According to the Pew Research Center, there are 54 million millennials in the American workplace, which means there are 54 million adults between the ages of 18-34 and this generation makes up at least one third of the workforce. This wave of workers who are social media savvy and digital natives brings more than just a brand-new reliance and perspective regarding technology in the workplace, however. There are certain cultural and social norms that the millennial workforce brings to the workplace that may shift the way that work is done and the future of work, altogether.
For starters, its often generalized that millennials want regular feedback, work-life balance, workplace flexibility and a diverse, financially-stable work environment — and they are willing to leave a job where they feel overworked and undervalued or where their mental health is at risk.
As a result, those who tend to be managers of millennials—typically Baby Boomers, Gen Y and Gen Xers—have taken to labeling the cohort as entitled, unmotivated, motivated by instant gratification and disloyal relative to previous generations. It's easy to stereotype social medial obsessed young people, and managers may not know how to engage best with this tech savvy younger generation who is more used to two-way communication rather than top-down directives. However, the managers may have no choice but to adapt since the labor force continues to get younger every year and filled with digital natives who can see how other people view their jobs and how other people feel about their work.
Adding to the pressure for managers and employers to adapt is the transparency and new-found information that helps change the attractor factors of certain jobs. To successfully recruit millennials, employers need to emphasize more than life-time employment (something millennials don't see themselves wanting or having in the first place) and on a steady payeck than the millennial generation’s desire for flexible work and a healthy work-life balance may prove to be the end of the 9-to-5 work schedule and the first step towards flex-time for all.
Other trends seem to support the millennial movement. After all, over the last year, two studies have been released that indicate that the 40-hour work week is inaccurate. These reports also show that working long hours can actually be bad for your health. Morever, there are possibly unintended, negative side effects that disproportionately impact some people when a culture of overwork prevails. The first, a study from the Australian National University, for example, found that women are disproportionately affected by long work hours.
Considering that traditional roles in the home still mean that women do the brunt of the housework, this is unsurprising: women will work long hours in the office and then come home to a house that needs cleaning and a family that needs care. (This phenomenon is also known as the “second shift.”)
Moreover, a study by researchers at Ohio State University determined that all employees in the workforce—regardless of gender—who work more than 60 hours a week are negatively affected by this kind of schedule. Most people -- men, women, millennials or Gen Xers -- have priorities and hobbies outside of work so this finding is no surprise. Moreover, there are other studies showing that there may be diminishing returns to long hours in terms of actual productive employee output.
How can society address the workaholic mentality and prevent us from working ourselves to death? The older generation may have accepted this workplace culture and these social norms but the younger worker is making us all question these things. Maybe the millennial workforce has the answer: it’s time to reexamine the concept of work-life balance and employee well-being. Greater emphasis and valuing of care-taking may also reach a pressure point as the baby boomer generation reaches the age where their children start needing to undergo caretaking responsibilites for their parents as well as their children (sometimes at the same time).
Coming to Terms with the Second Shift
As a society, we need to recognize that as long as women are expected to do the majority of housework and childcare, working moms will full-time jobs are going to be working at least 40-hour weeks and then coming home to do another 20 hours of work around the house.
By incorporating more flextime into employees’ schedules—for both women and men—employers can encourage men to take on more of the responsibilities at home and still get in their 40 hours per week. Need to take off at 3 pm to pick up the kiddos from school?—No problem! Make up the two hours after the kids have gone to bed.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Of course, not all jobs are built the same way, which means that not everyone is able to take advantage of flexible hours. For instance, most hourly workers probably work in shifts and don’t get the benefits of flex-time — so one way to support them is to provide quality childcare at lower cost, through government subsidies or voucher programs.
What does all this look like in practice? Will changes like these create such a dynamic shift in traditional gender roles? Probably not. But, as I sit in my home office, writing this article, my daughter is asleep in the next room and my husband is downstairs, clearing the table from this evening’s dinner, and—can you believe it?—baking cinnamon rolls.
I mention this not to brag (*okay, so I love my husband, and I’m bragging a little*), but because I’m a working mom and a manager of a small team of scientists with a more than 40-hour, flex-time work week. Putting our daughter to sleep and clearing the table may sound like no big thing, but when my husband sometimes assumes these small tasks, it allows me the time to write articles like these, get an extra load of laundry done, or relax with some Elder Scrolls Online.
Because of my husband’s willingness to share the housework and child care, I regularly work a 60-hour week, and I have more time to care for my family and my marriage.
Dr. Amanda G. Riojas is a Scientific Computing Researcher living in Austin, TX. She is also the Advice Section Editor for the Scientista Foundation Advice Blog, Liaison to the Corporation Associates Committee of the American Chemical Society, and Chair of the ACS Central TX Local Section Women Chemists Committee. Amanda basically spends all of her time trying to tell everyone that women are awesome—because she has a daughter now and wants her to know that girls can do anything.
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