Even under the best circumstances, finding equilibrium in work-life balance can be challenging for most working parents. Since the oldest Millennials started entering the workforce more than a decade ago, they have collectively made it clear to their employers that they value vacation and time for themselves over most other job perks. Indeed, compared to more aggressively career-minded Generation X or Baby Boomer workers, Millennial workers are the least likely to say that work should play “a very central part” in one’s life.
While critics might mischaracterize Millennials’ love (and expectation) of time off from work as an example of their laziness (a problematic stereotype that has been debunked), in truth, it reflects a thoughtful re-prioritization of values—especially among working Millennials who also are parents—that shifts the focus from career advancement for the sake of career advancement to a more balanced approach to work and life.
Of the roughly 50 million people who comprise Gen Y, nearly 30 million of them are currently in the workforce. Among the older half of Millennials, those between ages 25 and 34, there are now nearly 11 million households with children. Millennials are growing up, and they are bringing their values and ideas to parenthood and the workplace, and challenging some of the stereotypes that cling to their generation.
In a recent study—conducted and published by Working Mother Research Institute—that examined three generations of women and men who make up the majority of today’s workforce, Millennial working mothers were found to be happier and more optimistic than their working mother counterparts in other generations. According to the report, Millennials feel more supported by their partners at home and their managers at work—and feel better compensated than their Gen X or Boomer peers.
When asked to rate their satisfaction on a number of work and home issues, ranging from career prospects to dividing household chores with a partner, Millennial working mothers consistently reported greater satisfaction across all measures of work-life issues compared to Generation X and Baby Boomer working mothers.
“Millennials are generally more optimistic than their older peers, partly because they have the generosity of youth,” said Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, “but they also have partners who are more engaged with co-housework and co-parenting than previous generations.”
While the Working Mother study revealed that the desire for flexibility, job security, and a greater separation between work and home was consistent across all generations of workers, the survey found that Millennials’ work and personal lives have been more greatly impacted by technology, for better and worse, than for other generations.
For Millennials (and Millennial working mothers, in particular), the proliferation of always-connected devices, such as smartphones, that have become integral and inescapable tools of most jobs has created a nagging sense that the lines between work time and family time have blurred too much. Unlike working parents in older generations, Millennial working parents said they prefer to compartmentalize work and family time. Millennials said they value down time, not because they want to avoid hard work, but because that time helps fuel them in their jobs. Meanwhile, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers said they were grateful that our always-on, always-connected work culture gave them the option of working at night and over the weekend.
As a generation that has principally grown up with working parents (and especially with working mothers), Millennials’ desire to turn off during non-work hours might be a byproduct of a growing sense of always-on fatigue. That sentiment seems to be growing across generations of working parents. The key ingredient to finding greater happiness and achieving a better sense of work-life balance seems to be the active participation of both mothers and fathers, and Millennial working mothers credit their partners for being more engaged co-parents than fathers in the past.
Studies have shown that Millennial fathers are more enthusiastic about and more engaged in parenthood than fathers from previous generations, a dramatic shift that’s been occurring over the past 15 years. It’s a trend that likely will have a dramatic impact on workplace policies in the not-so-distant future for both mothers and fathers, as Millennials graduate to mid- and senior-management roles over the next decade.