Are We Redefining Work-Life Balance?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Change, Leadership, Nonprofits

Child-Work-Life Bal

Now with three generations in the workplace, many organizations are struggling to adjust. Many older organizations are still led by Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). And the rising number of younger workers has put pressure on the old ways of doing business.

Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1970) and Millennials (born after 1980 to the early 2000s) have brought some surprising issues to the work place. One of the most talked about is their insistence on better work-life balance.

“Traditional” Work Values

As a Baby Boomer, I was taught to always  “work at the top of my ability.” When we were teens, our parents gave my brother and me “the talk” before our first jobs. We were to always display good attitudes, put our (retail) customers first, and never sit or stand around idle. If we didn’t HAVE something to do, we were to FIND something to do—to make ourselves valuable to our employers.

And we grew up in a culture that taught us to work long and hard in order to get ahead.  So we did. We expected to show loyalty to our companies by working there for 20-plus years (no job-hopping), and we expected loyalty in return. Then, the day would come when we moved into a cozy employer-sponsored retirement.

How Things Have Changed

OK, I’m being a little flippant, but you get my point.

While the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers after them were busy creating the Good Life for their families, I believe their children were calculating. They liked the result of hard work and long hours (house, cars, toys and gadgets), but rejected all that time their parents spent away from the family. Too many kids watched their parents fit life into their jobs. Now they want to fit jobs into their lives.

Also, unlike the mom and pop shops on retro TV, modern companies put the needs of the business first. Period. As a result, younger workers, understandably, expect no company loyalty. So they look for work they can believe in, excel at, and enjoy, while having a rich family and leisure life. They’re not interested in those old workplace ways.

So What Now?

The workforce is changing, and old ways are being challenged. I’m glad  younger workers are bringing pressure. I’m a fan of both hard work and appropriate work-life boundaries. Organizations have had the luxury of dictating that balance in the past. But that’s changing.

In April, CNBC posted an article that included a story about a company whose younger workers were leaving after a short time. The company commissioned a study of the problem, and discovered that a chief complaint was work-life balance. Of those surveyed, 71% of Millennials, for example, said that work demands interfered with their personal lives.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we pay full-time salaries for part-time effort. Instead, I suggest that our old ways need….refreshing. We do too many things because “it’s always been done that way.” Organizations can use this pressure as the perfect time to explore new ways to produce high quality work with reasonable effort.

And to accomplish that, the generations in the workplace have to work as partners, rather than opponents. Who knows? Maybe together they can craft a bold new organizational culture, one in which everybody wins.


What’s YOUR take on work-life balance? Please share your story below.

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