What Will the Balancing Act Look Like for the Millennials’ Successors?
Last month’s New York Times article, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,” left a good part of corporate America feeling uneasy. Whether or not the accounts detailed in the piece rang true with every ex-Amazon employee, workplaces that demand hours of “long, hard, and smart work,” as the article put it are very common today, and have been for quite some time.
And as the startup culture has found its way into the heart of many large firms (either because they were startups themselves not that long ago, or because the need to act and behave like a startup is very ingrained into their culture, as a recent article on Slate pointed out), the unwavering commitment, long hours, and always-on environment have become a mainstay.
The end result? For many employees confronted with life changes or even just burnout, the options to change their work style are saddled with reduced advancement potential, as Fast Company noted in a November 2014 article. The other choice – completely dropping out (even for a little while) – can sometimes mean a complete loss of a career.
So unless we see a significant shift in corporate culture over the next few years, the next generation of employees will have an interesting dilemma on their hands as they navigate the challenge of integrating work and life. Here’s what their careers (and life) may look like:
They will Work like Crazy in their Twenties — to Take Time Off in their Thirties. Ginamarie Scott Ligon, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Villanova University, conducted a national study of 196 working moms. The results revealed that the average number of years women worked before having a child was five, and among women in exempt positions, their age at first birth was 31. In a world where your job demands are all-encompassing, activities like raising a child without significant economic means or societal support systems in place will be exceptionally challenging.
So many workers with families in their future will invest heavily in their careers before they start a family in order to gain expertise and establish themselves financially. Then, in their thirties, they can shift their focus to their family while their children are young, and re-enter the workforce in their forties, restarting their career – although not always exactly where they left off, as this article noted.
They will See a Sharp Increase in Single-Earner Families. Rising housing prices in major metropolitan areas, long commutes, more hours on the job, and an always-on environment have already started impacting the workforce. Since 2000, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped 6%, and among the women who are not working, 61% cited family responsibilities as their primary reason.
Something else worth noting: the main breadwinner doesn’t always have to be the father. A survey out of Boston College indicated that a majority of working fathers wish they could switch places with their stay-at-home wives if it was a financial possibility. And with stay-at-home dads making up 16% of the stay-at-home contingent, according to Price Waterhouse Coopers, single-earning families may be led by women, men or both at different times.
They will Normalize Job Shares, and Split Shifts. In an always-on workplace, a job share may mean taking on responsibility for two or three work days of work, and being on call every other weekend. This enables those engaged in jobs that require 24/7 dedication to actually deliver on that expectation — but on a part-time schedule, for part-time pay. And in dual income families, if both earners take job shares that conveniently account for the days off of the other, they may be able to split home and work duties fairly evenly, without having to either give up maintaining a home, or fostering a career.
They will say Goodbye to the Corporate Ladder (or Jungle Gym) in Favor of Building their Own. Generation Z will view self-directed careers, including independent consulting and entrepreneurship, as the new normal. And it’s interesting to note that in fact forty percent of the workforce will be contingent (translation: freelancers) by 2020, with the next generation embracing this movement wholeheartedly. According to Northeastern University’s study of more than 1,000 teens aged 16 to 19, four out of ten report that they plan to work for themselves, and 63% agree that college should include instruction on entrepreneurship.
The upshot: work-life integration is important to Generation Z, but unlike previous generations, remote and virtual work options are not top of mind. Instead, they will rework the notion of how work and life can co-mingle. And since their sector will comprise twenty percent of the workforce in just five years, the creative solutions they build may give rise to a whole new workplace for all of us!19