Are Younger Workers Lazier?

Post by Matt Grawitch

According to a recent news story, Generation Y (A.K.A. Millennial) employees are more likely to expect to make high salaries, while simultaneously avoiding overtime and having access to and using lucrative vacation packages. A greater percentage of this age group, as compared to their older generational counterparts, was likely to state that “work was just to make a living.”

Before we jump to the conclusion that this age group is lazy or that they have a sense of entitlement (as some others have done), I would offer up a different explanation. I believe that perhaps more workers in this age group have idealistic expectations about what their careers are all about. After all, they are continuously bombarded with concepts like “having it all” and “work-life balance.” This terminology is strictly person-focused, failing to even remotely hint at what the organization receives in exchange for that big paycheck and infinite vacation time. As Jack Welch so vehemently argued, there are “work-life choices” to be made. Typically, lucrative benefits that only indirectly benefit the employer come with a consequence – in the form of lower pay or fewer career paths.

That is not to say that younger workers are wrong for valuing a fulfilling life. In fact, the Organizational Health Initiative at Saint Louis University emphasizes the importance of work flexibility practices as a way of creating benefits for employees and employers. Work flexibility practices – like flextime, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks – allow employees to work non-traditional schedules. These non-traditional schedules allow employees to more effectively meet work and non-work demands.

Yet, people should keep in mind that different jobs, different careers, and different employers come with different levels of work flexibility. Successful utilization of work flexibility requires higher levels of conscientiousness, self-control, self-accountability, and other characteristics that vary among employees. Therefore, greater flexibility sounds great in an idealistic way, but an individual’s ability to successfully use flexibility depends on very realistic factors.

Some of the same criticisms used against Millennials were lobbied at members of Generation X in the 90s, and look how we turned out. We now spend our time criticizing the next generation of workers, simply because they don’t start out “just like us.” Perhaps this time, our concerns about this new generation will prove valid (which didn’t happen for Generation X workers), or perhaps this new generation of workers will mature and develop expectations that more closely match our own.

I would suspect that as many of these younger workers make their way into the workforce, they will begin to take stock of (a) what it takes to be successful, and (b) what it takes to make them happy. It would not surprise me to see some of these workers change their attitudes after 5, 10, or 15 years in the workplace. What it takes to make you happy at 20 is not necessarily the same as at 30…or 40…or 50. Obviously, though, something will have to give because great pay at a slow-paced job that provides you with lucrative vacation benefits defines a job that I have never been privileged to encounter, and I suspect that it defines a job that few, if any, of these younger workers will encounter either.

But, hey, maybe I’m wrong! Tell me if you think so.

Photo Credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=982

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