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!*