Work-life balance: Evolving views by generation

As new generations enter the workforce, employers are being expected to do more to help employees achieve work-life balance.

So what is work-life balance and how can you support it for an evolving workforce?

It means something different to everyone, but generally it’s a healthy and consistent harmony between time allocated for work and other aspects of life.

For some employees, this could mean starting and ending work earlier than most. Others might want to work a couple of hours from home in the evening and less during the day.

Improving employees’ work-life balance can help decrease stress, increase productivity, and keep conflicts at a minimum, among other benefits.

Work-life balance by generation

Different generations often have difference conceptions of what work-life balance means.

Here are a few clues into the perspectives of the different generations that currently make up most of the workforce:

  • Baby boomers (born from 1946-1964)
    They often stay with an employer longer than later generations, which can equate to higher responsibility within a workplace, but it can also mean more stress and less work-life balance. Baby boomers may be attracted to flexible schedule options as they transition out of the workforce, manage health conditions and care for aging parents.
  • Generation X (born from 1965-1980)
    A recent American Management Association article notes that Generation X employees’ reputations for challenging traditional structures has helped push work-life balance ideals. Many in this generation are straddling the line between parenthood and caring for aging parents, so flexible work hours or the ability to work from home can be particularly appealing options to this generation.
  • Millennials (born from 1981-1995)
    Like Generation X before them, many millennials put an emphasis on their life outside of work and prefer to work smarter, not harder, placing great value on vacation time, telecommuting and casual dress options.
  • Generation Z (born from 1996-2012)
    Generation Z is the biggest generation since baby boomers, according to a Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data. The oldest of them are just now entering the workforce, but a recent Randstad report indicates they will be much like millennials in their work-life balance needs. In addition, stress levels related to financials and health care are reportedly a top concern for this generation, so Generation Z employees are predicted to be very interested in a robust health care plan from an employer and opportunities to earn raises to support their lifestyle outside of work.

Developing work-life balance

While a generational breakdown is a useful way to observe large groups of people, it’s important to take personalities into consideration and get to know employees’ individual needs.

Here are four ideas to help increase work-life balance for everyone:

Encourage time off

Many companies are moving to a paid time off (PTO) bank, which entrusts each employee to decide for themselves how to divvy up their time off between sick days and vacation days. In addition, putting a cap on the number of vacation days an employee can roll over to a new calendar year encourages them to take time away, which can especially benefit baby boomers. Generation X and millennials are more likely to use up their bank of days provided.

Be flexible with work schedules

Offer an adjustable work schedule if possible, and allow some crossover of personal life into the workplace. Examples of this include:

  • Offering childcare services or being understanding when family-related absences occur
  • Offering the opportunity for employees to job share or work part time
  • Providing cross-training among teams to accommodate absences and lessen the burden on individual employees
  • Supporting telecommuting or working remotely

Maintain technology and tools for the job

This can include providing employees with work laptops or cell phones to make it possible to work remotely. It can also include paying for all or part of an employee’s personal device and service if they are used for work. Supporting employees in this way can take the burden of costs associated with technology needed for work off the employee. Plus, keeping technology up to date can help employees finish tasks efficiently.

Encourage upper management and leadership to model a healthy work-life balance

Employees take their cues from leadership, therefore supporting all employees, top-down, as they make changes to better their work-life balance can positively impact everyone.

Ultimately, success will depend on supporting the individual needs of each employee as they work out how to achieve work-life balance for themselves.

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