Happy at Work

I’m posting a lot about generational differences on the Association Renewal Blog, particularly from the recent talk I heard by Arthur Brooks, who wrote the Smith Institute report on generational differences and associations.

There’s one important point I wanted to make over here, though. Brooks points out that Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials) have shifted the work/life balance to the “life” side, compared to the previous two generations. Younger generations have new standards for what it means to “like” one’s job or one’s workplace. Think about it, as Brooks said, if you complained to your grandfather that you hated your job, he’d reply “Well of course you do! Everyone hates their job!”

Seriously, though, the statistics bear out that younger workers are leaving their jobs more frequently. This is expensive to organizations. One of the reasons they are leaving, Brooks argues, is because they are not getting along with other people at work. They’re not happy. While this used to be the price you paid to get a paycheck, those standards are changing.

So do you do anything to create a happier workplace? Or is that considered not critical to the bottom line or to delivering the mission? I think Brooks (and I) would disagree.


  1. Kristi Donovan
    06.07.2006 at 9:19 am

    I’m struck by the term “happy.” When I think “happy workplace,” I think Disney… and I’m not sure that’s the image we should be chasing (mental image: smiling coworkers roaming the hall with name badges… “Hi Joe!” “Hi Mary! How are ya?”)- though I’m sure it’s a fine place to work. I would be immediately skeptical of a workplace that called itself happy. For me, I would define a happy workplace as a place that provides fulfillment and learning/growth opportunities, and where trust exists. Of course, if those things exist, I would imagine that it would be pretty easy to get along with coworkers – presumably b/c they’re having similar experiences. I think there’s an obvious responsibility to develop a positive work environment on behalf of the organization, but first I would ask, what does “happy” mean to your employees? Or, exactly why aren’t they getting along with coworkers? My impression has been that the “old guard” has a tough time with the new kids.

  2. 07.07.2006 at 8:31 am

    Yes, Kristi, the terms need definition, and I admit I was using the term “happy” a bit flippantly. It’s not about people smiling all the time. It’s getting at the things you mention. I think the younger generations are simply placing more value on having good, effective, and positive relationships at work, and also with doing fulfilling work. Not that older generations don’t want that too, but the relative value is sometimes different, so the choices about what to deal with (and how to deal with it) are different.