Chasing Work Life Balance
Working for the weekend or on the weekend these days? A new study by Ernst & Young’s Global Generations Research of full-time workers in eight countries shows that the most recent generation to enter the workforce is expected to work with the same dedication as previous generations, but with the added challenge of a recovering economy in the face of becoming parents while new technology raises expectations of availability. These factors tether many employees to their employer 24/7 bringing about an increase in urgency to seek out adequate “down time” to focus on family and personal pursuits. Though these demands are not unique to Millennials alone, the latest generation to enter the workforce bears the brunt of it.
The recession’s arrival just as many Millennials were embarking upon or building their careers has a lasting effect on work-life balance due to the need for companies to regain traction in their industry. Enthusiasm for climbing back to their previous revenues and success is needed by everyone involved to succeed, but the line between enthusiasm and taking an employer’s goals on as one’s own can be blurred when salaried staff are expected to work however long it takes to get the job done right.
This is never more problematic than in a household with two working parents and at least one young child. The study reflected that over one-third of Millennials would “move to another country with better parental leave benefits.” Starting a family is no longer put off until you’ve made partner or earned your first million, it is placed squarely in the middle of corporate ladder climbing. The demands are unrelenting and unavoidable. Family or day care options become a lifeline to being able to return to work while work itself is a lifeline to saving for a house or repaying student loans. Flexible and supportive employers are the beacons of hope and sanity in this maelstrom of career expectations and demands.
No other generation has entered the workforce in an era of such constant accessibility. Smart phones, laptops, cloud computing, and teleconferencing resources make it easier than ever to work from anywhere. It also makes it very easy for the office or customers to reach out to employees at any time. The boundaries of office and home are fuzzy and scales have shifted making a comfortable work-life balance truly challenging to achieve. Many workers have resorting to limiting notifications, implementing the “do not disturb” feature on their phones, or having a separate work and personal phone and laptop altogether as they strive to protect their personal time.
With technology making companies accessible at all hours and customers being located in several time zones, it is expected that work will also be addressed when it needs to be done, not just during traditional 9-to-5 office hours. However, that requirement for flexibility from the employee isn’t always returned by the employer. Avoiding last-minute tasks by planning and organizing projects efficiently across a team can go a long way to avoiding work encroaching upon personal time. Expectations can be almost impossible to meet at times, but also lack of incentives are a major factor. If opportunity for advancement or reward is not present there is little tangible encouragement for employees to sacrifice their personal and home lives to be fully devote to their jobs. This is not the case at all companies and those who have found a balance between client attentiveness and quality of life/career hold the key to employee retention and happiness.
History Repeating Itself
Millennials may be the first generation to enter the workforce in a time when mobile phones and laptops were the norm, they are not the only generation to face a changing climate in the workplace. But from the 1760s until the 1830s, the boom of the Industrial Revolution brought about extraordinary growth in industry and for companies, while those at the bottom rungs of the workforce ladder reaped few benefits from this growth until the revolution was established for several decades. The working conditions at that time, however, were often unsafe for many, which brought about legislation prohibiting child labor and other workplace revelations, including unionization. Many parallels can be drawn between these two generations and the new challenges they faced in carving a balanced life, but perhaps the eventual rewards reaped by those working through the Industrial Revolution will inspire hope and resolution to today’s issues.
It is no longer as simple as it was for Mr. Rogers, who would come home and change his shoes and put on a sweater and switch from work to home. Work now seeps into homelife and spare time like never before. While previous generations in the workforce have either attained higher management positions, roles that allow more delegation, or retired from the workforce entirely, younger generations are just establishing themselves and their career paths making it more challenging to add distance from work. Each person must set his or her personal and professional priorities and carefully protect them with every decision, whether it is never to check work e-mails on the weekend or to turn off all devices when at a child’s school recital. It isn’t always easy and certainly achieving an ideal balance one day may not happen the next day, but the lessened emotional and physical stress is worth it.