Millennials Are Happiest When They Feel Connected to Their Co-Workers
Sarah Landrum , CONTRIBUTOR
I write about how millennials can be happier at work.
In North America, it can be hard to see past all the bluster about “self-made men” and rugged individualism. The truth is a lot more pleasant to behold: Nobody is an island, and we all need each other to survive.
Some of the surviving we do each day happens in the workplace, where we share common areas and resources with our friends and colleagues and generally work together toward a shared goal. If we can manage it, we like to leave a positive impression on the larger world while we’re at it.
But the slight hiccup in this otherwise well-oiled machine is that human workers don’t reach their potential if they don’t feel like they’re part of a community. Human connections need to power all of the work we do — otherwise, worker happiness becomes the first in a long string of compromises. The second is profitability.
What’s Missing From Work These Days?
There are plenty of Gen-X naysayers still left, but some truths are becoming undeniable when it comes to the influence of the millennial generation on “work” and what worthwhile employment looks like.
There will soon be 80 million millennials in the workforce. According to a poll conducted by PGI, more than 70% of those millennials want the people they work with to function as a sort of the second family.
And is that so crazy, really? We already know that millennials are emerging as the most empathetic and emotionally mature generation yet. We know they want the work they do to count for something in the world. It seems they’re now turning that empathetic and community-focused attitude toward work itself and helping dream up new ways to do it.
Most of us commit a significant majority of our waking lives to our jobs and careers. To hear millennials tell it, we took a wrong turn somewhere when we started drawing a line between our “professional lives” and our “personal lives.” The folks we share a warehouse floor, third-story office suite or the cab of a Mack Truck with? They’re not just people we “tolerate” for nine hours a day — they’re family, too.
But millennials aren’t just misty-eyed sentimental dreamers. It turns out all of this serves a very real purpose that’s backed up by behavioral research, psychology and productivity experts.
What’s The Benefit Of A More ‘Connected’ Workplace?
To begin with, it’s worth mentioning that formal, peer-reviewed and frequently duplicated research has uncovered — to absolutely nobody’s surprise — that employees of all kinds do their best work when their basic needs are met and when their work environment is conducive to happiness. As it turns out, a big part of fostering happiness in the work environment means creating opportunities for meaningful connections between co-workers. The same study we reference above turned up 88% of millennials who want to work in more “social” workplaces.
The science is on their side about this.
To study the effects of creating a workplace that stressed the importance of sociability and collaboration, researchers put together a plan involving almost 200 employees where they were encouraged to switch positions “horizontally” within their company to get to know everybody better. The results were pretty impressive — for a variety of reasons.
Researchers sat down with the results and turned the employee “exchange” program into something visually digestible. The picture became something they called a “multiplex picture” of the association. From there, they asked the employees a battery of questions involving their happiness, productivity, performance, sense of burnout and more.
Their findings were simple and vindicating. These “multiplex” relationships, friendships and networks that had emerged were very closely linked to significant rises in self-reported productivity and engagement with their daily work lives. But the final point the researchers were sure to drive home was the nature of these organizations. From what common point of reference did these new and surprisingly rich relationships arise?
Simple — just asking for advice.
Connections Don’t Just Happen
A weird thing happens when human beings gather in groups: We all expect somebody else to make the first overture or take the first action. It’s called the diffusion of responsibility.
Being sociable seems to be an unfortunate casualty of the diffusion of responsibility. We all expect somebody else to strike up the first conversation. But productivity suffers measurably in workplace cultures characterized by disengagement and disconnection.
Disconnected workplaces have been linked to nearly 40% higher rates of absenteeism, 50% higher rates of bodily accidents and 60% higher rates of avoidable errors.
The experiment above proves two things about creating more connected and sociable workplaces. The first is that leaders need to encourage it to happen because it doesn’t always occur on its own. The second is that once we do figure out how to make that magic spark happen — and sometimes it’s a simple as swapping seat for an afternoon — the benefits can be as surprising as they are profitable.