boatKeeping millennial workers happy is not as straightforward as providing a paycheck. Sure, compensation is a factor, but millennials are far more particular and exacting about what they want out of a workplace than previous generations. Not content to be “company” men and women, millennials hop from job to job, demand increasingly flexible and casual work environments, and seek satisfaction in the lofty ideals of “meaning” and “purpose.”

Whether or not they are pleased about these shifts, employers have to acknowledge them. Millennials surpassed Gen. X-ers in 2015 as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. As millennials continue to join the workplace and climb the ranks, it will be essential for businesses to keep them happy and, thus, productive. A number of studies have uncovered a clear link between employee happiness and performance, with one study finding that employee happiness can boost productivity by 10 percent.

This brings us to the central question of this piece: What can managers do to keep their employees happy and motivated? Yes, free snacks and dog-friendly workplaces are nice perks, but they don’t even scratch the surface in terms of driving real satisfaction. The “secret” to employee happiness is to identify employees’ core values and structure the work environment to reflect them.

What Is Happiness to Millennials?

In “Happy Millennials: An Employee Rewards & Recognition Study,” Blackhawk Engagement Solutions discovered that, for millennials, work ranks low on the ladder of what makes them happy. The top two things that make millennials happy are family and friends, and even health, music, and pets surpass “job” in the rankings. Just 13 percent of millennials ranked “job” as one of the top three factors in their happiness.

A major reason why millennial employees do not view work as a fountain of happiness is because employer efforts to make them happy are often misguided. As mentioned above, millennials feel a strong link between a sense of purpose and their job satisfaction. In her research, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter found that “meaning” is one of the three most important motivators and sources of engagement. As Forbes contributor Karl Moore puts it, “Millennials work for purpose, not paycheck.”

Millennials don’t just want to do a job. They want to feel that their work is making a difference within their organization and the world at large. “Making an impact” is the No. 1 thing millennials look for in their careers.

leapThese priorities mean that, in order to keep employees happy and motivated, companies need to put their missions and core values front and center. It’s not enough to stick a mission statement on a website or a poster somewhere. To assume genuine meaning, missions and values have to be woven into the fabric of the organization. For example, managers can reinforce meaning by clearly connecting weekly goals to the long-term plan and vision or by publicly and immediately acknowledging an employee for taking an action that embodies a core value.

Recognition and Rewards!

Recognition is absolutely essential to driving employee satisfaction and keeping motivation levels high. Recognition is how you reinforce core values, which, as I just discussed, is an important aspect of cultivating an individual and collective sense of purpose. Recognition lets employees know that their work matters and is making a difference.

The importance of recognition cannot be understated. Millennials crave constant feedback and are always seeking out opportunities to grow. In a study called “No Collar Workers,” 80 percent of millennials said they want regular feedback from their managers and 89 percent agreed that “it’s important to be constantly learning at my job.” Recognition and feedback are how millennials learn.

However, Blackhawk Engagement’s study found that only 40 percent of millennial employees are happy with the rewards and recognition programs their companies offer. Moreover, 39 percent of millennials say their employers do not offer any rewards or recognition — or they offer recognition in ways that employees don’t want.

Managers often use things like vacation days and prime tickets to sporting events and concerts for employee motivation, but these tools miss the mark in terms of what really motivates millennials. For a generation that places a high premium on learning, meaning, and recognition, tickets just don’t cut it — but creating a workplace where top values are used to drive employees’ efforts and establish a framework for recognition does.

Research from Bersin & Associates found that organizations where recognition occurs perform 14 percent better on employee engagement, productivity, and customer service than those where recognition does not occur. Plus, a Brandon Hall Group survey revealed that 82 percent of organizations with social recognition platforms enjoy higher revenues and 70 percent see improved retention rates.

leavesLeveraging values to drive performance requires clear communication. It is most effective when done publicly, specifically, and in the moment. This fuels a positive circle of feedback that enables employees to feel grounded and gratified by the work that they do — and go home everyday feeling satisfied.



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