Millennial Happiness or Perennial Happiness?

by Tom Stone

October 21st, 2013

If you are like me, you’ve seen a number of headlines and articles recently focused on the need for organizations to “keep their millennial workers happy”. The Millennial or Gen Y workers it is said have different demands, and given their increasing and ultimately dominant numbers in the workforce, if you don’t do everything you can to develop and retain them, your organization will suffer… significantly.

There is certainly some truth to this, and some of the points I’ve seen are valid. But a lot of what I read as diagnoses or solutions to this challenge either seems to apply to all people, no matter their age or experience level, or is simply a factor of where people are at in their careers – and not something special about a particular generation, that wasn’t also true of earlier generations at the same stage of development.

For instance, a recent column in the Miami Herald  noted that “experts say the future is going to require a more strategic approach to building a ‘fun’ culture that encourages camaraderie, loyalty, and dedication.” Organizations have been responding to such demands in years and decades past, albeit with mixed results from team-building exercises and company picnics. What is supposedly different about Millennials as a group is that they want more “team-oriented focus and enjoy collaboration.” But how many Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers that you know would say they don’t want to work and collaborate with others on their team? So many jobs today require this by the nature of the work – so wanting to be a lone superstar just isn’t practical anymore.

Or what about the call for people to get to know each other more on a personal level? Is this unique to Millennials? It may have special benefits for anyone new in a career, e.g., it could lead to stronger networking, and therefore more and faster opportunities for growth. But I would argue the same would be true for someone who is 40 or 55 and entering into a new role or a new organization: getting to know one’s co-workers from a variety of angles is likely to be beneficial, for largely the same reasons, regardless of your age.

Some articles I’ve read shared some interesting insights, such as Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy, which notes one negative impact that social media can have on a person’s relative expectations of happiness in their work and in their lives. To the extent younger people use Facebook more than others, then this is a valid distinction to make. But increasingly, members of all generations are regular Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn users.

In “4 Ways to Keep Millennial Workers Happy” Rieva Lesonsky speaks my language when she emphasizes the commonalities between the generations more than the differences. Some of her advice to keeping millennials happy is rightly said to be good things for all employees: develop a personal career plan for each employee; provide training; and communicate the benefits to everyone.

Beyond training and development, many of the other tips I often hear as being particularly important for Millennials are things I think would be of great interest to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers too. The article “Are Your Millennials Happy” includes some of these: giving employees the opportunity to weigh in on business decisions (where appropriate); provide access to senior leaders on a regular basis; focus on work-life balance; support “10%-time” projects (your own project, as long as relevant to the organization); offer flex work policies that afford working remotely wherever and whenever practical; and support employees’ work functions on their preferred mobile devices. Some studies support this, for instance the recent PWC [] report “NextGen: A global generational study” found that nearly the same percentage of Millennials and non-Millennials (about 65% in both cases) would like to occasionally work from home or have the option to occasionally shift their work hours.

While the growing horde of Millennial employees in the workforce makes it easy to ask questions focused on just them as an age cohort, ask yourself whether most (if not all) of the resulting process, policy, and culture change suggestions wouldn’t actually be just as beneficial to all employees. Perhaps some of these better business practices are simply coming into clearer focus because of the youngest generation’s heavier use of technology, and the work-life balance options that it affords. Surely all but the most actively disengaged employees, regardless of generation, are interested in career development, training, and opportunities to connect and collaborate better with their colleagues!

So how should you proceed? To be sure – you ignore the happiness of Millennials at your peril. But you also can’t afford to lose the employee engagement of your best Gen Xers or Baby Boomers either. So the most bang for your buck will likely be had by learning to lead across generations – finding those process, policy, and culture changes that will be positives for the greatest number of employees in your organization. Focus on learning and mastering basic human relations principles, and then developing flexible approaches (that take into consideration differences where they exist) for learning and development, performance feedback, coaching and mentoring, and more. Such an approach will not only best keep your millennials happy and loyal, but all of your organization’s critical talent, regardless of their age or experience level.

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Tom Stone is Director of Content Strategy for Dale Carnegie Digital.

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