Jobs and Skills

4 ways young professionals can prioritize happiness in the modern workplace

Young people's perceptions of happiness are intertwined with the modern workplace.

Young people's perceptions of happiness are intertwined with the modern workplace. Image: Unsplash/Annie Spratt

Ben Pfeffer
Founder, The Career Kickstarter
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Jobs and Skills

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  • Generation Z and millennials have low life satisfaction scores by the estimates of one Harvard study.
  • Quality of life perceptions are largely related to workplace experiences.
  • Harmonizing life and work, forming meaningful relationships, valuing rest and embracing challenges can cultivate happiness in the modern workplace.

As workplace dynamics evolve, generation Z and millennials face a pressing concern; one revealed in a 2022 comprehensive study spearheaded by Harvard University, which unveiled that these young individuals tallied the lowest life-satisfaction scores across all age groups.

National data on age gradients in well-being among US adults.
National data on age gradients in well-being among US adults. Image: Data from JAMA Psychiatry.

Interestingly, the heart of why these young people experienced such low scores was embedded in their workplace experience. As modern workplaces evolve, it becomes imperative to unravel their impact on the well-being of the younger workforce. What emerges is a dynamic interaction where the balance between work and happiness assumes a pivotal role.

This interplay challenges the conventional notion that work necessarily leads to stress and unhappiness among the young. Experience as a young person in corporate America and via career coaching for more than 100 young professionals shows that the reality is quite the opposite – when approached with mindfulness and equilibrium, work can emerge as a source of immense joy and fulfilment, not just a means to an end.

Four key approaches serve as guiding points on this journey.

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1. Harmonizing work and life

While noble in its intent, the concept of work-life balance often proves elusive in practice because it is incredibly demanding and unrealistic. Acknowledging this reality sets the stage for embracing the idea of work-life integration.

This shift in perspective entails a profound recognition that life, in all its beautiful messiness, inevitably interweaves with work. This integration is not a concession but an alignment that fosters flexibility, creativity and authenticity. As these boundaries blur, personal lives extend beyond the confines of homes, while work can slip away from behind the desk.

Embracing this symbiotic relationship can free individuals from the need to code-switch to fit particular contexts, allowing them to embrace their authentic selves in their homes or corporate offices. The outcome is a holistic and harmonious existence that research consistently supports, culminating in enhanced job satisfaction, well-being and productivity.

2. The art of selecting co-workers

The age-old adage that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with resonates profoundly in the workplace context. Surrounding oneself with the right colleagues can be transformative as the lines of friendship and mentorship blur.

While individuals might not control every aspect of their work environment, they retain the agency to choose where they invest their energy. This selection process extends beyond mere professional compatibility and dives into the fabric of personal connection. Nurturing three distinct types of relationships can pave the way for an environment of happiness and growth.

  • The “friend” emerges as a steadfast ally who can infuse laughter and uplift spirits in times of need. This relationship often transcends office walls, becoming a cornerstone of personal life.
  • The “mentor” embodies the wisdom of experience, guiding careers and nurturing growth. This dynamic serves as a professional lifeline, offering constructive critique and necessary praise.
  • The “confidant” is a trusted ally, providing a safe space for advice and empathetic listening.

These relationships are not just tangential to work; they constitute a tapestry of interpersonal connections that elevate job satisfaction and happiness.

3. Paid time off

In a world where productivity is championed and workaholism becomes a subtle badge of honour, the value of paid time off often remains underestimated. The irony lies in the data – despite its availability, only 21% of millennials take more than 10 days of paid time off.

This reluctance carries potential repercussions in several aspects of professional life. One of the most critical outcomes is the risk of burnout, a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that gnaws at well-being.

Contrary to the stigma surrounding rest, studies consistently underline that those who embrace paid time off report higher job satisfaction and overall well-being. In fact, 92% of employees whose companies support their time off report fuller job satisfaction.

The significance of paid time off is not confined to personal well-being; it extends to corporate culture. Every instance where an individual stands up for their time off nurtures a culture that prioritizes well-being and respect for the individual. By communicating paid time off plans well in advance, young professionals can reclaim the value of rest and contribute to reshaping a corporate culture that cherishes the holistic welfare of its workforce.

A nuanced approach is crucial, where work-life integration replaces the elusive balance.

Ben Pfeffer, Founder, The Career Kickstarter

4. The thriving power of challenge

Scientific findings underscore a simple yet profound truth: a challenged mind is a joyful and productive mind. The notion of challenge operates as a double-edged sword. While its implications may evoke associations with stress, the fine line between challenge and stress is where the magic lies.

When approached with a healthy perspective, challenges serve as catalysts for growth, productivity, confidence and enhanced communication skills. Some signs that you aren’t being challenged can include boredom, repetition and even resentment towards your work. If you aren’t being challenged at work, it may be time to seek out other opportunities that can stretch you professionally and personally.

In our modern workplace landscape, the well-being of generation Z and millennials has been a pressing concern. Harvard’s 2022 study revealed their lowest life satisfaction scores, with work environments playing a significant role.

A nuanced approach is crucial, where work-life integration replaces the elusive balance. Selecting supportive colleagues fosters a transformative atmosphere; meanwhile, embracing paid time off combats burnout and reshapes corporate culture. Finally, the science of happiness can highlight the potential for growth and fulfilment.

As young professionals navigate this dynamic terrain, harmonizing life and work, forming meaningful relationships, valuing rest and embracing challenges can cultivate genuine workplace happiness and reshape the professional journey.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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