How to Engage Generation Next? Higher Purpose and Culture Design.


Millennials, “smart phone” dependent, unattached job-hoppers, are advancing at an office near you. Statistically, these professionals aged 36 and younger are now the largest sector of the global workforce. By 2020 they will comprise more than half the globe’s workers. Naturally, we want to understand how to attract, motivate and retain this generation. While we admire their tech savvy and problem solving, we’ve all heard disgruntled stories about the divide their approach can cause in the workplace. So what is at the core of the psyche for Generation Next, and how do we tap into their brilliance, and apparent challenges? 

At Delivering Happiness we have been developing a framework for strong workplace cultures since culture was considered taboo. It focuses on five key elements starting with values, layering in three levers of happiness including a sense of progress, connectedness with other workers, and a sense of control, then places the element of purpose front and center.

With the rise of the Millennial generation we see now more than ever these elements are not a ‘nice’ to have, they are literally in demand; Generation Next is quite willing to leave a high paying job that lacks these, and businesses are realizing they must incorporate these elements to attract, motivate and retain the workforce of the future.

The good news is, these are the same elements we have worked with for years to improve overall workplace culture and employee happiness, regardless of background, ethnicity or, you guessed it, age.

The impact on workplace culture, and, our own happiness could be tremendous. Could the push and pull of Millennial needs be the impetus to take your culture to the next level?

Here are some crucial things to consider in developing a thriving culture that attracts and motivates Millennials, but also, serves to unite and inspire the rest of your workforce.

Purpose. Millennials are well known for their desire for a higher purpose and deeper meaning in their work. They've seen recessions and global economic shifts under the highest speed of information ever known, along with the erosion of work-life-balance. It’s not surprising, Millennials require fulfillment on a deeper level than their predecessors. They are looking for the immediate impact of their work that allows them to envision their own future in this rapidly changing world.

Yet, they are the most disengaged sector of the workforce (71% disengaged). According to Gallup, less than one third of Millennials feel their organization’s mission or purpose gives meaning to their work. In the absence of meaning, they quickly disengage, often disrupting traditions like loyalty to team, support of coworkers or quality, creating a challenging dichotomy.

Leadership style is an important piece of the solution. Workers with a high sense of purpose often have leaders who motivate and inspire them for the future. But to engage Millennials sustainably, we also need to appeal to their individual sense of purpose, and help them align it to the organization’s mission. By doing so, we start at the source of personal motivation, and see how the individual’s role plays a part in the whole community’s ability to flourish. Gallup reveals “you can increase employee engagement for this group from 14% to 67% by simply focusing on mission alignment.”

For the rest of us, welcoming this shift and moving toward what some are calling a Purpose Economy offers a tremendous opportunity for personal happiness and business results. What greater opportunity is there to rallying all of your workers around the higher purpose of your work in service to the world?

Three Levers. The other area to consider in building a thriving Millennial culture is what we call the three happiness levers; progress, control and connectedness. These elements, identified from the science of happiness, tested and true, can be pulled like levers to build a happy, purposeful workplace culture.

Progress is about establishing incremental benchmarks that can be attained over short periods of time. But we want to focus beyond that, to helping Millennials and employees actually sense the progress being made individually and as a team. This includes behavioral rewards, social recognition, feedback, growth and learning. These are all key to attracting and retaining the upcoming generation, with 59% of Millennials naming "growth opportunities" as the deciding factor in job selection. It’s important to note, having grown-up in the Internet Age, Millennials do not limit their professional growth to the workplace. The opportunity and challenge for businesses is creatively designing ways to help employees sense progress on the personal level, and, build it into the overall culture as unique qualities.

One approach with many benefits is to offer mentorship from more seasoned employees.  Millenials respect and actively seek the specialized knowledge of their colleagues. Mentoring relationships can also be a powerful tool to bridge generations, cross-pollinate expertise and retain your top talent. Additionally, mentoring builds purpose, as Millennials feel more loyalty and meaning in their work when they have people, not projects, as anchors.

Control is about autonomy, sensing that you are the master of your own professional fate. It goes hand in hand with trust, as when control is extended, trust is built, and vice versa. Here again the focus for a successful culture is on the sense of control. This could include flexible work schedules, career direction, choice of role titles, input on decisions with direct impact, and importantly, transparency and access to information.

Coaching over managing is a rising trend. Millennials don’t want bosses, they want coaches who care about them and will help them grow. Take a fresh approach to coaching by allowing 20-somethings to demonstrate their self management skills. Ask them to lay out a plan for personal growth over the next 6 months, putting them at the helm of their own ship and empowering them as self-leaders. When they hit their benchmarks, reward them, supporting their sense of progress along with their sense of control.

Connectedness is the central force for thriving organizations. It is the critical bond that holds relationships, projects, and organizations together increasing empathy, teamwork, personal resilience, and ultimately, success. When we feel united, we feel more determined for both our own, and each other’s success. We can’t say enough about this lever!

While the most digitally connected generation is accomplished in the breadth of connection, with over 85% owning a smartphone, the opportunity is for organizations to foster depth of connection. Promote personal connections across departments and generations with social and learning events. Organizations such as Evernote and Hubspot encourage leaders and employees alike to offer classes for each other, cook pancake breakfasts and take shifts serving each other espresso. Or, start simple by opening meetings with a connective question such as, What was your dream growing up? Encourage authentic connections to grow organically and watch support, collaboration, innovation, and productivity all rise naturally.

As we move forward building practices to engage Millennials, it’s key to think about our long-term culture, and how we are uniting and elevating the rest of our employees. It starts with recognizing the momentous fact that the greatest motivator for Millennials is the same as it was for past generations: higher purpose. We can use the changes demanded in the area of purpose to elevate our entire ecosystem, from individuals to teams to the organization to our community of customers and partners. Start there and add in the levers of happiness.

The Delivering Happiness framework exists to help you raise the happiness and success of all your employees along with the new, wonderful and challenging Millennial generation.

So what will this generation’s impact be on your workplace culture? How will it serve to improve happiness and performance of all your employees? We’d love to hear from you.

Ready to begin the journey to a high-functioning, purpose-driven culture that will attract Millennials?

Schedule a conversation with a member of the DH Team here: 

Schedule an Initial Consult


About Sunny Grosso

Sunny Grosso

Sunny’s mission is to inspire others to live BIG by being true to themselves and following their purpose. She is passionate about realizing this through positive work cultures. Through her diverse journey Sunny has been a wellness researcher, saké trainer, ultra-runner, one of the world’s first happiness coaches and, finally, a global culture consultant.

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