Professional Advice for Generation Y: Work-Life Balance

Published on January 02, 2013 under Business, Career

Gen Y bored at work

Today I want to get into what drove me to start this series. When I first started hearing all about "Generation Y in the workplace", I've read different philosophies on how Gen Y looks at the normal workday hours and structure. Some speak of working less, others working more.

One article that stood out the most was written by blogger Ryan Eggenberger. He depicted a resignation letter from a Gen Y employee who wanted to honestly express his disdain for what he sees as the outdated corporate environment.

These parts in particular struck a chord with me:

"Every morning after clocking in, John, Suzie, and I drank coffee together at John's desk, checked the latest Facebook gossip, and caught up about last night's episode of the Bachelorette before we actually did any 'real' work. It was a great way to waste two hours before you finally arrived in the office around 10."
"My favorite thing about your traditional office was when I was done with my work at 2pm, but you made me sit there until 5pm. Or if you were having a good day and I wasn't afraid to ask, you generously let me leave at 4:45pm. Your flexibility in wasting my time fit the old-school office template to a T."

The rest of the "letter" goes on to tell of how this person has made his own business, calls the shots on his life, and thus doesn't need to play the corporate game anymore. It's admirable in all honesty, but I also think it's a bit short-sighted.

Based on what I read in Eggenberger's article, I personally believe if this boss was as terrible as he made him out to be, then I could imagine he would come in and suddenly make life miserable for John and Suzie. In all honesty, many managers would not even then replace this person who quit, or even lay off more people. Why not? He was just told his workers can do a full day's work in half the time.

So if the Gen Y worker was in a team of six and just handed this letter over, the manager might then decide to fire two more people and dump all the work on the remaining three. Disaster might even strike the day they do have more work than those three employees can handle. Imagine if this team were accountants and now hit tax season short-staffed.

It's about structure for employees

Ever since Generation Y entered the workforce, they have been wondering why we are still married to the old "9 to 5" ideology. I've seen questions arising on why we have to come in at 8 or 9 and stay until 5 when the Internet could make someone able to work from anywhere they it home or a nearby Starbucks.

Now I've seen some employers try experimenting with this, even in the name on using less office space, but the hard reality is the workday hours and office space are about structure. I'm not talking about some kind of world where the manager can feel like a big shot looking over his regimen of employees, but more about coworkers in one place at the same time so we are at each other's availability.

Again, someone could bring up how a Google+ Hangout could replace the meeting, but studies have shown many on phone and/or video conference setups aren't really paying attention. So one person might be talking and the other 5-6 people in this "meeting" are nodding, but playing around on Facebook.

Managers also need structure...and limits

Bill Lumburgh from Office SpaceLet's say Generation Y gets its dream and the office crumbles down now to a receptionist, a few conference rooms, and a handful of workspaces for necessary people. Now you all work from your homes or cafes and use cell phones, email, and voice/video conferencing to handle things. Sounds good so far?

Now imagine it's 8 or 9 PM on a Thursday night, and you're at the local pub having drinks with friends...when your boss texts you that he needs you to make some changes to a few files immediately. You text back asking if it can wait until morning, but he demands you do it now. You might think then to ignore him, but also worry that action will put your job in jeopardy.

Part of the 9 to 5 ideology is also on setting limits for managers. For me personally, I treat my time at the office as that I am there for whatever the company needs from me, but when I go home...I'm done. Don't call me, text me, or bother me until the next morning. Not unless this is some big project and I need to be on call at odd hours.

You could have that selfish, workaholic boss who gladly puts in 14 hours a day and will work employees to death for his/her own ambitions. Without the structure of the workday hours, managers like this will suddenly cease to think "maybe it's too late" or "maybe I should wait until morning".

You have to set a precedence

So here's the big advice from the slightly older worker who's been around the block a few times. When you go work at an office, you should bring in a good work ethic and try to do the best job you can, but you also have to still be your own boss when it comes to your career.

My secret in how I handle the workday hours is to set a precedent on how much time I'll give an employer. Go all the way back to the first article I wrote for this blog. I talked about the value of time, and how much is your time worth.

So the character in Eggenberger's article now works from 6AM up until, let's say 10PM every day and makes the same money he did sitting 40 hours a week in the corporation (and only working 20 hours a week). If you break things down into an hourly rate, he might be better off with the corporate job and his afternoons and evenings free to pursue extra money. I'll get more into money though in another article down the road.

When I set a precedent to an employer, I basically try to give them my all in the day, but not to allow them to take up my entire life. When I know I'm going to be hit with a crazy week or two where I might be putting in 12-14 hour days or even a few weekends, I'll kindly request some compensation time to make up for it. You would be surprised how many employers will gladly do it. Why not give some extra PTO when it's going to be dead at the office?

The main goal is to show your employer you will work hard for them, but you won't be driven like a slave. That's how you end up finding that balance. If your employer values you, then he/she will work harder to be organized and make sure you're out on time every day. However, if your employer is as bad as Eggenberger's fictional boss, I'd tell you to send out resumes and move on.

The workday isn't just about work anymore

Cyberslacking? Or learning new skills?One last factor I wanted to bring up in this debate on why you're stuck at work until the end is that work now isn't just mindless work like our elders performed. You're not spending eight hours doing "fold tab A into slot B" and then go home. Technology has thankfully made life easier in many ways for work, but the jobs themselves have become more complex.

As far as I'm concerned, when I hit a lull in work (which does happen), I make use of the free time. I know some employers/managers reading this might think I'm lazy, but these are more those times when creative is in the client's hands for review, and my client allocation doesn't allow me to take on other accounts at my work.

So what do I do? I'll read blogs about technology, design, and marketing. I'll work on some personal designs, code, or websites...which generally help me pick up new tricks and skills to bring to my actual work. I'll write blog entries. I'll take the moment to do personal stuff because I've been given the free time.

What about my boss? He knows what's up. He doesn't come down on any of us for this, because we don't miss deadlines, we don't miss meetings, and we do inquire if we can help other accounts who are short-staffed. Regardless...he, like us, looks at the downtime as moments to catch up on life or explore new skills and things to learn.

You need to do the same, and make sure your management is on board with this. The only way you'll grow as an employee and be up on the new thinking and new ideas is when you make use of that free time. So yeah, you might be stuck at work until 5, but you'll end up gaining much more by utilizing that free time to do more than stare at the walls.

Do you prefer the structure of a workplace and work hours? Or would you rather move towards working remotely even if it meant more hours?

Tags: generation y, millennials, work, hours, work-life balance

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