Here’s a number to help paint the picture. In America, the average person spends 90,000 hours of their lifetime working – that’s at least 27 years if you work a 9-to-6 five-day week. If you think that's scary, you haven't worked in Singapore.
Really, it’s unfathomable how our Little Red Dot remains one of the hardest working countries in the world. In December 2018, Singaporean millennials were reported to work the second-longest hours in the world at 48 hours a week, or an average of nearly 10 hours a day.
When you throw in all the work expectations and restrictions employees face, it’s no wonder why Singaporean workers are exhausted, exasperated, and just overall unhappy with work.
It doesn’t really make sense that unhappiness in the workplace perpetuates, when studies clearly show how happiness has a direct impact on productivity. Is it an issue of the management being unreasonable slave drivers or one of employees having rigid workaholic mindsets?
And what does it take to create a happy workplace? We surveyed 35 millennials to find out what they think.
A resounding majority agreed that opportunities to learn and grow (90.6%) and work-life balance (75%) were crucial in a happy work life, while salary and benefits (59.4%) and company values and culture (53.1%) came in third and fourth.
Honestly, these results aren’t shocking. They correspond with American business writer Patrick Lencioni’s concept of ‘happiness in the workplace’, which he defines as “wanting to feel like you matter, what you do is impactful, and that you are making progress”.
To be sure, creating a workplace that fulfils all of the ideals above is probably next to impossible. Every company is unique, with employees that have different needs. What any team needs to do is identify the priorities of its members and the key motivations that drive their happiness at work.
Naturally, the best way to foster a happy working environment is for everyone, and not just the bosses, to chip in. We’ve broken down the survey results into practical suggestions that both employers and employees can apply.
Because millennials want to grow their careers and make valuable contributions to the company, we should:
1. Provide ample feedback, encouragement and guidance.
After pouring in hours into a project, the least we hope to get is some recognition. Come on, a “good job” or “keep it up” doesn’t take that much effort. But nowadays, too many companies focus solely on the end result, not how they got there.
Often, those who did the work are overlooked. According to Forbes, the top factor for on-the-job employee happiness is appreciation for their work. This is supported by Gallup’s findings that recognising and commending good work is a great morale booster and inculcator of company loyalty.
Constructive feedback is welcome too. Performance reviews are no longer dreaded meetings. In fact, millennials are ever eager to improve and become more valuable employees. Receiving regular feedback allows employees to actively keep track of their goals and to speed up their growth.
Also, don’t be afraid to be truthful. When it comes to bettering ourselves – despite our reputation for bruising like peaches – we millennials can take the punches.
2. Supply employees with chances to showcase their talent.
Some bosses prefer waiting until young employees have chalked up months – or even years – of “experience” before letting them take on important tasks.
However, leaving these employees to simply “observe” and do menial tasks until you think they’re ready is not beneficial for either party. Nothing says “I don’t trust you as a worker!” like limiting someone’s potential.
Why not try feeding your workers with increasingly difficult problems to test their skills? Sure, start small, but give us something where we can prove our worth. Shake off the plague of fearful “what ifs” and give millennials stakes to own and walls to hit.
You’ll find that, contrary to popular belief, we thrive under pressure and grow exponentially when we're no longer just assistants and understudies. You might also discover valuable abilities you never knew they had.
3. Support employees who want to learn more skills.
If it hasn’t already been made clear, millennials are hungry to learn. Forbes notes that lack of training is the top reason why millennials start searching for new jobs. Of course, on-the-job learning is one way to acquire and hone your skills. But some skills, especially those beyond your job scope, require more rigorous and targeted instruction.
Employers shouldn't shut employees down when they express the desire to pick up a new skill or take a short break to attend a course. Be it workshops by external vendors or peer-to-peer training, show employees that you support and invest in their growth.
As for employees, if you feel like you’re not learning as much as you’d like, don’t keep it bottled inside. Talk to your boss to see what can be done to boost your learning. Ultimately, expanding your skill set can only bring benefit to both parties.
Because millennials want a life outside of work, we should:
4. Eliminate the false belief in presenteeism.
Like any other generation, millennials deserve work-life balance and time to venture out and experience the world. One hindrance to this is the Asian culture of presenteeism.
Presenteeism is the phenomenon where employees feel like they always have to be present at work to be considered “good employees”. This flawed, old-fashioned way of thinking that long hours equate to hard work has negative consequences.
Employees who turn up for work sick spread illnesses and don't perform at their productive best. If your throat is itchy, your head is pounding, or you’re running a fever, be honest with yourself – how useful can you still be at work? For the company, presenteeism leads to excessive and unnecessary spending to cover large productivity losses.
5. Allow for more flexible working hours and locations.
As we've mentioned before, every individual has their own needs and life situation. For instance, parents may prefer to start and leave work earlier to spend more time with their families. Some employees might work better at night and have ideas start flowing only after 6pm.
With this in mind, employers could start tweaking working hours and locations. For instance, night owls could start and leave later for greater productivity. Those whose creativity gets stifled when they don’t get a change in scenery need not work from the office. If the team consistently works long hours, the work week could be shortened from five to four days.
As for employees, stop being apologetic about it and start living your best life! Pick up a new hobby or skill, pursue your resolutions, or do that exciting activity you’ve been putting off because of work. Life is much more than work. Chase all your dreams, please.
Because millennials want colleagues they can share similar values and form meaningful relationships with, we should:
6. Develop a positive and social company culture.
The workplace is a second home to many, but it's not always a sanctuary of comfort. Often, it's the opposite.
We may be Singaporean, but don’t let freebies distract you from what truly matters. Workplace culture is more than just perpetually stocked pantries, table soccer and elaborately decorated office spaces.
Workplace culture is about having a strong set of values that informs everything the company does, starting with the recruitment stage. And cut the office politics nonsense. The workplace should be a positive work environment where employees feel a sense of camaraderie.
Harvard Business Review found that establishing good relations with colleagues boosts employee satisfaction by 50% and increases employee motivation by seven times. Companies with strong workplace cultures also have higher productivity and lower turnover rates, so need we say any more?