MONEY work life balance

Millennials Want Work-Life Balance Too. Here’s How They Can Get It

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Don't be afraid to ask.

We all want a life more that’s more balanced between work and fun. But millennials, more than any other age group, are the unhappiest when they don’t get it.

Nearly one-third of millennials say managing their work, family, and personal responsibilities has become more difficult in the past five years. And nearly half—47%—are working more hours, compared with 38% of Generation X and 28% of baby boom workers, according to a recent survey by Ernst & Young’s Global Generation Research.

More than other generations, millennials want flexibility in terms of where and how they work and are the most willing to take a pay cut, pass up a promotion, or even relocate to manage work-life demands better, according to the survey.

But employers don’t make it easy. Nearly one in six young workers surveyed by EY say they suffer negative consequences for choosing a flexible schedule.

Why should employers care about millennials want? This group—age 18 to 34—now officially outnumber Generation X as the most populous group in the workforce and are on track to surpass baby boomers soon. As employers try to attract and retain the best and the brightest, knowing what’s important to them is, well, important. Turnover among millennials tends to be higher than other work cohorts, and high turnover is costly to companies.

The E&Y survey further illuminates why this generation is more adamant about wanting flexibility. Millennials are hitting the time of their lives when they marry, buy homes, and have kids at the same time the demands of work are escalating.

“Earlier generations were probably too afraid to ask for flexibility. The mindset was that work comes first,” says Rose Ernst, national director of G10 Associates program, which works with companies to hire and retain college graduates and Generation Y workers. But many millennials grew up with parents who got laid off or whose careers suffered during recessions despite putting in long hours in the office. Meanwhile, technology has evolved so it’s easier to work from anywhere.

The dynamic on the home front has also changed. Millennials are almost twice as likely (78%) to have a spouse or partner working at least full time, compared with 73% of Gen Xers and 47% of baby boomers.

Until more millennials advance in their careers and become managers, the reality is that an older generation of workers still sets the standard for where and how work is done at many organizations. Here’s how to ask your boss for a flexible schedule and make it work without hurting your career.

  • Be up front. If you’re interviewing for a job, don’t wait until late in the game to ask about the possibility of a flexible work schedule, says Ernst. Research the company before you interview to find out what the culture is like in terms of nontraditional work arrangements. Clearly some jobs are going to be more adaptable than others. If you’re a human resources person focused on recruiting and meeting with job candidates, you may be able to do some work from home or after hours. If you’re managing a large team of people who work in one location, it’ll be more difficult to work remotely.
  • Be reasonable about why you’re asking. If you want to leave at 4 p.m. twice a week to take a class relevant to work, or if you need a few weeks off every February for volunteer work in Costa Rica, that’s going to be perceived differently than asking to leave early because you play in a softball league on Thursday nights.
  • Have a plan. If you’re already on staff and want to move to a flexible schedule, such as job sharing or telecommuting, prepare a proposal on how you’ll get your work done.
  • Don’t be a flake. It’s obvious but critical to be reliable. You’re much more vulnerable to being judged as a slacker when people can’t see you working. Always be reachable, deliver work on time or early, and make it a point to check in regularly.
  • Give and take. Volunteer for projects when you can or offer to help out colleagues on deadline, especially if others are making accommodations for your work schedule.

It remains to be seen how quickly work norms are changing. But there is power in numbers. “The millennials are a huge cohort of workers who value flexibility more than previous generations,” Ernst says. “That gives them leverage to change how we work.”

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