Work/Life Balance for the Generations

In honor of National Work and Family Month, I wanted to talk about an unprecedented phenomenon occurring in today's workplace. For the first time ever, three generations are working together.
10/16/2014 11:58 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

In honor of National Work and Family Month, I wanted to talk about an unprecedented phenomenon occurring in today's workplace. For the first time ever, three generations are working together. Work/life balance is certainly not the same for each of these segments of the workforce. Employers need to take into consideration the unique work/life balance needs of each generation. It's much trickier than in the past and the lines have certainly blurred.

This is definitely not a "soft issue" as numerous studies have shown that one of the keys to U.S. competitiveness is work/life balance and a link between balance-friendly nations and low unemployment. A report by Accenture published in early 2013 found that two-thirds of respondents felt they could have it all. However, half felt they could not have it all the time, with 52% globally saying they had turned down jobs due to concerns about the impact on their work/life balance.

According to the U.S. President's Study of American Work-Life Balance (March 2010), work-life balance programs can reduce turnover and improve recruitment, increasing the productivity of an employer's workforce. These practices are also associated with improved employee health and decreased absenteeism, a major cost for employers.

Work-life balance programs, such as flexible work arrangements, employee wellness programs, telecommuting, job sharing, paternity leave and personal assistance/concierge programs, help employees feel truly connected to their companies, therefore fostering loyalty, mutual respect and a positive work environment.

So how do the various generations resolve their work/life balance issues? First, I'll address the Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1964. These individuals are often idealistic, competitive and results driven. They work to stand out and plan to stay for the long term. Their sense of identity and value are often both tied to their career. They routinely sacrifice family and their own personal wellbeing for their employers. Baby Boomers are now starting to deal with health issues, caring for aging relatives and supporting children or grandchildren while holding down full time careers. Many are also in senior level positions with a high degree of responsibility. As a result, 80 percent of Baby Boomers report moderate to high levels of stress.

What should employers do to keep Baby Boomers motivated and employed? Flexibility is key -- part time work or flex-time and flex-place options will attract this generation and keep them engaged. According to recent studies conducted by Global Workplace Analytics, companies have realized anywhere from 10 percent to 55 percent increases in productivity through teleworking. Also, the ability to mentor younger generations and impart their wealth of knowledge is essential. Continuous training and growth will also contribute to their success.

According to the Regus Work-Life Balance Index 2013, which surveyed more than 26,000 workers in more than 90 countries, Gen X and Y workers are more likely than Boomers to feel they are achieving more at work. Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Generation Y or "Millennials" (born after 1980), generally speaking, are less loyal to their employers and are more comfortable demanding flexible work arrangements.

Generation X are individuals who have experienced major world events such as the fall of the Soviet Union, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and economic uncertainty involving a business world that went haywire with corporate downsizing and massive layoffs. They watched their parents get laid off and have grown to expect and embrace change. As a result, this generation is more independent, less committed to their employers, likely to job hop to increase their marketability and to see work/life balance as extremely important.

According to the 2013 Citi/LinkedIn Today's Professional Women Report, more than half of Gen Y respondents see themselves working at a different company or in a totally different industry in 10 years, compared with only 24 percent of those 35-plus who see themselves moving on. Gen Y is characterized as tech-savvy, enthusiastic, confident and achievement oriented. They require variety and challenges and do not expect to "pay their dues". This generation grew up multi-tasking with the help of technology and are more prone to blurring the lines between work and their personal lives.

In order to engage Gen Y ("Millennials"), employers need to offer more flexibility like being able to telecommute, define their work schedule and take time off. Many are willing to sacrifice a higher salary in order to achieve this. Providing opportunities for career advancement and international travel is also important to Millennials. Having access to the latest technology will boost their productivity and engagement. Millennials are also happiest in the workplace when they feel they are part of a team. Inclusion, being able to participate in decision making, and having choice about how to do their job is very important to this generation. Mentorships, face-to-face feedback, and recognition for excellent work are all proven ways to help the younger generation feel connected and fulfilled at work. Being transparent and encouraging stimulating interaction between Millennials and Baby Boomers will help create a better work environment for everyone. Compensation and good benefits (like a 401k) are also important since most Millennials believe they will never receive a pension or a check from Social Security.

The United States ranks just below the global average of work/life balance scores with Mexico, India, Brazil and China topping the list. I recommend that employers map out the different generations in their workplace and implement work/life balance programs that effectively match each generation's unique needs. By being flexible and innovative, U.S. employers will be better able to compete in a global economy and attract the best workers. This will result in greater productivity gains, and a reduction of fixed costs, thus producing in a stronger bottom line.

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Cathy Leibow is a pioneer and leader in the Work/Life industry. For over 25 years, she has worked with employers to offer benefit programs that enable employees to better balance their work and personal responsibilities. In 1987, Ms. Leibow founded a Work/Life company called FamilyCare, Inc. She sold her business in 2006 but continued to provide EAP, Work/Life, Wellness and Concierge services to Fortune 1000 companies. She is an expert on child care and aging workforce issues. She also provided consulting services for the Great Place to Work Institute in order to create positive culture change and "best place to work" recognition. Premier clients include Apple, Genentech, Texas Instruments, Fidelity Investments, Nordstrom, LSI, Hitachi Data Systems, LeapFrog and Advanced Micro Devices. Ms. Leibow currently works for Leverage Concierge (www.leverageconcierge.com) and can be reached at 925-963-9636 or cleibow2@gmail.com.