Americans have long been deemed the opposite of Europeans when it comes to a work life balance. We don’t know how to enjoy life. While France and Italy are famous for croissants and fine leather goods respectively, we are famous for….McDonalds? The grab and go lifestyle? Maybe this reputation is rooted in America’s history, when the Puritan’s migrated from Europe, bringing with them a culture of hard work. Not to mention that even the Native American’s who we stole the land from seemed to have a culture dedicated to farming, without much luxury. Europe, even business centric Europe, is different. You do not see a sweatpants and Starbucks crowd in London, women even dress up to go grocery shopping!
That work to live culture is being challenged… at least by those who can afford to challenge it. If you have the luxury to contemplate a work life balance I think this is a good moment to pause, reflect, and perhaps feel some gratitude. There are a lot of people out there, who for varying reasons, do not have an opportunity to even think about work life balance. It is very much a #firstworldproblem. Personally I admire those people who freely choose careers like cardiac surgeon that leave them with little to no work life balance. Executive CEOs who take two weeks or less of maternity leave because they would rather spend that time at work. I also admire those people who choose to prioritize their personal lives, the committed stay and home moms, dads, or simply the everyday folk who follow of regimen of not checking emails on the weekend or after work. Others, like students who have to support themselves and pay for their education, or people who have to work two jobs just to make ends meet remind me that choosing to value life over work is truly a gift that not everyone has.
Today I think I fall in the in-between. I work the 8 hours, check emails when I am home and on weekends, I work several weekends simply because of the nature of my work , and I will stay overtime occasionally or when I have to staff an event after work. The in-between worker chooses to find a happy medium. For me this means I leave to hit the yoga class, I take a few days off when I need to, I don’t come to work when I have the flu, and I value my career equally, if not more than my personal life. When you love your job, I think 8 hours has a way of flying by, the weekends you work seem fun, you check emails and find it fulfilling to keep track of your overflowing inbox. However, because I am young, I think that I want to veer more towards my career because I can. When I first started this job I worked 12 -18 hours without rest fairly often, and didn’t mind it because I am unmarried, without kids, with few responsibilities and want to move up in my career and learn as much as I can while I still have the opportunity and freedom to do so. While I admire people who seek balance and even prioritization of their personal life, I find myself weary of young people who claim to want high career success while putting in only the minimum hours and avoiding the “startup life.” I recently went to a dinner, where a young, recently graduated, unemployed engineer told me he did not want to work long hours at a startup now, he wanted an easy life. My mental response to this was in line with Marty Menko’s quote in this Business Insider article “ If you can’t bring yourself to work 70 hours a week occasionally, or it feels like torture, you’re probably at the wrong job.” I also feel that the “take it easy” mentality is exactly what gets us millennials a bad reputation in the workplace. If we don’t put in long hard hours now, when exactly, can we? In our mid-thirties and forties many of us will have additional responsibilities such as kids, spouses, mortgages, house upkeep etc.
Forbes had a recent article titled “Study: Millenials’ Work Ethic is in the Eye of the Beholder” this article stated that 66% of elders find millennials hard to manage and 51% of elders say that millennials lack respect. I don’t know the exact details of what specifically Millenials are doing that shuns them as hard to manage and disrespectful, but I think knowing these facts, we can try to alter our behavior. I do not want to get into the argument of “oh perhaps the older generations should be more accommodating,” and so on, I want to focus this blog post strictly on what is happening, and what millennials can do to improve the situation. If anything, maybe we can be less judgmental when it comes our turn to welcome Founders into the workforce (this is a lovely new term for the generation that is post-millennials.) For now, instead of embracing some work life ideal in our early career years shouldn’t we be seeking the acceptance of those above us, usually belonging to different generations, and trying to further our foothold, and gain a meaningful career, before we seek a balance?
If you haven’t been able to guess already, I am a little appalled by those who expect to have work life balance in their youth. Instead, I think these early career years are a time to figure out what work captures our interest, and makes us want to spend 8+ hours doing it every day. However, mine is one opinion among many. While I am strongly opposed to seeking balance in our youth, over working very hard during this time, there are certainly times when I imagine it is vital to prioritize life over work. For example, when someone is focusing on building a family. An article titled “Why Millenial Working Women are Leaning Sideways” cited an analysis of surveys conducted by New York Times which revealed that mothers in this generation are “prioritizing jobs with flexible schedules over promotions, and many are factoring pauses into their careers in order to dedicate time to raising a family”Instead of seeking to choose between a career and a life women are taking time to do both. They are essentially taking a pause from work to focus on life, and unpausing when they are ready. In cases like this I admire my generation’s creativity, and laud them for the ability to come up with a way to achieve work life balance as opposed to simply picking between work or family.
Most of us have heard the saying.. some work to live, others live to work. This saying may have been true in the past, and possibly even to some degree today. However, I think this is a notion that is being challenged . People are seeking to work and live life to the fullest by seeking work life balance. Perhaps more interesting to me, at least at this point in my career is finding work that interests me enough to make a life out of it, or breathes life into me. Maybe, one day, I will join others in leaning sideways, and seeking a balance, but for now I’ll take a page from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, and focus on leaning in.