“Banta” and smiley faces: what can we learn from young people on the future of work?

16 February 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a workshop with a group of 16 year olds on the topic of “meaningful work experience”.  This will be used to inform business about how they can do better work experience placement design.  Unexpectedly, it also gave me insight into happier, healthier and more productive work places through the eyes of our future workforce.

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The premise of the exercise was to understand what ‘good’ looked like in terms of learning skills and trying out jobs or industries and what the barriers they meet to this are.  Using as much clean language as we could we considered 3 questions:

  • What is a rubbish experience like?
  • What is a great experience like?
  • What would be the best day ever at work experience?

1 hour, some great drawings and debate later we had a lot of information gathered to share with businesses.  It should also not have been such a surprise to me that young people’s instincts and hopes align with much of what we already know will make us all happier and more fulfilled at work.  The language may be different but the ‘best day ever’, could improve work for many of us:

  • “Doing important stuff, relevant to the company, team and me”

The young people were clear it matters that they are doing ‘real’ work that made a contribution, including where they can directly impacting on clients or the community.  This is what we identify as having work with purpose and meaning.


  • “Doing some of what I am good at”

They want an opportunity to have new experiences and learn new things.  They felt this should be balanced by having the opportunity to apply some of their existing skills and satisfy particular interests; learning at work, having a growth mindset and testing our abilities are core to our workplace success.


  • “Banta and smiley faces”

Someone to greet them, a friendly and approachable ‘go-to’ person and being offered a drink at the start of the day matter.  Along with getting to know the people they are working with, learning more about other people’s jobs and feeling part of the team.  The quality of the relationships we have at work is essential to our happiness in the workplace.


  • “To be trusted”

Being given tasks to get on with, but being able to ask for help and support from someone when they need it was key at some point during their day.  Young people want to ‘shadow’ others but ideally this would be balanced with ‘doing’.  Being trusted to act autonomously and take responsibility for asking for help will help us all success in the workplace.


  • “It’s not all great, or all good”

These young people were realistic about not everything they do being the most important thing; they just didn’t want to make the tea the whole time.  They had a clear expectation that some things would be fun, but not all the time.  As Dolan, would say a balance of pleasure and purpose.


  • To be thanked

Before they went home the young people want to thank the team and receive thanks, they would like a reference of their experience.  Giving and receiving feedback and being appreciated need to be at the core of all work places.

These young people are the employees, leaders and entrepreneurs of the future.  They made a pretty clear case here that they have a pretty good grasp of what will make them successful and productive in those roles; it looks like a pretty healthy and happy workplace to me.


By Nicola Waterworth,  Associate

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