The New Balance: The Millennial Melding of Work and Life

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By Bernadette Smith

Let’s suspend our workplace reality for a moment.

Imagine a world where you have the freedom to deliver on work expectations on a schedule that works the best for you, from whatever location you prefer, in a way that allows you to live your life to the fullest.

In the next five to 10 years, this could be your reality as Millennials become the dominant generation in the workforce. What they bring to work is a fresh set of values that reflect their personalities, beliefs and attitudes formed from their life experiences that merge their work and personal lives together. Millennials are committed to making a difference in their work, but they prefer to do so on their own terms—and it stands to benefit everyone.

What Do Millennials Value?
The Millennial influence in the workplace will change the way we work. They are driven to creating a more fulfilling workplace. This group does not aspire to achieve work/life balance in the traditional ‘9 to 5’ sense. Millennials are not interested in separating their worlds of work and personal life, but want to be able to integrate them. As such, they value an environment that provides them with the autonomy and flexibility in how, when and where they do their work to improve their quality of life.

Living a life with purpose is what Millennials are all about. They have a more holistic view of work and personal life and see work as being an extension of who they are as people. Millennials have a tendency to align with organizations whose purpose they believe in and will go above and beyond when they can do meaningful work.

Flexibility Grounded in Trust
Flexible work arrangements enable a more fulfilling approach to life. This type of environment is highly valued because it is based on trust and provides the autonomy to deliver on work expectations while being able to pursue personal activities outside of work during traditional work hours. Millennials want to be able to break up their day by taking personal calls, catching up with friends and family on social media vehicles, working out and leaving early without having to explain why. They want the flexibility to make the most of their day even if it means working after hours to meet a work-related request.

This new work ethic still raises some eyebrows in more traditional workplaces though. If work expectations are met, why should it matter when the work gets done? We need to trust that Millennials will get their work done as promised and feel more engaged as a result.

Always On and Willing to Respond
This is the generation that has been brought up with jam packed days and extracurricular schedules. They are wired to be able to flip from one activity to another and this characterizes their day. Their Smartphones are always on and they are a text, a call, or an email away from being accessible for work (within reason) or play.

Our reality is that our businesses continue to run 24/7 and many of us are expected to be responsive to our team members and clients. The Millennials that are committed to their work will deliver and get the job done.

Millennials are Always Connected
Millennials, by nature, have a ‘fear of missing out’ and have a strong need to be connected to all that is going on in their world both personally and professionally. Technology has enabled Millennials and other workers to stay connected while working outside their workplace. They can still have face-to-face meetings with their teams using Skype and contribute to documents using document sharing software. Moreover, let’s not forget staying on top of news and participating in ongoing conversations through social media vehicles. Working remotely is another option that enables this group to have the flexibility of working from the comfort and familiarity of home, while still being a strong contributor at work.

Enabling Work Life Integration
Those of us in leadership positions and in the HR profession need to support the changing work style preferences of our workforce to keep them inspired, engaged and productive. Before long, Millennials will be the dominant generation in our organizations and in leadership roles. As leaders, they will change our workplace cultures and make work/life integration the norm with the intent of improving employee engagement and creating high-performing teams.

It’s in our best interests to set this group—as with all employees—up for success by providing them with clear performance expectations and guidelines that employees need to respect: allowing and engaging Millennials to identify the tools and flexible work policies that are required for them to do their best work on their own terms.

We’ve done a better job of securing the tools to enable our employees to work from home, but we need to think about what we can do to bring some of the comforts of home or fun of personal life into the workplace. Some organizations have created super flexible work hours to enable early birds and night hawks to work in their most productive hours. Others have changed their work spaces to include social or game facilities and nap rooms. Then, there are companies that have flexible policies around pets in the workplace, appropriate clothing and even end of week ‘happy hours.’ In the end, happy employees are productive employees.

An Educated Balance
While this requires a heightened degree of emotional intelligence for those in leadership at present, the end results speak to the value of educating all generations as to the power of more flexible futures.

To Millennials work/life integration isn’t about working less, it’s about working differently to enable success in life as a whole. We need to let go of our traditional ‘face time’ cultures and trust that the values that Millennials are bringing into the workplace will effectively create engaged teams and a more fun, dynamic and rewarding work environment for all involved.

Bernadette Smith is VP, talent development solutions with the Canadian Management Centre.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2015)

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