Millennials Flexible-Work Desires? Ask Boomers

millennialsMillennials are putting making-a-difference above career advancement, according to a World Economic Forum study released last night. It’s the latest in an endless stream of reports telling us what this generation of 20 somethings wants out of work.

We all want to know, especially boomers who largely run the workplace today. But should they be looking at themselves first?

We often get questions about this generation, especially when it comes to the kind of lifestyle they’re looking for. It’s all about wanting to know how to recruit and retain this workforce.

Our latest Millennial inquiry came from one of our LinkedIn followers, Sherri.

Would like to see new research on how to make work flexible for Millennials who demand options at work.

Families and Work Institute is now fielding a study that will provide some fresh data on the subject, but our most recent national report looking at differences among generations, found that Millennial mothers and fathers are spending more time with their children than older generations.

  • Today’s Millennial fathers spend an average of 4.1 hours per workday with their children under 13, significantly more than their age counterparts in 1977 who spent an average of 2.4 hours per workday with their children — a dramatic increase of almost two hours (1.7 hours).
  • Mothers under 29 spent an average of 5.4 hours per workday with their children under 13 in 2008, up from 4.5 hours in 1977 — a .9% increase.

Clearly, today’s younger workforce is shifting the work-life paradigm.

But how do we make flex work for them? Here’s some advice on Sherri’s question from Kenneth Matos, our senior director of research:

We know that Millennials expect to have work-life fit and multiple roles and identities (a great employee, parent, community member, etc.) as a part of their framework for a successful life. Previous generations also desired these complex lives, but generally assumed that living up to their gender roles and the demands of the ideal worker archetype (where work is one’s first priority) made that impractical.

Overall, Millennials are not asking for anything truly new, aside from those things made possible by new technologies. The only new thing in this scenario is that Millenials have the opportunity to demand meaningful conversations about how to make fulfilling lives at work and at home and have their employer respond. Between new communications technology, the impending Boomer retirement wave, legal and economic issues which make some flexibility options more cost effective than traditional ways of working, and Millennials’ general willingness to change jobs in search of a better work-life fit, organizations have become more responsive to requests for flexibility and a reinvention of work.

This is startling to Boomers who were made to feel like they were slackers whenever they even hinted that they would break from the ideal worker archetype. Boomers are used to telling themselves that much of the work-life fit they crave is selfish, childish or lazy, so they could better accept that they would not have it for most of their working careers. Now that it is being considered for Millenials, it can be hard for Boomers to accept the shift without retooling a lot of the beliefs that helped them weather their less flexible careers.

I would suggest what we really need now is more research into Boomers and their attitudes toward flexibility and the reinvention of work. Such research should consider how income, education and (non-)traditional family arrangements affect their perspectives. For example, are single-parent Boomers confronted with elder care demands more open to flexibility than Boomers in traditional relationships without such care demands?

It may be that many Boomers and Millennials, facing the challenges of making ends meet and caring for lives and loved ones, actually agree with one another on the importance of flexibility, and this well-publicized breach primarily exists among a small population running businesses and writing blogs.

I would argue that what we really need to know is how to help Boomers undo years of social conditioning telling them that the only worthy model of work and life is one where work always comes first and life must be sacrificed to be a success. If we turn the focus back onto Boomers, we can help them see the ways in which flexibility would support their lives going forward and how everyone, Millenials, Gen X and Boomers can take advantage of the new opportunities in the modern working world.

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