Sunday, May 10, 2015

Is Work/Life Balance a Trap?

What’s it like for two-earner households? What happens when both members of a marital unit are gainfully employed in full time jobs?

Either this represents a new stage of human evolution or it represents a mistake. Where past generations tended to grant women the greater part of household responsibility and men the challenge of succeeding in the world of work, the millennial generation, having been cured of the notion that men and women are different, is choosing to live out this piece of the feminist dream.

Their managers are not happy.

According to the Washington Post an Ernst & Young survey found that those who manage millennial employees are frustrated by their half-hearted commitment to work.

The Post explains the cultural disparity:

Close to 80 percent of millennials surveyed are part of dual-
income couples in which both work full time. Of Generation X workers, people in their 30s and 40s now, 73 percent are. But of baby boomers, the generation born just after World War II that now occupies most top management positions, just 47 percent have a full-time working spouse. More than a quarter of baby-boomer workers have a spouse at home, or one who works part time or with flexible hours and is responsible for taking care of all home-front duties.

They call it work-life balance, but others see it as a path to drudgery. Millennials do not want to work too hard because they want to have more time with their families and even more time to have fun.

This means that are not very ambitious and do not wish to rise up the corporate hierarchy. In the long run they will be losing out to those who have more ambition and who work harder.

The Post writes:

Younger workers see that technology frees them to work productively from anywhere, she said. But older bosses who are more accustomed to work cultures with more face time may see only empty cubicles. “They’re afraid people who don’t come to the office won’t work as hard,” she said.

Millennial workers, the group that companies say they are scrambling to attract and retain, are the most dissatisfied. Survey after survey, including the EY one, show that what millennials most want is flexibility in where, when and how they work. Millennials as well as men were most likely in the survey to say that they would take a pay cut, forgo a promotion or be willing to move to manage work-life demands better.

If you can work productively anywhere in the world, your employer is going to figure out that someone in India or Ireland can do your job just as well while costing significantly less.

The millennial passion for work/life balance will probably accelerate the movement toward outsourcing. Recall that the Washington Post also reported that American millennials are lagging in most measures of workplaceproficiency. If they are also lagging in motivation, their future does not look very bright.

Before we lay this problem on baby boomers and other antiquated relics, we must note that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting at her company.

When Mayer took over at Yahoo! she saw that empty workstations demoralized people. She saw that people who sat at home in front of their screens did not work effectively as a team. And she noted that it was more difficult to manage people when the people were not present.

Surely, some jobs can be outsourced. But, when you are working from home you are not on the path to higher management. You will not be forming the alliances with other people that are essential to executive leadership.

Management positions require personal interaction, schmoozing at the water cooler and brainstorming meetings. There is no effective substitute for face-to-face human contact.

Sad to say, millennials do not value dedication and loyalty to their companies. Beyond the fact that they are excessively self-involved, they are sacrificing their lives for an ideology.

The report concludes:

And nearly 40 percent of young workers, male or female, in the United States are so unhappy with the lack of paid parental-leave policies that they say they would be willing to move to another country.

The research is skewed toward the notion that companies need to adapt in order to keep their best employees. If you like positive spin, this is it.

The higher truth suggests that companies will adapt by moving more work to areas of the world where people actually want to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

The highest truth suggests that this is yet another way for separating the wheat from the chaff. Many young people are consigning themselves to workplace mediocrity. The notion that they should work hard in order to excel does not seem to have crossed their addled minds.

Why are they doing this?

Consider the case of Ryan Shaw, dutifully reported by the Post:

Ryan Shaw, 23, is a case in point. He doesn’t have children, yet he rates work-life balance as not only important but also “necessary for success.”

Shaw does social media marketing for a start-up in Los Angeles called Forcefield. He liked his job. But he didn’t like living in L.A., where his expensive rent kept him from being able to pay down his astronomical student loans. He had other job offers that would have given him more money but demanded more work hours.

He had a different idea. He told his boss that he would stay at the company, but only if he could do his job from his laptop, wherever and whenever he wanted. His boss agreed.

So Shaw is moving back home to Florida.

“The narrative that’s always drawn is you have to choose financial success or personal success [and] having a life. And to me, that’s a false choice,” Shaw said. “I think you can have both. I’m sort of playing the long game. I want to take care of my health and have deep relationships with people I care most about. And not just people who happen to be in the same building with me every day.”

Shaw thinks that you can have both, that you can do your job and have fun in the sun. He does not understand that cultivating deep relationships with other people, at the expense of your job, will open the possibilities for more dedicated people to advance.

In the end, Shaw comes across as a whiner.


Sam L. said...

He's certainly not on the management track, nor the success track; being not at or even near the office makes him easier to forget, easier to let go. Out of sight, out of mind would appear to b a saying that Shaw does not know.

Ares Olympus said...

There are certainly a lot of judgements here. I don't have such clarity about our future to know how hard people should try to claw themselves to the top.

And the path to managership is a good question. Do those who get promoted represent the best managers, or those who jump through the most hoops until they get their desired salary and then be a tyrant or bum, living off the work of others?

I guess Dilbert and Catbert are bad influences on ambition for engineers at least. How much is status and salary worth when you're seen as incompetent and tyrannical, where your underlings need to learn how to manipulate you into doing what they want?

Myself, I've been a computer programmer for an engineering company for over 15 years ago, and long with contract work, whatever titles I get (software engineer?!). I've been loyal, but prefer the chance to interesting projects to the chance to "herd cats" as my project manager likes to say.

So I'm an Xer, but apparently with the millennials or whomever they are.

If it was clear this world was moving to bigger and better things forever, you can get people to work hard, but it looks to me that we delayed a second great depression that isn't going to be fixed by millennials working harder so the Boomers can retire in style for a few more years. So for those who can get their flex options, no promotions, I'd call them smart, lazy whiners or not.

It looks to me that the future is going to be something we're going to be muddling more than thriving, so learning to live well on a lower income, minimal debt is the best skill you can practice. If only I could trust these youth really could avoid debt, I'd feel confident about the future depression.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Work-life balance" is yet another mantra that idiots hold to be self-evidently true, because they've been told their whole lives that their feelings are their truth. The rest of us are supposed to understand and accommodate.

Such conversations avoid the topic of responsibility altogether. Even though work is a social activity, there is no reference to an objective standard when one elects to enter the workforce. That's because it used to be obvious, kind of like the owner's manual for your new lawnmower has to explicitly say (with pictures) that you're not supposed to touch the cutting blade while it's running.

No, no, no... today's employer is supposed to replace the young person's parent and give them an allowance (now called a salary) for contributing to their new "community."

This just in: Work-life balance can be whatever you want it to be, but it's your responsibility... no one owes you a living, and you don't deserve anything. Welcome to the real world.

Work-life balance is a subjective choice that's been elevated to some new sacred, objective truth. And we're all supposed to just "get it" and let Johnny do whatever he wants so that he can be fulfilled. We've all met Johnny... he's they young man who says "you know?" at the end of every sentence. Kind of like President Obama.

So where did they learn all this nonsense? From the people who fall over themselves salivating about Abraham Maslow's idea of self-actualization without noting that Maslow himself said very, very few people ever reach the pinnacle of his model. All this feel-good theory doesn't work well if it's not grounded in reality.

It's not working, is it? Nope. Only on Oprah for an hour, with commercials. It's like religion without sin... it doesn't work. Existential choices demand sacrifice. Sacrifice is a foreign concept to today's youthful complaining class.

Ya know?

Ares Olympus said...

Speaking of whiners, John Oliver quotes that America and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries that don't require paid time of for new mothers.

So "flex time" is nice but "flex paid time off" is an even higher perk!

Like from our policy manual, I see the company I work for does have paid parental leave, two weeks for a man or a woman, not necessarily sequential, for a new birth or adoption, to be used within 3 months of the event.

The only requirement is the person has to be employed for at least a year, while our old CEO used to joke that women hired would become pregnant within 6 months of getting hired.

I admit I never understood the idea of "paid leave", at least beyond standard PTO hours which already seemed quite generous.

On the gender divide, apparently male engineers as new fathers rarely take the 2-week leave, or only a fraction of it, or even if they take it, they'll already have maxed out PTO hours saved that stop accumulating.

And on a nationality divide, there are a number of noncitizen engineers here, and some of them fly in one or both parents for as long as they can legally stay, and they have instant daycare after the two weeks.

I guess that happens for less formally for citizen employees as well, just less dramatic since grandparents are free to travel on their own schedules.

So anyway, I don't know about the trap of 2-incomes and work/life balance, but I think everyone will agree that the nuclear family is either not economical on 1-income for many, and not balanceable with kids on two incomes. So if your income is high enough, you get a nanny, and otherwise you be very nice to your mother or mother-in-law this time of year.

David Foster said...

"Surely, some jobs can be outsourced. But, when you are working from home you are not on the path to higher management. You will not be forming the alliances with other people that are essential to executive leadership"

Bear in mind that companies are increasingly spread all over the map (partly as a result of acquisitions) and many jobs involve a lot of travel. There are people who do not have an office that they come into every day when not on the road, but rather work from home or Starbucks during the 40% of the time they are not traveling..said work substantially involving talking to people...and when traveling spend plenty of time schmoozing with people in the various locations, though more likely over wine or beer than at the water cooler. It is expensive and unproductive to demand that these people have a base office in the traditional sense.