We are living in a unique time – there are currently four different generations working side-by-side in companies across the globe. As our working environment becomes multi-generational, the issue of work-life balance is getting harder to define. As the older generations continue to retire, the majority of the workforce will be Millennials (those born between 1980-1995) and Gen Xers (those born between 1965 – 1980). These two generations have quite different ideas of what work/life balance should look like, and this creates a challenge for companies that are trying to satisfy their employee’s needs.
The term work/life balance implies that the two are separate entities, and that they should be kept that way. This goal of separation and balance is becoming increasingly unrealistic, especially with the advent of smart phones. Our work is always in our pocket. You could be at the beach with friends on a Saturday – work email is there too. You could be at aunt Lucy’s birthday party –work email is there too! We are now forced to make the decision of whether we are going to work or not – over and over again each day.
The term also carries implications that work and life are in conflict with each other; it’s a battle and only one can prevail in any given moment. Some Millennials (also referred to as Gen Y) are turning this idea on its head, and instead accepting and pursuing a blended idea of work and life. In his post on Penelope Trunk’s blog titled, Twentysomething: why I don’t want work/life balance, guest writer Ryan Healy explains, “There is no need for me to keep work life and home life separate. The majority of weeknights you can find me in front of the computer chatting with a friend, watching TV and messing around with MySpace or Facebook. I may as well send out an email or finish up a work briefing at the same time.” The Millennial generation grew up in world where it was normal to be plugged-in 24-7, so many don’t feel a need to disconnect from work completely when they get home each night.
Gen X has a different take on work/life balance. They were raised by a generation that often put work before family, and as a result they tend to value work/life balance more than Millennials do. For many Gen Xers, family is their highest priority – and as a result they want flexible hours, and the ability to work from home. A new study from British consultancy JBA, involving almost 25,000 people across 19 countries, found that among older staff, seven out of 10 wanted more choice about their work patterns. But just four out of 10 of their younger colleagues wanted to detach themselves from the office environment.
So how can companies manage the diverse needs of their multi-generational workforce? Here are 3 ideas:
- Offer employees options for working-hours. Some employees may want to come in early and leave early each day so they can pick their kids up from school, while others may prefer to work four ten-hour days each week with a Friday off. The more variety of options, the better.
- Decrease bureaucracy and HR policies. Many companies have strict HR policies that apply to all employees. A one-size-fits all approach is no longer viable, as managers must have loose policies that allow them to work out a schedule with each employee that is tailored to their needs.
- Ask employees what they need. Although there are certainly commonalities between workers from each generation, these broad generalizations only go so far. Instead of companies assuming they know what their employees want, ask them with an employee survey. Everyone wants his or her opinion heard, and information about what employees want is critical when restructuring HR policies.