The work-life conflict of my generation -- Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1980 -- has been defined by the unrealistic expectations that women, primarily, have placed on themselves to "have it all": career, marriage, kids, house in the suburbs, etc. Somewhere along the way, "having it all" morphed into "doing it all," a far cry from the liberation our feminist foremothers fought so hard for.
But what of the next generation?
I've been counting on Generation Y, or the Millenials, as they are called -- those born between 1978 and 1995 -- to usher in a new workplace model where employees don't have to be tied to their desks 9 to 5 or slowly climb the corporate ladder of success. After all, these youngins are the iGeneration: tech-savvy, mobile and socially networked. They can complete important work assignments from Starbucks, the playground, hey, even from a hot bubble bath!
If anyone can figure out how to gracefully blend work and home life, it's the Millennials, right?
According to a new study from British consultancy JBA involving almost 25,000 people across 19 countries, much of the perceived wisdom about Gen Y's attitude and approach to work, and work-life balance, needs to be radically rethought.
While we frequently hear that Gen Yers are beating the drum for new working practices -- demanding the freedom to work remotely, make use of the latest "must-have" technologies and communicate with colleagues via social networks rather than face-to-face -- the study found that the reality is very different. In fact, younger staff expressed 15 to 20 percent less desire than their older colleagues to choose their time and place of work -- they actively seek out every opportunity to be in the office in the closest proximity to their boss.
It also found a direct correlation between age and appetite for flexible working. Among older staff, seven out of 10 wanted more choice about their work patterns. But just four out of 10 of their younger colleagues are keen to detach themselves from the office environment.
According to Allison Ells, a 28-year-old regional sales manager from New York City, the tough economy may have something to do with her peers' reluctance to ask for flexible work arrangements.
"Many companies today still do not provide the flexibility and support needed to manage both a career and a family," says Ells, who is engaged and plans to have kids in the next few years. "In this way, it feels that the work-life issues faced by Gen X have not yet been resolved for my generation (Gen Y). Especially in the current economy, where having a job is not to be taken for granted."
What's more, younger staff placed more emphasis on working longer hours in the office and putting work before family than their older colleagues.
Sarah Meager, a 26-year old law student from Boston, looks at her mother's experience as a cautionary tale.
"My mom quit her job as an attorney after having three children," explains Meager. "She was never able to go back to her legal career at the same level. I don't plan to stop working for any period of time when I have kids because I know it will put me at a huge disadvantage career-wise."
Disheartening words from a generation that I had hoped would change the discourse of the work-life debate.
Another myth busted by the report is that Gen Yers are forever demanding new technologies and access to social networks. If anything, they are reticent to ask for such tools for fear that they might be accused of slacking off on the job.
"Listen, these kids are hard workers. They are starting their careers in tough economic times. They have high expectations of where their jobs will lead, but they aren't afraid to put in some hard labor in the early years," says Jake Riley, a recruiter for tech jobs in the Silicon Valley.
The key message from the survey, according to author John Blackwell, is that for all the talk of technological and social revolutions, some things stay the same.
So just like their mothers, Gen Y women may still be stuck between a rock and a hard place for the time being. Yes, they are savvier about what they can realistically expect from the business world, but many still envision a conflict between their dream of having kids and reaching the top of their professions.
The question is, what is the world going to do to help them achieve their goals?
Samantha Parent Walravens is a freelance journalist and mother of four. She is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, which was chosen by The New York Times as its first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.
Follow Samantha Parent Walravens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@nosuperwoman