The Millennial Generation: Work / Life Balance or A Bad Work Ethic?

worklifeThis is part 2 of a series on new data on The Millennial Generation. In the first entry, I examined more broadly their view of business and entrepreneurship. Much has been written about their desire for flexible hours and work/life balance, but misunderstandings by both managers and Millennials abound. Are Millennials really asking to get paid a great salary for less work, or are they asking for a different culture of work where work, play and life are integrated into a more meaningful whole?

I should begin by noting that there is a big difference between work / life balance, and work / life integration. Work / life balance requires a clear separation between work and personal, but work / life integration folds both into a meaningful whole. One encourages the employee to get done with work at the scheduled time so that he or she can “get on with life” beyond work. The other allows the employee to integrate work and life so that the two live in playful limbo (For example, check Facebook at work, respond to work emails on the smart phone at home).

According to the National Chamber Foundation, three out of four Millennials say that work/life integration is the number one quality of a work culture that they look for in selecting a place to work. Why are they so passionate about this? They are determined to have a better personal and family life than their parents who often sacrificed their own lives and families for work, and this for companies that were not always loyal to their parents in the end. They believe in large numbers that work should promote good in the world or in themselves, and not merely serve as a source of income or materialistic wealth. Google, which provides such work/life enhancers to their employees (who also happen to work 12-15 hours per day), is the top choice of Millennials for places to work. Managers who feel that Millennials have a bad work ethic, please carefully read this: A company that expects results that take 12-15 hours per day to produce is the number one company of choice according to Millennials. 

The Millennial demand for work / life integration stumps many managers that I work with because they can’t perceive of work culture that does not adhere to defined hours, strict clock-in and clock-out times and some accountability for hours worked. In all fairness to these managers, the law and our labor regulatory system demand this culture in many cases (hourly employees). So, when Millennials tell a manager that they will achieve certain and accountable results but want flexibility about how and when this is done (results oriented vs. process oriented), managers are unsure how to what seems like such an unthinkable request. How does work get done, and at hours customers expect, if everyone gets to play chess in a common area, go out for manicure appointments, or post to their Facebook all day?

And thus, the disconnect begins to happen because Millennials, in their minds, are not asking that they be required to accomplish less results but instead to accomplish these results in their own way and on their own time. In their minds, formed in a world where innovation produces value, ideas are more important than experience, and results are more valued than hours worked. Could be it be that our laws and workplace cultures are designed for an increasingly bygone era of manufacturing and production where hours worked, and not ideas generated, mattered more?

As reported in my prior entry, 58% of Millennials see themselves as entrepreneurs, even in full-time job arrangements. This is how entrepreneurs operate: on their own time with defined results and deadlines. In the latest O-Desk study of Millennials called “Millennial Branding”, 89% — yes, 89% — of Millennials say that they prefer to work when they choose, and only 11% prefer “corporate” hours. What times of the day do they prefer to work? 62% say during the day, but 50% late night (in contrast to 44% of non-Millennials). Work travel is extremely or very important to 46% of them, and 34% say it is somewhat important, for a total of 80% who like work and travel integration.

The same study found that, of the Millennials who have left a job, 50% left to work for themselves and only 18% because they lost their job. Of those who quit, freedom (69%), ability to choose their own work (66%), limitless income opportunity (63%), and control over their own work (62%) were listed as the top reasons for leaving the company. 82% say that having one employer for life is not attractive to them, 61% say they are likely to quit their job in the coming two years to work for themselves, and 53% believe that jobs are not long-term. What does that mean? Millennials see themselves essentially as entrepreneurial contract workers, so why should they not be able to set their own hours or go to the gym at 2 in the afternoon if they feel like it as long as they deliver the agreed upon results? Of course, that mentality just won’t cut it in many service, government, health care or manufacturing jobs, so what gives?

So what does all of this mean for the American workplace? I’m not sure that I know, but I have a few thoughts about it based on this data. That’s in my next entry. I would love to hear your suggestions as well.

Working well and living well should not be incompatible values. Finding a way to balance and integrate these ideals is the future of work, and the realities of the shifting workplace presents us with the opportunity to discover it. This is not just a frustrating demand of the Millennial generation. The calls to purposeful work and to a meaningful life are the very essence of what it means to be human, and it is an ongoing quest to discover its meaning in every context, in every generation. If we find that desire or demand irritating, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we have settled for something less.

One Response to “The Millennial Generation: Work / Life Balance or A Bad Work Ethic?”
  1. Rick S. says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. With the different generations all working together in the same workplace, particularly in the tech world there can be varying perceptions of what it means to have a good work/life balance. I think some of the older generations may see gen y as being too carefree with their time, while gen y may see the older generation as to cranky. Hopefully we’ll all just find a happy medium. Here is an article that ties into the discussion of the generations. Thank you again!

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