Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Millennials: Lazy Workers or Champions of Work/Life Balance?

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Millennials. The very word sparks debates galore. And depending on who is speaking, these discussions can be depressing, full of expletives, ambiguous or downright dismissive. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, found out that the “new” No. 1 quality that millennials believe makes us unique is technology. It displaces the spot taken by work ethics for decades, and herein is the debate.

For a lot of us who work with millennials, however, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Technology has invaded our professional and personal lives, especially for millennials, who have grown up expecting the ease and immediacy that technology affords us.  But that it would replace “work ethics” in what makes them unique has people in a tizzy. The Washington Post tackled the question in its blog Story Lab asking, “Are Millennials Lazy?” It stated that this survey would make millennials the first generation to not cite work ethics as their No. 1 unique distinguisher.

The Post also compared the top 5 spots picked by millennials and Generation X workers. For millennials, technology was followed by music and pop culture they grew up on, their liberal politics and “tolerance” of others, their generation being smarter, with fashion rounding out the top 5. For Generation X-ers, the list was a tad different. While no. 1 remained technology, close on its heels was “work ethic” followed by conservative or traditional values, their superior intellect, and finally being respectful.

How much should this worry us as employers, mentors and executives building motivated and loyal teams? Clearly, there is a distinct difference in the way the different generations work. Thousands of books have been written on the subject, seminars are regularly hosted for HR executives, and it is always a testy discussion for numerous exec meetings. Some younger companies might have mastered this balance but for most firms, this disconnect remains an unsolved dilemma.

Vault.com’s Phil Stott took up the debate earlier this month, wondering whether millennials were plain deluded, betrayed by society or just too young to know better! Citing a poll that surveyed high school seniors since the recession continue to want more vacation and time for themselves away from the job, he said, “Despite the economic meltdown then in full flow—events that were reshaping their likely career paths before their eyes—that group of students still expected to graduate into a world where they’d be able to dictate terms to an employer based on how much they’d like to work.”

Realistically, besides the emphasis on technology, can millennials genuinely be blamed for devoting less effort and energy to their work in an economy where it’s been made clear that no one is indispensable? And if they are, are we reciprocating by providing them with training, encouraging new thought, changing our internal work policies to accommodate them, or showing them the door? Post a recession that left everyone scrambling to hold on to their jobs, will we be better served to cater to their prioritizations and figure out a formula that allows a juggle of old and new?

As managers, directors and recruiters, you make these choices every day. Do you continue to give demonstration of strong work ethics precedence in the job interview or have yesteryear taboos like asking whether work/life balance would be a problem or whether Facebook and Twitter were restricted at work, replaced top priorities? Leave us a comment here or follow us on Twitter @VaultCSR and add your view to the debate.

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