THE BLOG

'My Life Will Be Over': A Gen Y's Perspective on Working Full-Time?

11/14/2013 08:34 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

I must be getting old. That troubles me because I pride myself in thinking young... although my body on many days seems to have another agenda. But a conversation I overheard in the gym last night stopped this "Gen Y trapped in a baby boomer" dead in his tracks.

Listen to what I heard:

Muscle guy: Hey dude, how ya been? I haven't seen you forever.

Tall guy: It's been months since I've been here. I've been working a lot of hours and
doing P90X with my girlfriend.

Muscle guy: I know what you mean. If I get that new job, my life will be over.

Tall guy: Aren't you working now?

Muscle guy: Yea but only 32 hours per week. The new job is 40 hours and that will really suck. My life will be over. I won't have time to do $#!t.

Different generations have different attitudes about work, jobs, life, and play. My attitudes have been shaped by my generation (baby boomer) for sure. But I don't always think like a boomer. Often times I feel like I relate better to many millennials than my peers especially when it comes to careers, technology, and lifestyle.

I try to take a very open-minded and flexible view about the generations. But feeling that my life would be over if I worked more than 32 hours was something I can say that I never felt or thought. I still don't. In fact, like many baby boomers, I often put in 32 hours after the first 40 hours.

I'm a believer in the existence of generation gaps exist but as I tell audiences and clients, "attitudes from each generation aren't necessarily good or bad, but they sure are different." Are the boomers right in believing work first, play later? Is live to work a better lifestyle than the millennials' approach of work to live?

Many times I think that boomers are jealous of the work to live lifestyle of the millennials. If we had the chance to do it all over again, we might not sacrifice so much by putting our careers first and family and fun next... and not necessarily in that order. Then again, working hard and playing later seems to be the DNA of the majority of boomers, so I wonder how much would change if we had to do it all over again.

But I digress.

Admittedly surprised and maybe even a bit shocked at first by the "my life is over" comment, I took some time between exercise sets to ponder what I just heard... and to see if I could walk in a younger man's shoes.

A first step in seeing the world of work differently begins with understanding that the definition of a job has changed. No more can we talk about full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary jobs. No job today is permanent, a term that began to vanish in the 1970s and reached extinction with technology and globalization.

In fact, occupations are going extinct at a record pace. New occupations pop up almost daily. Contingent, project, and temporary jobs seem to be the new normal. Millennials seem comfortable with these ideas. Most boomers tend to hate them.

Fewer and fewer jobs require us to show up at an office every day, five days a week. Set hours are almost a thing of the past with many roles requiring 365/24/7 coverage. The more we automate, the more virtual many jobs become and shift work evolves into just-in-time.

That takes me back to the 32-hour week comment. My boomer mindset is 32 hours is part-time, 40 hours or more is full-time. My work attitude is getting old. And that's exactly my point. The 32- or 40-hour attitude was fostered and developed in the '60s, '70s, and '80s when boomers ruled the world of work. But the definition of work has changed and defining a job by how many hours we work and where we work must change.

Last night's conversation served as a wake-up call for me. I'm not saying that "muscle man's" attitude was good. What I am saying is that my reaction to his comment was based on my Boomer view of the world of work. And while it worked for me in the past, it won't work for employers in the future who need to recruit and retain young workers.

Terms like full-time, part-time, temporary and contingent are all being redefined by a younger workforce. A generation gap between employers and workers is likely to grow significantly if management does not begin to re-think how work gets done and what jobs will be needed.

Here's a shortlist of things I share with audiences that will surely alter the course of talent management:

  • Employees in new jobs don't "go to work."
  • Many new jobs don't exist yet.
  • Many new jobs are virtual and dynamic.
  • Many new jobs aren't full-time.
  • Many new jobs aren't permanent.

How many job descriptions reflect these changes? Very few! How do workforce policies and compensation and benefits mirror the new workforce and demands of younger workers? Poorly!

When young workers think that a 40-hour work week will ruin their lives but they are one of the few with the skills you need, it's time to begin the discussion about "what is work" and what is the best way to accomplish it.