It is said that by 2025 Millennials will be 75% of the global workforce, according to a recent survey by Gallup. Just 29% of Millennials are engaged at work, I guess that's better than the global average of 13%? But if we really are to create happier workplaces, wouldn't it make sense that we should start by making Millennials happier?
Recently a good friend asked me, "How do we engage millennials in the workplace?" As I pondered that question, she continued, "Well, I mean, you did that every day as a university professor. You won awards you were so good at it."
Then I thought, perhaps the workplace was not that much different from the university classroom, when done right. People still had to work on teams. People still had to work on goals. People still had to perform well in order to get to the next level. And after all, everyone wanted to be successful.
Last year, I was asked to inspire Merck Millennials in Malaysia. Some of the activities I did in my workshop were no different from the activities I used to use to inspire my former university students.
Maybe I did know a thing or two?
SET THE GROUNDWORK FIRST (CLEARLY)
In the first two weeks of each semester, I work really hard to: memorize names, make sure everyone is on the same page, make sure people respect each other, listen to each other, put their cell phones away, and the list goes on. I learned the hard way that when I didn't do that early on and work hard at it, I would lose people very quickly later on in the semester. Millennials (and employees in other generations!) need to know what is expected of them otherwise it is extremely stressful. In fact, 72% of Millennials who agree strongly that their managers help them set performance goals are engaged at work according to that same Gallup study.
CREATE COMMUNITIES (NOT WORKPLACES)
When students come into my classroom, they are always astounded that I greet each one by name. My classes usually maxed out at 24 students, so I was able to memorize each student's name by taking what my students would call "mugshots" with my cell phone camera. Even in my bigger Happiness Freshman Seminar that I created (150 students), I would sometimes go to class early, and just sit in the huge lecture hall of 150 students chatting WITH a group of students and getting to know them. In Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times, Christine Comaford who has been coaching companies for 30 years, says employees just want to have 3 basic needs met: safety, belonging and mattering.
MAKE PEOPLE CRY (NOT WHAT YOU THINK)
Every semester, I have students come to my office hours. Not because they necessarily wanted to talk about academic stuff, but because they wanted to talk about life or some kind of challenge they were facing. I actually loved talking about this stuff--it was the beginning of my life coaching really. Great coaches will tell you though, when you elicit an emotional response, it means you have empowered your clients in the direction they needed to go in. So often emotional responses are frowned upon in the workplace or school place, but when you can make people cry, then you know you have made them realize something so much deeper that they couldn't have figured out on their own. In Shawn Achor's latest book, Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being, Achor proves that teams with high EQ outperform teams with high IQ (!).
As humans we compare. Social media has not helped with this obsession either. When I ran in my first 100m sprint as an elementary school kids with pigtails flying, I remember my mom's advice, "Don't look at the other kids. Just look straight ahead." Think about it: In this race we often call life, if you look at other people while you are "racing" will you be faster or slower? Actually, what I didn't know at the time is that when you compare yourself with someone else, you actually perform worse, because it is an impossible comparison--there is only one you in this world. You'll be happy to hear, that was the first and last race I ever won, but I've been winning at life a little bit more.
GIVE A LITTLE (OR A LOT)
I have always been a giver. Perhaps it stems from the fact that I was a people pleaser. I have always loved giving things away. When people come over, I pack them home with whatever I have in my fridge. It wasn't until later, I realized what I was doing had links to happiness. People who are generous are happier. But did you know that people who give are not just happier but more successful? In Adam Grant's Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, he proves that medical students who helped other students on their exam, actually outperformed those who didn't. Encourage people around you to give to each other, give back to their communities, give food to cleaners, give to themselves.
*Dedicated to my friend Amanda who asked how to create happier workplaces. Here's to creating more happy millennials together!*
It turns out the COUR in COURAGE comes from the Latin word COR meaning "heart." Back in the day, COURAGE meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." (Read more here). Wow, it literally comes from the HEART. I saw a meme once and posted it on Facebook: "Happiness is a form of Courage." It really resonated WITH me.
This year, I feel like it has come up for me. A lot.
In June, I heard about this 3-day Corporate Happiness Bootcamp in Mumbai. I signed up at the last minute on a whim not knowing I actually needed a visa. I ended up getting my visa approved at the ninth hour (!), packing quickly, and getting on a plane.
Thank you, Internet.
During the bootcamp, I was inspired by an Indian guy named Hemal. (Incidentally his name in Korean means "seafood.") He and his wife had started OktoBuzz, a digital marketing company based in Mumbai. He would stand up during the bootcamp and share all of the cool things they had been doing to spark and sustain happiness in the workplace.
Gathering a bit of COURAGE, and full of giddy happiness, I approached him at the end of the 3 days and asked if I could bring The Happiness Workshop to OktoBuzz.
"I have a crazy idea..." I began and before I continued, he replied, "I love crazy..."
That's how you know it's the beginning of not just a good conversation, but a great one.
The day I was due at OktoBuzz, my own head was abuzz: I was texting back and forth with Neha, Hemal's wife and co-founder, I was prepping my human power point at the same time, trying to figure out how I would navigate my way there, cutting pieces of paper, and trying not to panic too much.
I ended up taking a taxi to their office. It's close to a bazaar which was jam-packed full of people, people on bikes, auto rickshaws, cars, the incessant sounds of honking. I remember looking out of the window and thinking:
What have I gotten myself into?
What if I can't find the office?
What if they don't like the workshop?
What if...what if...what if...
And then I thought about just how much I believed in what I was doing and just how courageous-- full of heart--I was and how my work allowed me to push the boundaries of COURAGE in the form of HAPPINESS.
"We have an open door policy here," Hemal said with his kind and gentle demeanor after I had hesitantly knocked on his office door. "Anyone can come in, even if we are interviewing."
"Would you like some snacks and tea?" Neha asked warmly. The other staff members generously offered me a plate of deep fried goodness in the form of Indian snacks and a tea guy showed up with chai.
"We can go outside and run around in the parking lot..." Hemal offered in response to my concern about space for a communication game I had wanted us to play.
It turned out to be one of those incredible workshops. In fact, one of THE most incredible workshops I have ever done. In that cozy, Harry Potter-themed, open door, snack + chai filled office, the OktoBuzz staff had done all of the activities eagerly, joyfully, and WITH full hearts.
In the organized chaos of the streets of Mumbai, teams went out to spread HAPPINESS full heartedly, unabashedly WITH COURAGE.
Then it dawned on me over the most delicious dosa dinner ever with Neha and Hemal, as they recalled how they had met, fallen in love, and then given birth, if you will to OktoBuzz, that they too were COURAGEOUS.
They had created this company from the ground up (which by any stretch of the imagination is tough enough) but on top of that, they had dared to HAPPIFY their workplace and workforce.
I have to say, they were all already super HAPPY before The Happiness Workshop even began.
"Yeah, a lot of our staff will shop around and go to other startups, but they will inevitably come back to us since we prioritize HAPPINESS in the workplace," Hemal explained humbly while Neha nodded.
After treating me to such an incredible dosa meal, and patiently explaining what each dish was, they drove me all the way back to my hotel--almost an hour's drive. Before I got out, Neha turned to me and presented me with a gift: "We hang this above doors to ward away evil spirits." It was a beautiful and ornate string of gold leaves. I remember thinking to myself after I profusely thanked them: How on earth did they find the time to get this gift for me? What an amazing couple.
That night, back in my hotel room, reflecting on the incredible day I had had, I thought: If I had not been COURAGEOUS enough to come to Mumbai for the first time solo, if I had not been COURAGEOUS enough to attend the Corporate Happiness Bootcamp, if I had not been COURAGEOUS enough to approach Hemal and Neha at the end of the Bootcamp, I would have never experienced any of, well, anything (!). And my HAPPINESS level would have not been at an all time high...
How many of us hold ourselves back from taking that COURAGEOUS leap: small, medium, or big?
Recently, I met a woman named Ai. She currently lives in Korea, but she is originally from China. This woman to me really embodied COURAGE. She left a stable job as a Communication Studies professor in the U.S., a job she had worked really hard to get, and had taken the leap to become a digital nomad/eduentrepreneur, as well as inspire others to take that same leap. She started from zero and today she is a top writer for Medium, a prolific blogger, live streamer, social influencer, and was recently featured in Forbes. Check out the article here.
In our first meeting yesterday, she said, "We need to empower our selves." That sentence stayed WITH me. I mean, we are always looking for empowerment externally. We see famous people, celebrities, we FOLLOW people on social media passively. Yet when it comes to our selves, we are constantly working on perfecting that next selfie.
So here's to taking just one step on that HAPPINESS journey. Whether it takes you to a "Mumbai," or an unfamiliar crowded bazaar, or to start your own thing--as long as you are empowering your SELF, WITH heart, COURAGE, you know you're on the right track.
*Inspired by and dedicated to the Nehas, Hemals, and Ais of this world who dare WITH COURAGE to be HAPPY.*