5 ways to help Generation Y to find happiness at work

By Ilona Suojanen

photo: pixabay.com

By 2020 Generation Y is calculated to form 46 percent of the global workforce. That means that in three years time young adults born between 1979 and 2000 will be presenting nearly a half of all the people in the workplaces.[1] This is a generation that is said to “rock the boat”[2] at work as they have very different ideas on management, success and work values compared to their ancestors.[3] This is also the generation that wants to be happy at work[4]. Even more so: they require happiness at work. If they are not happy, they will leave. As the recruitment and training new employees is a costly process, it is important for the employers to know what makes their young employees happy.

Here are the five most important aspects, which allow the Ys to find happiness at work.

Work going well

People are happy when their work is going well. This is very simple, but often forgotten aspect of happiness at work. Employees are happy when they succeed in their aims and get their work done. Achieving goals does not only lead to possible rewards but also gives a sense of relief and lessens the stress and worries about future work too, as it gives them confidence and self-assurance. Achievements can also undo the influence of negative experiences and emotions and help to build enduring personal resources, beneficial in the long run.[5] Achievements or meeting the goals are not necessary needed, as happiness can also be felt in the work-process, when the skills and challenges are in balance and the sense of flow is experienced.[6]

Working with friends

This generation is not satisfied with a positive work climate, but they want more: to have friends at work. They want to feel truly connected with people around them and deepen the relationship from pure collegiality to a friendship. With friends at work they can laugh, have fun, release steam and cope better with stress. Supportive community is a determining factor in engagement, commitment, happiness and energy levels. Other people are essential to their happiness. Also, having friends at work makes it the place they want to be.[7]

Pleasant working environment

The more natural light and green views from the office, the happier the employees are. If commuting to work is through a park or lunch breaks can be spent in green spaces and natural habitats, less stress and even greater happiness can be achieved. Green views from office windows can provide a blissful sanctuary during a busy day and make people feel like part of the outside world, at least visually if not technically. If the environment cannot provide these, even pictures of nature can help to increase happiness.[8]

Doing something that matters

Having a meaningful and purposeful job matters to this generation. They want to help, to have an impact, to improve and to contribute to society. They want to leave a positive footprint in their surroundings and find joy in seeing how their input has influenced somebody’s day. Having an impact on others also forms their self-worth and identity.[9] When their work matters, they matter too.

Sense of control

When employees are given a possibility to find their own ways to organize their day, environment and working style, it does not only lead to better outcomes (which benefits the company too), but also increases happiness. In addition to make time spent working more pleasurable and happier, they want to find arrangements that will help them to perform better in their jobs. Having control over one’s work is strongly related to flexibility, whether this refers to mobile and remote working, flexible working hours and having control on the order and execution of tasks – or even with whom the work is done. For Ys balancing all the aspects of their life is one of the most important career goals.[10] Instead of talking about work-life balance they talk about a balanced life and work-life integration. This way the boss at work is not the boss of their life.

All these five enablers are connected by one wish: a permission to be a human being at work. Generation Y wants to be authentic 24/7. They don’t want to be happy at work per se, but to be happy in their lives, of which work is a significant part.

Although some of the given examples might be better suited for Western societies and professional jobs, all five enablers are important aspects of increasing workplace happiness around the globe.

These results are based on a research on happiness at work recently conducted at the University of Edinburgh. 24 young professionals from various fields took part in the study to reveal deeper information on their understanding, experiences and wishes for workplace happiness. The data was collected using narrative and visual methods. The study was funded by Alfred Kordelin foundation, Finnish Cultural foundation and The Finnish Work Environment Fund.


About Ilona Suojanen

CV imageIlona is currently finishing off her PhD thesis titled Young professionals and the pursuit of happiness at work, at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interest lies in happiness and well-being at work, and especially focuses on alternative ways of researching happiness and happiness responsibility. She has graduated from the University of South Australia with a Master in Journalism and from the University of Turku, Finland with a Master in Educational Sciences. She is the author of the book Work for your happiness (2012).

Sources used in this post:

[1] Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace, 2012 https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/custom-programs/~/media/DF1C11C056874DDA8097271A1ED48662.ashx

[2] Eisner, S., 2005. Managing generation Y. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 70(4), pp. 4-12.

[3] McDonald, K. & Hite, L., 2008. The next generation of career success: implications for HRD. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(86), pp. 86-103.

[4] Deal, J.J & Levenson A., 2016. What millennials want from work, How to maximize engagement in today’s workforce. McGrawHillEducation.

[5] Fredrickson, B.L. 2001. The role of positive emotions in positive psychology, The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist, 56(3), pp. 218-226.

[6] Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1997. Finding flow: The psychology of engagement and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

[7] Deal, J.J & Levenson A., 2016. What millennials want from work, How to maximize engagement in today’s workforce. McGrawHillEducation.

[8] Kweon, B. S., Ulrich, R. S., Walker, V. D., & Tassinary, L. G., 2008. Anger and stress—The role of landscape posters in an office setting. Environment and Behavior, 40(3), pp. 355–381.

[9] McManus Warnell, J., 2015. Engaging Millennials for Ethical Leadership: What Works for Young Professionals and Their Managers. (M. Gentile, Ed.). New York: Business Expert Press.

[10] Sturges, J. & Guest, D., 2004. Working to live or living to work? Work/life balance early in the career. Human Resource Management Journal, 14(4), pp. 5–20.



  1. Excellent work, Ilona – the message about Control is one that so few employers seem to understand in job design.

    Your heading on Working with Friends reminds me of very old work on social capital – many people make their lasting friends at the workplace, and that social capital carries on for years later. Our public health has just published this review on health and social isolation ~
    An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness
    Journal title: Public Health
    Final version published online: 12-Sep-2017
    To help you access and share your article, we are providing you with the following personal article link, which will provide free access to your article, and is valid for 50 days, until November 01, 2017
    Hope all goes smoothly with your PhD Viva,


  2. Hi there! I really enjoyed reading this blog post. Most of the time people don’t have work-life balance and I think that is constantly we are working all the time. I think the line between work and home life is blurred. Workplaces definitely need to be more flexible with their employees working hours especially now in the world of social media and technology where we can always be working (especially for people working in digital media). I want to raise the issue that workplaces should be giving employees mental health leave days, which is separate from annual leave or sick leave days. I think having a day off to have a mental rest can make a massive difference to someone’s mental health. It allows workers to regroup, relax and focus. If we are constantly working all the time, we run the risk of burning out. Having a mental health day can help eliminate the risk of burning out at work. I have written about work-life balance and you can hear more of my thoughts here; http://letsworkonit.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/is-theere-such-a-thing-as-work-life-balance/ MP


  3. Hi, so true! Very well summarised what the new work environment should have, only thing I would like to add is a lack of perspectives, how can work be motivation if there is no long term goal?


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