How Millennials Are Changing How We View Success

Assumptions are a tough thing to change. For example, much of the world has always assumed happiness comes from success — but now we know that might not be the case.

Whether we’re trying to better our bodies or minds, or whether we’re measuring success in the workplace instead, America’s young professionals — millennials — are upsetting much of our conventional wisdom concerning where success comes from.

What We Know About Millennials And Happiness

Thankfully, we don’t have to guess about what goes on in millennials’ heads — instead, we’ve got some reliable data to turn to.

According to the 2016 Millennial Survey by Deloitte, clear trends are shaping up amongst millennials when it comes to the things they assign value to in the workplace. According to the data, young professionals evaluate career opportunities based on the following criteria:

  • Good work/life balance — 16.8%
  • Opportunities to progress/be leaders — 13.4%
  • Flexibility such as remote working, flexible hours — 11.0%
  • Deriving meaning from work — 9.3%

This is a remarkable set of data, and it helps get us inside the head of the average millennial. Previous generations became comfortable with the idea that success at work should be pursued for its own sake, but we’re seeing now this has changed dramatically in one of our youngest generations.


These days, millennials are more likely to value work/life balance and a flexible schedule than to value “mere” career progression. We also know they need to derive some kind of personal or social meaning from the work they do. In a Viacom study, 4,364 millennials were asked about what they value in their professional lives. Nearly half, 46%, of respondents replied “Having a job you enjoy” is the most important factor, while only 36% responded with “being rich.”

It’s Clear Millennials Value Freedom

What these trends seem to be circumscribing, but not tackling directly, is the idea of freedom. Millennials simply want the freedom to mix-and-match their working and personal lives as they fit. They also want the freedom to pursue work that means something to them.

And they’re willing to forego the vacation home, yacht and personal helicopter for the opportunity. They seem to measure happiness not by the size of the paycheck, but by the richness of their lives and the moral or social value of the work they perform.

Notice “being happy at work” doesn’t rank in the top four criteria we mentioned above. But think about why that is. It’s because everything on the list is what led to happiness. Happiness is not an employment perk — it’s the result of holding a career that’s already rewarding.

Get it? Success is not the driving force here — it’s a consequence. Millennials are teaching us nothing more or less than that we shouldn’t be unhappy at work. And if we are, we owe ourselves something better.

This article was originally posted on