Forget the hype, what does actual research say about millennials in the workplace?

Forget the hype, what does actual research say about millennials in the workplace?

There’s lots of hype about who millennials are, how they are different to other groups of workers, and what it takes to attract them and make them happy.

This post looks at actual research on millennials compared to other groups, and throws in some of my findings from a recent workplace research project to separate the fact from the fiction.

A case study from one of the greats about why culture rules your organisation

A case study from one of the greats about why culture rules your organisation

Culture is more important to your organisation than structure - you can’t drive very far in a beat-up car. Don’t take my word for it - hear from one of the greats.

This post covers culture versus structure in an organisation, the Marginal Gains approach, and why culture is important for achieving business goals.

How can you improve your business?

How can you improve your business?

Whether you're big or small, there's some things to be learned from looking at your business in different ways. Look at your business differently, and improve your business with some tips and questions.

What colour organisation do you have?

What colour organisation do you have?

As we evolve, our organisations need to change. Do you feel out of place in your organisation - like you just don't fit? Don't worry, you might just be another colour...

How do I achieve life balance?

How do I achieve life balance?

Finding work-life balance (or just life balance) can feel like being pulled in all directions at once. How do you balance life?

Mindset for a happy life #4: Cultivating contentment


Mindset for a happy life #4: Cultivating contentment

As a life coach, I'm supposed to be all about goal setting, achievement, excellence and kick-assness. I'm supposed to be glowing with pride at the opening night of your solo rock opera masterpiece, laughing with you at all the people who said "someone who has never played an instrument can't sell out the entertainment centre!". Naturally, all of this is the product of our world-rocking coaching partnership.

However, I've seen many instances in which the "more, more more" mindset isn't the most healthy, helpful way to approach things. This mindset almost naturally implies that the "next" thing is better than what you currently have. The focus on the bigger, better achievement actively takes away from what you have previously achieved, or what you are achieving.

I'll give you an example. As a runner, you start small. You start by running around the block - puffing and panting all the way. Then you set your sights on your first 5km race. When you enter, you think "I can't believe I'm going to run so far - I'll never make it." But you do, and you keep running. 10km's is next, and you're starting to move up in the running world - hanging out with runners, seeing their facebook feeds, reading more about running. Your sights keep going higher and higher. Finally, it's half marathon time - 21kms! But in the back of your mind is the thought - "real runners run marathons, not halves". Even at the start line, you're thinking about how you're not running the marathon. And so it goes - a marathon is overshadowed by an ultra, an ultra is overshadowed by longer or harder ultra's. Far is never far enough, fast is never fast enough.

While I always support my clients setting and achieving goals, there is no satisfaction or happiness in never appreciating what you have. "Grass is greener" thinking often diminishes the pleasure of the moment - wishing you had the lobster affects the taste of your steak.

For my clip I've chosen the final scenes of American Beauty. Throughout the film, Kevin Spacey's character has consistently pushed to re-define himself, firmly in the grip of a mid-life crisis. Only at the end, with seconds left to live, does he truly see the value of what he has. He finally lets go of wanting more and different, and instead embraces his present. His contentment is clear, testament to Spacey's mastery. WARNING: It's graphic, but worth it - you have been warned!

How you can grab hold of this mindset today:

1) Practice mindfulness - take note of what you have or do that is "good". Maybe it will mean taking quiet pride in "good enough", or noticing something about someone that you haven't paid attention to in a while. Whatever it is, take some time, notice, and smile. Research says they all help.

2) Notice when you are being critical of yourself. I like the 80% rule - rather than only being happy with 100%, is 80% good enough?

3) Notice when you are actively making yourself dissatisfied. Is looking through your Facebook feed making you feel down while you compare yourself to others? Are you online shopping to solve some problem or another? Do you think buying the next thing will make you happier? Try to look behind what you're doing at what you're trying to fix. They are rarely the same...


Mindset for a happy life #3: "Live like you don't give a fuck"

Mindset for a happy life #3: "Live like you don't give a fuck"

I pride myself on being a pragmatist. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, ditch it. This applies to mindsets too - they are only good if they are useful. And so while this mindset may sound the opposite to mindset #2, it's actually more of a refinement.

It comes mainly from author Mark Manson and his book 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck'. It's an extension of the Buddhist belief that life is suffering, and that striving to perfect and craft life to your will will only increase your suffering:

"There is a premise that underlies a lot of our assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved... If I achieve X, then I can be happy... This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and necessary components to creating consistent happiness."

He advocates for choosing a small number of things to give your scarce amount of "fucks" about, and letting go of all of the other things that don't make the list.

How you can grab hold of this mindset today:

1) Decide (right now) what would make your "fuck" list for the day. Is it the opinions of others? Is it your bosses unrealistic timeframe? Is it your lunch time in the sun? Choose the important things and appreciate them. Give less fucks about the rest.

2) Choose the 3 things in your life that are really worth your energy and attention. What can you do today to advance or appreciate them?

3) What are some things that you would like to practice letting go of?

For my vid, I've chosen a scene from 'Into the Wild'. It's beautiful and happy and sad and nice, and regardless of what you think of Chris McCandless, he chose the one thing that was important to him over all others - the experience of the wild.

Is your workplace culture terrible?

Is your workplace culture terrible?

How do you know if you have a bad workplace culture? Find out what culture is, why it's complex, and the simple questions you can ask to start to assess it.

Project Feature: Human Services Leadership and Mentoring

What is the Child, Youth & Family Mentoring and Collaboration Project?

"We need to give cash-strapped, over-worked for-purpose staff the opportunity to learn" was what I was told. "Can you work out a way to do that for us?"

So no ongoing training budgets, very little time to work in, and trying to bring together as many workers from diverse organisations as possible...

Program design

In response, I designed a leadership and mentoring program. I'd designed and coordinated several programs before, but not for an industry that experienced such high professional turnover and instability. It was often part of a path of career progression - this was something different.

I thought that if we combined experienced workers with greener workers, it would be a good way to: 

  1. Transfer skills, knowledge and new perspectives to newer workers;
  2. Train experienced workers in coaching and mentoring skills, and therefore input a fresh batch of coaching, facilitation and leadership skills into the sector;
  3. Facilitate relationships and collaboration between workers and organisations, both through mentoring relationships, and several group sessions.

Each participant in the program committed to 18 months of mentoring (one meeting with their partner per month). There were also a number of group sessions which punctuated the mentoring rhythm, with the aims of keeping everyone 'on track', guiding them through the phases of a mentoring relationship, facilitating relationships between the wider group members, and allowing further group learning and reflection.

Each group of mentors were trained for 2 days to get started.


The first program was rolled out in Northern Sydney. Each program was implemented in partnership with a local program coordinator who brought their local knowledge and contacts, and I brought the content and ongoing specialist support (e.g. how do you run a mentoring program, how do you match, what happens if there are problems in the relationships?).

Called Leaders North of the Bridge, we started with 12 mentors. 


Within the first 18 months of the Leaders North of the Bridge, the Program rolled out in 4 extra sites around NSW - South Eastern Sydney, Southern NSW, the Central Coast, and the Inner West of Sydney. We though of this as one large pilot, rather than 5 separate Projects. 

In reflecting the local context of the Projects, several had more specific aims: 

  • The Southern NSW program specifically aimed to integrate Aboriginal services with mainstream services via mentoring relationships;
  • The Central Coast program was looking to enhance relationships between government and non-government services, on the back of some wider co-design work;
  • The Inner West was looking to better join up youth services with the wider family services system.

Except for Southern NSW, all Projects continued their full course. The Southern NSW Project broke down completely due to a number of critical factors, including the withdrawal of lead organisation support, and the local Project Coordinator having to leave their role.


A large number of evaluation questions were asked of the Program as a whole. Rather than seeing any of the questions as a success/fail dichotomy, we were interested as to whether mentoring would affect a wide range of variables. As such, some of our Program evaluation questions were:

  • Would mentoring relationships be a good way for junior workers to learn?
  • Would mentoring increase the leadership skills and abilities of mentors?
  • Would the support of a mentor improve how a junior worker felt about the sector (this has links to staff retention and reducing turnover)?
  • Would the program format support relationships and collaboration more widely than the mentor-mentee relationship?
  • Would there be any flow-on impacts to end-clients of the involved services?

As is to be expected, some of the Projects progressed more smoothly than others. Some had higher retention rates, while other experienced higher rates of relationship breakdown between mentor and mentee.

Across all of the Program, we started with 144 participants, and 35 submitted evaluations at the 18 month checkpoint, giving a retention rate of 24%. While this seems low, there were a number of participants who completed the Program, but didn't complete final evaluations, and I have explored some of the other factors at work in the 'learning' area below. 

Let's look at some of the evaluation questions:

1. Would mentoring relationships be a good way for junior workers to learn?

Strong "Yes". Final evaluation results showed that 100% (55% strongly agree, 45% agree) of mentees agreed that they were learning new things. 100% (82%SA, 18%A) also felt that they were improving in their leadership capacity. 100% (31%SA, 69%A) of mentors also felt that they had seen growth and development in their mentee.

2. Would mentoring increase the leadership skills and abilities of mentors?

Strong "Yes". 92% (15%SA, 77%A) of mentors felt that they were learning new things as a mentor. 46% also felt that being a mentor had changed the way they approach their role in their organisation in some way.

3.  Would the support of a mentor improve how a junior worker felt about the sector ?

Strong "Yes". 81% (36%SA, 45%A) of mentees felt better about working in the human services serctor as a result of the mentoring they were receiving.

4. Would the program format support relationships and collaboration more widely than the mentor-mentee relationship?

Moderate "Yes". For those outside the human services sector, collaboration between organisations and workers across organisational boundaries is a really big deal for improving client experience and outcomes. 63% (36%SA, 27%A) of mentees felt that the Program had increased their links to local networks, either through the group sessions that were run, or through their mentor's contacts. 62% (8%SA, 54%A) of mentors felt that thier relationship had produced closer ties between their organisation and the organisation of their mentee, and 46% of mentors felt that there were improved ties between organisations involved in the Program. 

4. Would there be any flow-on impacts to end-clients of the involved services?

Strong "Yes". 90% (45%SA, 45%A) of mentees said that because of their mentoring, they had improved client outcomes in some way. 61% (15%SA, 46%A) of mentors also said that they had observed improved outcomes for either their mentee's clients or organisation.

In summary, for those who completed the Program, the mentoring structure was an effective way to facilitate learning of more junior workers. It increased the leadership abilities of mentors, marginally affected collaboration locally, and have good flow-through to practice with mentee's clients.

Given the low cost of the Program to implement locally, and its flexibility to be adapted to local contexts, I'm hoping that we can take this Program to greater scale in future. 

Learning and future improvements

While the evaluations are overly positive, there are some issues with the Program design that will need to be addressed in the next round of local Programs.

  1. The local partnership model is necessary to success: Each of the Projects had a slightly different aims which were particular to the needs of the partner. These reflected the needs of the local service system, and seemed to improve uptake by both mentors and mentees locally. The contacts of the local Project manager were also critical to the success of the Project, and also increased the efficiency of the model overall. Of note, when the local partner in Southern NSW had to withdraw from the coordination role, it was almost impossible to coordinate the program remotely.
  2. How to deal with the retention rate: While the model works for those who complete the 18 months, and evaluations at 3 and 12 month evaluation checkpoints were almost equally good, the significant non-completion rate is still a major concern. While some relationships broke down because of differences between mentor and mentee or a lack of commitment of one party, many fell away due to fairly natural change - changing roles, organisations, areas etc. Decreasing the length of the Program to 12 months may help to buffer against some of the drop-off. I may also explore how a commitment to contact can be maintained across distance, or how a model of reduced contact can be created for those who can no longer commit to the full Program structure.
  3. Group reflections were a valuable component of the Program design: The 'bringing together' of the groups to reflect on progress, challenges, and show them the Project's progress and evaluation added structure (or phases) to individual mentoring relationships. This seemed particularly valued by mentors, who often felt a little out of their depth or unsure of their mentoring ability. These groups also enhanced some of the wider collaborative outcomes.
  4. The design needs to be more culturally appropriate for Aboriginal workers: When designing, I checked the content and structure with an Aboriginal consultant, but the complete failure of the Southern NSW Project was foreshadowed by a high number of relationship issues. Some of the thoughts or feedback I have had since:
  • The relationship between Aboriginal mentees and non-Aboriginal mentors could be problematic. The junior and senior members of Aboriginal communities have relationships which are different in nature to those between professional colleagues. For young Indigenous workers, navigating the differing expectations of these roles could be difficult, and warrants greater consideration and nuance in the Program design;
  • Much of the initial mentor training centred around leadership constructs, such as goal-setting, interpersonal skills and encouraging follow-through/accountability. While many of the Aboriginal mentors enjoyed and engaged with the sessions, some thought should be given to tailoring the content and the delivery style to accommodate the different ways that Aboriginal workers may see these topics. 
Mentoring Group