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The Work/Life Balance Is Dead. Or So Says the Millennial | Greetly
Is work/life balance dead? See what millennials think.
It should come as no surprise to most that the modern day work/life balance bares almost no resemblance to that of our parents, or our parents’ parents.
Our grandparents’ generation, The Silent Generation, grew up with the mentality that you stay at one company, slowly working your way up, and thanking your boss for each step along the way. While long work hours were a standard, there was a clear expectation that once you were home, you were “off the clock.” This idea of work/life balance also meant that work was handled at work, and life (spouses, children, family matters, hobbies) were not.
In today’s society the idea of “off the clock” is a rare occurrence, and expectations have shifted both for the employer and the employee. We’re an always-on society, and with that many feel the responsibility to respond in a timely manner, take calls at odd hours with clients or with coworkers, and even continue to be available while on vacation.
But, as the wants and needs of the different generations within the workforce have evolved, so has the idea of work/life balance.
Today, the idea of work/life balance has really shifted to that of “work/life integration.”
Why has the shift taken place, and is it for better or for worse? In this two-part series we’ll dig into Work/Life balance, and what it means to Millennials, as well as Gen Xers, and even some Boomers, too (if they’re not too busy enjoying retirement!).
After interviewing a series of Millennials in the workforce, we’ve identified a handful of recurring themes regarding work/life integration, and what it really means to them.
Millennials have a different perspective from that of their parents, and (as a gross generalization) they don’t plot out their career moves with the goal of retirement taking place at 65. Stefanie O’Connell, millennial money expert, speaker and author of the book, “The Broke and Beautiful Life,” is dedicated to helping young adults achieve financial greatness. On the topic of work/life balance she said, “I’m not driven by the prospect of working hard for the next 30 years to retire one day. I’m building a lifestyle and a career that I’d be happy to maintain for the rest of my life.”
Kait E, a Denver professional who’s been in increasingly senior roles in advertising for the past 8 years says the idea of work/life balance is fluid and ever changing. “I believe this question is incredibly fluid and will change for me over time. At this moment in time, I think a ‘good’ work/life balance means that you are able to give 100% of yourself to your work without it infringing upon the other priority areas in your life. I think it's possible to excel at your career without sacrificing the enjoyment of life (spending time with family, visiting with friends, exercising, eating right, etc.), and a having a healthy work/life balance should allow for both.”
That monumental shift in what drives Millennials as compared to their predecessors clearly explains the idea that it is no longer about Work/Life Balance, but rather Work/Life Integration. In fact, just the visual that comes to mind with Work/Life balance means that one is constantly winning over the other, or that they are in truth pitted against each other. Millennials view work as an extension of their lives. It is not the definition of who they are, but also not something that they just do from 9-5.
Flexibility in the routine:
It was, and still is in many companies, an expectation that you’re at your desk from 8:30-5:00, Monday through Friday, doing the office grind. While many companies are converting to allowing employees to work offsite at coworking spaces or to set their own hours, flexibility in the office schedule is something that we resoundingly heard as a mandate from Millennials. Companies like Amazon have even tested 30 hr work weeks for a handful of employees.
Daniel M, 35, and in Supply Chain, works at a company that just made the shift to an Alternative Work Schedule, meaning every other Friday is a day off for employees. They still get the same total hours clocked in each week, but they have the benefit of a three-day weekend twice a month. Daniel says that the AWS schedule allows him to take care of appointments and errands that he’d normally have to take off work for, which means everyone benefits. He also says, “I appreciate the company that I work for even more, and it allows me to spend time focused on other hobbies and interests, keeping me motivated and inspired throughout the work week.”
It used to be that once you left the office, you often physically could not keep working, but that too has changed. Neither Gen X nor the Boomers were able to field work calls between their kids’ goal kicks, or respond to emails while waiting for swim club pick up, when they first got into the workforce. With the computers that we all carry in our pockets, it means we don’t always have to sacrifice in order to be present for work, as well as present for friends or family. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t shut it down once in awhile, but it does mean that ducking out 30 mins early to hit the gym won’t be quite as obvious, since you can respond to all those pressing emails once you wrap up, rather than waiting for the next business day.
Practice what you preach:
How come the companies that preach work/life balance often struggle the most with it?
In reflecting back on past employers and what successful companies have done to achieve a successful balance, Kait says “If a company promotes their culture as having a strong work/life balance, then every aspect of that company should reflect healthy living: strong health care coverage, ample PTO and sick days, team/company building (because if your team members like each other, then work doesn't feel so much like "work"), reasonable hours, growth opportunities, etc.” They should also use smart technology, like reception management software, to reduce work interruptions and to use their employees' time wisely.
While it is very easy for a company to say one thing and actually do another, all those that we spoke with said that it really does come down to practicing what you preach. “I also really feel that a company must model strong work/life balance through its leadership. From the top down, leaders are responsible for setting the tone and empowering their employees to find a solid work/life balance,” said Kait.
So, while this monumental shift is taking place in how we view Work/Life Balance, Work/Life Integration, or simply just shifting expectations as working individuals, Millennials are seriously influencing the change, and hopefully for the better.
Stay tuned for next week as we work through these topics with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to get a better idea of how they approach Work/Life Balance, and keep their millennial employees happy.
And tell us, what do you do to manage a healthy relationship between your work and your life?