Millennials are happier when they have friends at work

In the final part of their series Jennifer J Deal and Alec Levenson consider the importance of community for Millennials.

All of the time Millennials spend staring at their devices leaves a misleading image. While technology is important to them, the human aspect of work is even more important. If they do not feel emotionally connected to their workplace either through friends or teams or their boss, they are a flight risk even if they get all the tech toys they say they desire. 

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Millennials who do not feel an emotional connection to people within their organisation will look elsewhere until they find it. Our research shows that they need friends at work, teams and an organisation they feel a part of, and a boss who cares about them.

Friends are critical to Millennials, both at home and at work as 98 per cent of Millennials in the UK say that developing close ties with coworkers is important to them. In fact, having friends and close coworkers at work is so important that it is strongly related to how committed a Millennial feels about the organisation.  

Given how important friends at work are to Millennials, it is good news that a majority of Millennials feel that they have friends there as 72 per cent percent in the UK say they have formed strong friendships at work, and 65 per cent say they can confide in people at work. This means that a majority have relationships at work that help make the workplace a place they want to be. (In case you’re wondering, the percentages are similar for older generations). 

In addition, 67 per cent of Millennials say that being able to see their coworkers is one of the reasons they look forward to their job. When Millennials do not have coworkers they like or feel they have a good working relationship with, they become dissatisfied and are likely to want to leave the group or the organisation.   

The Team
A crucial part of Millennials’ experience at work is the team they work with. Many Millennials talked about how they were willing to work late to make sure their team’s goals were met. Some talked about voluntarily staying to support other team members who had not finished their work and going to get food for members of their teams who could not leave and were hungry.

Many said that they wouldn’t feel connected to their organisation if it were not for the teams they were with 76 per cent of Millennials in the UK would rather work as part of a group than work alone. To them, the team is the organisation, in a tangible way.

The Boss
Millennials view their relationship with their boss just as important as relationships with friends at work or the teams they are a part of.  

Millennials in the UK have very specific ideas about what makes a good boss or leader. They believe that good leaders are considerate and kind (78 per cent), willing to help others (83 per cent), care about others (78 per cent), and want to get to know the people they work with (100 per cent) and form relationships with them (100 per cent).

They expect leaders to help members of their team and encourage teamwork and collaborative behaviour (83 per cent). They also believe that good leaders inspire and motivate others (89 per cent).  

The bad news is 38 per cent of Millennials in the UK do not say that their bosses care about their well-being and 23 per cent do not say their supervisors are supportive. Worse, 21 per cent per cent say that their managers show little concern for them and 19 per cent say their managers do not appreciate it when they put in extra effort. That means that somewhere between 23 and 38 per cent of Millennials in the UK don’t feel as if their manager is meeting their needs for connection and community.

It is the discrepancy between what Millennials want and what they are experiencing that is critical for organisations to pay attention to. While Millennials may like their tech toys, it is their relationships that make or break their experience at work. When there is a big discrepancy between what Millennials believe supervisors should do and what supervisors actually do, it has a negative impact on Millennials’ commitment and engagement.  

The Organisation
Having friends and feeling part of a team as well as having a boss they like and trust makes them feel connected to their organisation as a whole. This is important because it also represents future opportunities. The prospect of working for other bosses and having experiences that enable professional and personal growth are all part of the package that comes with working for an organisation.  

The good news is that 79 per cent of Millennials believe that their organisation cares about their general satisfaction at work, and 63 per cent believe that their organisation values their contribution to its well-being.

They do not expect nirvana at work, so they are not going to stampede for the door just because their boss is less than perfect. A large part of what keeps them from leaving is their connection to the larger organisation, which includes relationships with their immediate team members, friendships throughout the organisation, mentors who can help guide them in their careers, and so on. Commitment to the organisation is built on the foundation of these multifaceted relationships that together define the Millennials’ experience at work.

When Millennials do not feel they belong, they may start looking for what they are missing, whether that is an organisation (or a manager) whose world view is closer to theirs, or coworkers and supervisors who care about them as people.

Organisations can help to reduce the likelihood of this happening by providing opportunities for people to make friends through affinity groups and activities that bring people together who have similar interests, supporting a team-based culture of inclusion, and making sure that managers have the training and time they need to truly get to know and show interest in their employees.


About the authors

Jennifer J. Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

Alec Levenson is a senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organisations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.






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