What is the secret to high employee engagement and workplace happiness?  While research in recent years has shown a sense of purpose is paramount—especially for millennial employees—the Udemy 2019 Workplace Happiness Report offers some surprising insights into what employees value most. Based on our research findings, here’s what really matters to employees and four ways to keep them happy at work.

1. Balance matters more than pay, praise, or purpose

For the 1,000+ full-time American employees we surveyed, quality of life drives their career choices and their sense of purpose at work—more than 37% ranked “good work-life balance” as most essential to giving their work meaning.

So, what about the metrics we typically think matter at work? Only 19% ranked “personal accomplishment” and “success in my role” as most important to meaning, and 16% picked “constantly learning, growing, developing.” “Contributing to a greater good” or making a difference in people’s lives actually only gives 14% of respondents meaning in their work.

This research shows that when work-life balance is out of whack, the power of other factors like learning and contributing to a greater good is diminished. Helping your employees better manage their time and cut down on distractions is one way to boost productivity and maintain a sense of work-life balance. See How to Become a Master of Time Management at Work. In addition, organizations can invest in an employee wellness program to help their employees keep a balanced and healthy life. See 4 Tips for Launching an Employee Wellness Strategy.

2. Millennials, more than others, love to keep learning

Millennials, surprisingly, were least likely to prioritize work-life balance as the factor that gives their work meaning, with only 25% selecting it over other options, compared to 42% of Gen Z, 40% of Gen X, and 48% of Baby Boomers. Instead, millennials ranked “constantly learning, growing, developing” higher than people in other age groups did. Millennials also led the pack in saying they’d rather take a high-pressure job they’ve always wanted over a less stressful but less fulfilling option. In our era of rapid technological change, millennials are fully aware that the skills they have today may be obsolete tomorrow. They see learning as the key to staying relevant in their constantly evolving careers.

Now that millennials make up the largest percentage of the US workforce, it’s essential to understand how to provide learning and growth opportunities that align with this demographic. Including learning as a key part of your culture is one way to keep your millennials happy. This could be through offering an online learning platform like Udemy for Business with personalized recommendations based on individual needs so employees can continue to hone their skills and grow into new roles. Find out how Udemy for Business can keep your workforce engaged and happy with a personalized learning experience.

In addition, having enough time to learn is often a major barrier for employees, according to our survey report What Motivates Employees to Learn. Learning & Development teams should carve out time for learning either through scheduled monthly Learning Hours or Days. Curious to see how other companies make use of Learning Days? See Voyager’s Blended Learning in 3 Dimensions.

Offering personalized one-size-fits-one learning through 360 assessments, one-one-coaching and peer-to-peer social learning are also essential tactics to help your millennial workforce continue to learn and grow. See One-Size-Fits-One (Not All) Learning at Tile.  

Finally, you might want to consider training your managers to adapt their style to the needs and preferences of millennial employees, which involves shifting to a coaching approach rather than traditional styles of management. See Stop Managing: Why It’s Critical to Coach Your Millennial Employees.

3. Living the dream means finding a workplace that aligns with personal preferences

Millennials might prioritize learning and growing over balance simply because they really love their jobs. According to the 2019 Workplace Happiness Report, 84% of millennials consider their current position to be their “dream job.”

Overall, 69% of respondents are in their dream jobs, with Baby Boomers last in line (only 54% said they are working their dream jobs). Moreover, it’s men who are more likely to say they’re currently living the dream at work (77% of men, compared to 62% of women). Broken down by education level, 76% of college grads agree they’re in their dream jobs, compared with 58% of those without a degree. College grads are also more willing to take a pay cut to work for a company with a compatible mission and are more willing to accept a long commute to get to a fulfilling job.

Why do millennials love their jobs so much? They’re more satisfied than other generations with how well their workplaces meet their personal preferences. We live in the age of where everything—from our movies to our restaurant choices—is tailored to our unique needs. Personalization matters at work too, particularly to millennials. In addition to offering flexible working hours and remote work opportunities, companies can offer personalized learning programs, whether that means customized course recommendations, coaching, or tools that help assess areas for improvement. See Why Personalization is the Future of L&D.

4. Create equal opportunities across gender to support all employees

Overall, employees generally have positive sentiments about their employers, with 64% strongly agreeing that their employers invest in their development, 62% saying they’re able to set their own schedules, and 50% saying they can work remotely when they want.

However, there appears to be a lack of gender equality in this flexibility. Among millennial men,

57% feel invested in, 59% set their own schedules, and 45% can work remotely. Compare this to 38% of millennial women who feel invested in, 36% who say they can set their own schedules, and 36% can work remotely. Other studies have also identified a gap in learning opportunities that are available to women. This divide is especially meaningful given the Workplace Happiness Report’s findings about work-life balance.

Consider how you might address and overcome a similar gap at your organization. One step is to educate employees on how bias might be affecting their work and decision-making. Courses like Tackling Gender Bias in the Workplace and Understanding Unconscious Bias examine some of the ways we can begin to understand our biases around gender and what we can do to correct them. You may also want to provide extra support for managers to help them become aware of how bias may be negatively impacting the learning and growth opportunities for women on their teams. See 4 Ways New Managers Can Lead Diverse Teams. Also consider providing extra training for hiring managers to help them develop less biased processes for interviewing and assessing candidates. Creating a female mentorship program can also provide women with the connections and support they need to progress in their careers. See Breaking the Glass Ceiling: 5 Tips to Fix Gender Bias at Your Organization for more ideas.

Want to learn more? Download your copy of the 2019 Workplace Happiness Report here.

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