One thing we’ve learned about our device-focused, always connected lifestyle is that it’s hard to figure out where work ends and where off-duty life begins. We’ve developed a Pavlovian response to email and text alerts; it’s almost impossible to resist taking a peek at your manager’s 8:00 PM email about tomorrow morning’s conference call.
One study showed that 42 percent of workers feel pressured to check on work while on vacation. Millennials, having been hyper-connected since they entered the workforce, are more prone to feeling like they’re always on call. It feels natural to check emails before they get out of bed. It also feels natural to take a few minutes out of the workday to order a birthday present online. The combination is the opposite of work-life balance; in fact, they’re both “working from home” and “homing from work.”
Millennials value work-life balance more than any previous generation, but they define it differently. A 2016 Deloitte survey of working millennials found that 16.8 percent stated that work-life balance was the most important factor in their job satisfaction. They don’t seek the freedom to disconnect, to turn off their phone, and ignore work. The ideal balance was being able to work when they wanted and having the freedom to take care of personal business when they wanted without feeling guilty. So their definition of balance is actually flexibility.
This can cause friction, especially if a team includes baby boomers. Boomers are workhorses. They pride themselves on doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Asking for time off to take care of personal business feels like admitting weakness. The culture clash between the two generations can create conflict and make retention of young talent more challenging.
If your team is experiencing generational conflict, managers will need to provide flexible options for work that make asking for time off feel safe. Boomers will appreciate being able to catch a grandchild’s concert or soccer game just as much as the millennial appreciates taking the afternoon off when the surf’s up. When time off is defined as rebooting or refreshing instead of slacking, workers of all ages will get comfortable with the concept. The company will be rewarded with more productivity at work, making burnout and resentment rarer.
In fact, maybe we should do away with the term work-life balance altogether. It implies that you’re only alive when you’re out of the office. It also implies you must figure out how to split your life and attention in a sort of zero-sum exercise. Maybe balance means we’re 100 percent present when at work and 100 percent present with friends and family when at home.
We can try for what Jeff Bezos of Amazon said about his approach: “The reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy,” he said. “And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.” That sounds like the perfect balance to us.