The work-life conflict of my generation—Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1980—has been defined in large part by the unrealistic expectations that women, primarily, have placed on themselves to “have it all”—career, marriage, kids, house in the suburbs, and more. 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 about the next generation?
I’ve been holding out hope that Generation Y, or the “Millenials” (born between 1980 and 1995), would figure out a way to solve the work-life dilemma. After all, these young workers are part of 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!
They will be the harbingers of change, ushering in a new workplace model where employees don’t have to be tied to their desks 9-5 or slowly climb the corporate ladder of success.
Or will they?
While the word on the street is that the Millenials are beating the drums for more flexible work practices – including 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—a new study from Randstad finds that the reality is very different.
According to the study, Millenial workers in the U.S. continue to struggle with the nuances of work-life balance, such as remaining connected to work outside of normal business hours and taking full advantage of vacation days. Millenial workers are the most inclined to remain “on” during off hours, with more than half (52 percent) of respondents saying they feel compelled to respond to emails outside of work. 47 percent feel guilty if they don’t work (either on site or from home) when sick. Additionally, 40 percent of Millennials express guilt about using all of their vacation time, which is more than double the 18 percent of baby boomers who report a similar sentiment.
“Many companies today still do not provide the flexibility and support needed to manage both a career and a family,” says Allison Ells, a 28-year old regional sales manager in New York City 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. 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.
A key message of the study 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 the author the recently published book, TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, which was chosen by the New York Times as its first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.