may lack hands-on experience in some areas of technology. The aircraft industry is an example of a growing and viable source of competition in world aviation. CAAC have progressed far in an attempt to certify ACAC’s regional jet. This nation is so technodiversified that they are seeking world wide opportunities to excel in other areas of technology. The integration of the old philosophy with the “new” generation of young professional is mandatory and the end goal/vision must be understood.

  • Aileen Guan

    Hi David,

    This is an interesting topic and not likely to settle via several comments back and forth.

    I think there are several factors to attract and retain later 80s and 90s( early 80s are already 30, they are mature and in junior manager level, so not that much job-hopper)

    First of all, a fair pay and benefits is needed since they are in a high levle of interaction, they mgiht don’t know how much should be paid to that job, but they know how much their friends are making…

    1. Culture: clear objectives & communication, value people’s diversity, recognize contribution & competency, allow mistakes, showing caring but not manipulating.

    2. Development and growth: whatever program in place, let them to know they are growing and developing, getting stronger every day.Feedback on top of a trusty relationship on the gaps and come to some job-based developmental assignment.

    3. Engagement: let them to be part of big thing, value their creativity, let them to contribute, give them some challenging assignment, create some excitment in work place.

    4. Managing the outcomes not the inputs.

    Hope it helps!

    Aileen Guan

  • George Carranza

    Having worked and lived in different countries (including the PRC), I concur with Cedric that employees no matter the culture or form of government have more commonalities than differences. They need leadership and they want to feel secure financially and socially. There are of course differences that if understood can enhance one’s efforts.

  • Emma Chen

    It is a very interesting topic. China Gen-Y’s charactors are unique as they upbringing in an period of progress, industrialization, economic and cultural openness, and global awareness in China’s history. Thus, organitions need to pay more attention on their charators. They are creative, like transparent HR process including C&B, recruiting; they ask for respect and recognize, they works indepently, and self oriented. IBM carried out this studying with consulting firms from 2008.

  • Richard Yan

    Nowadays, the gap of salary between Chinese companies and foreign MNCs in China has been significantly narrowed down. The edge of foreign MNCs in China in attracting younger generation is sort of fame and international standard practice. For younger generations borned after 1985, they are more ambitious in term of finance and fulfilling their dream than a simple yapee feeling. They like the space to grow in the company’s hiearchy. But most MNCs have glass ceiling for them, since they mostly treat China as a market to explore or a low cost centre only. The key is to create evident space for them to grow in the company.

  • Roger Dutton

    What was interesting for me when reading the title of this string was the difference in employing people in the this millenium compared to the last.

    Having started in China in 1992 with a startup that went from 1 to 350 people in 10 years covering the full gamut of commercial, manufacturing, supply chain and R and D. I can say that the colleagues that I employed and developed during this period were much hungrier for knowledge and career advancement than I have found in the last decade.

    These people were educated in the eighties or graduating in the early nineties and had a lust and engagement for teaming up in business that I find has been replaced today by a more selfish approach – too many choices today in a sellers market ( I am in Shanghai). Or perhaps the 90’s “adventure” of being first movers in an opening market being replaced with incremental growth, margin expansion and op ex control?

    I am concerned that China’s competitive edge ultimately lies in the hands of the Bai Ling Hoa and Jiu Ling Hou – groups that can talk up a big game, can ask for high salaries (and huge disposable incomes), leap frog international contempories in their careers but lack in practical experience that can only be gained by doing the “hard yards” of grinding out product, commercial deals and delivering customer satisfaction.

    That being the case then it is business as usual and we stick to the basics to hire and retain the “hope of the future” – good people, no doubt but nothing extra special.

    Aaah, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be :-)

  • Cedric Bhihe (毕生泰)

    I liked Roger’s perspective and his sharing with us what only time (?) can teach or show.
    A society as a whole will change with time, and so its people; yes. But China is a land the size of a continent and its peoples are a patchwork of unimaginable diversity, even for those of us living in a country such as the USA. It goes far beyond creed, language and food. Its diversity englobes the degrees of development reached by its regions. In that sense, the PRC of today is a snapshot of various economic development stages with profound inequalities in average educational level, in salaries and in economic perspectives. (Hence all the sociopolitical tensions, hence the riots that reflect a very profound discontent, etc., etc.)
    So at this very moment, all that Roger has written of individuals 20 years ago (hungry for knowledge, or to team up once an opportunity to step out of their milieu and to do well has been identified) coexists with what all “old China hands” know of today’s Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and everything in between, also summarized quite aptly by Roger.
    Having resided and worked at length in a rural province usually disparaged as backward by a vast majority of Chinese: Henan 河南, and having also done the same in the Tianjin – Beijing area, I can testify to the fact that those regions are not just 700 km apart, they also happen to be 20 years of development apart.
    So obviously people in them have different expectations. Their differences span time and the best way to retain them at work is to address them taking into account that there is a 20 year economic development gap between them.
    In other words it is much easier to retain good and promising workers and colleagues in Henan than it is in Beijing or Shanghai. The uptake is that it is also *much* more difficult to find them in Henan in the first place.

  • Roger Dutton

    Depending on the type/size/scale of the business (reference Sales, Distribution and Technical Services business), my advice would be…
    1. Don’t invest central infrastructure in the coastal T1 cities unless you have a strategic reason to be there
    2. Go for a “lite HQ” and regionalise as much as possible
    3. Run seperate P and L’s for the regions and incentivise the regions based on their results
    4. Rotate your good people through the regions
    5. Tap into the T2-T3 assets that have the burn and make them succesful in their home regions.
    With this appraoch you will have diversity in your organisation with business focussed on customers needs, in a profitable way.

  • Cedric Bhihe (毕生泰)

    “Yes, Sir!” to the fifth power. I could not agree more, although I have found point 4 to be tricky most of the time and point 5 to be the most rewarding from a business point of view.

  • Roger Dutton

    Pt 4 I can do as I have 5 regions to play with and an established organisation (which will take another 3 years to reinvent to a truly decentralised model).
    Pt 5 is where I was in the early 90’s, so this would be the same process (regional instead of national) – find ’em young and keen, train them well, fill them with vision (personal and company), keep them on a fair base and a strong variable, and execute the hell out of the business plan – leave little time to look for options – just do it. Cream always comes to the top – identify and spend time with these ones – develop into managers then leaders. Encourage the middle performers and counsel the lower performers on their careers elsewhere.
    Oh… if it was only that easy!

  • Guangrong Dai

    In generall, all these motivators have been identified and recommended for organzations to attract and engage young generations, Longitudinal studies cover more than half a centuary repeatedly reported the same top motivators across time.

    When we put this in the broad social-demographic environment, the top concern for young generation is unemployment or underemployment. In North America, the unemployment rate is double digit. In many European countires, the unemployment is more than 20%. In China, colleges produce more graduates than can be absorbed by the demand. From the aspect of the society, it means potential social crisis, as witnessed in Middle East and some western European countries. From talent management perspective, the challenge is how to continuously develop their skills when there are not much job opportunities for them to grow.

  • Thomas Aw

    To get a foot start against other Talent retainers, better to begin worrying about the
    ” Er Ling Hou ” born after 2000, as they will be another all New phenomenon.

    Overall, the after 80s and 90s will probably appreciate international MNC employee
    remuneration and welfare package system, with relevant localisation adjustment.

    For the even more powerful after 2000 talents, they will probably adopt an even
    more sophisticated and outwardly more sociable approach, then more Soft Skills will be needed to retain them in the company, Money talk is probably not enough, for this
    NEW Chinese of 21st Century.


  • David Wang

    The biggest difference is that China’s balinghou and jiulinghou do not need to live by their own salary. China’s qilinghou should live on themselves shortly after their unversity graduation, so they just did what they can get and never thought about what shoud be fair.
    China’s balinghou and jiulinghou can have more time to try different things and do not need to worry about money things. At the same time they need to bear much more pressure born from the diffrence between what they are taught and what they see.

    Compared with lcal capanies, MNCs always can not give their employees enough career opportunities. They think most times they just do what ther are told.

    So, MNCs may put more efforts to let balinghous and jiulinghous know MNCs are from different countries and they will know more about how foreigners do business and how they manage thier country.

    Balinghous and jiulinghous mainly have three kinds of choices when they graduate from universities.Becoming a member of goverment units or state owned enterprises, becoming a member of private enterprises, becoming a member of MNCs.Only those students who want to earn their living by working hardly may go to work with MNCs.Working with goverment units means you need to steal money or fight with your colleagues.

    So, act accordingly maybe MNCs can better attract and retain balinghous and jiulinghous.

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