We live in a world that is constantly in “on” mode. Smart phones, computers, emails, and phone calls; even after you clock off from work, it’s so easy to forget to actually “check out.”
This is especially true for the millennial generation. Despite common misconceptions, millennials appear to be more workaholics rather than lazy youngsters. Their relationship with technology often means they are constantly checking work emails after they’ve clocked off, or first thing when they wake up in the morning.
This raises a new question: is the lack of work-life balance a healthy transition? Could millennials’ work ethic be hurting themselves? In order to mitigate this imbalance, there are a couple of ways that Human Resources (and company leaders) can adjust the unequal lifestyle habits of millennials without taking away from their autonomy.
Why They Can’t Stop Working
There are a couple of theories as to why millennials are always working. Some say it is due to their upbringing, where children were constantly working on a schedule: soccer practice, piano practice, school, dinner, and sleep.
However, others think it is due to their delay in building a family. In fact, many millennials are still living with their parents well into their late 20s. This is at no fault of their own, as the economy is thrusting young workers into lower paying jobs than what their parents had when they first started. Not to mention the insurmountable student debt much of them carry after leaving college; it’s a wonder that millennials are able to make money at all.
But due to this delay in leaving their parents’ homes, millennials find they have more time on their hands to work. Plus, they are not going out and buying homes or starting their own families, which might otherwise limit the amount of time they would like to spend in the office.
Thus, millennials find themselves in this vortex: a lack of financial freedom, more personal freedom due to a lack of dependents, and technology that allows us instant access to emails, work servers, and messages from clients or coworkers. So, it comes as no surprise that they never quite “clock out” at the end of the day.
It is widely known that burnout at work can be damaging to both employee’s personal health and the health of a business. Burnout normally results in overexposure to stress and lack of personal time.
Yet there is a rising concern among health educators that the younger generations, from millennials to current teens, are experiencing far more stress and anxiety than their parents.
“This April marks the 24th anniversary of Stress Awareness Month,” says Christine Carter, in a post for forbes.com. “…It’s no secret that the millennial age group, in particular, reports higher stress levels than any other generation and they appear to be having a difficult time coping with it,” she states.
Carter attributes an increase in millennial stress levels to increased responsibilities in the workplace, major purchasing decisions, issues with marriage, and parenting, or planning to parent. “According to the American Psychological Association, millennials rely on more sedentary stress management techniques than other generations. Given their fluency and comfort with technology, it’s not surprising that millennials are turning to less active solutions such as gadgets to cope with stress.”
This creates a unique dilemma for the “workaholic” generation: turning to technology to help manage stress and overexposure to stress and tech at work. Over time, burnout is sure to create problems for businesses and millennial employees. For the employees, this increased exposure to stress can lead to serious health issues down the road: everything from neurological issues like cluster headaches, GERD and other intestinal illnesses, to heart conditions. For businesses, this might cause increased sick days and lack of engagement, as well as turnover, all of which contribute to a huge loss in profits.
If you see this behavior pop up at work — where employees are admitting to checking emails constantly or staying late, and burnout is starting to affect your team — how can you create a healthier culture for them? How can managers and HR leaders make a positive adjustment to the lives of their workers?
What Can HR Leaders Do?
Although every company has different aspirations for success and company culture, there are some real tried-and-true ways that company leaders can build up healthy environments for their employees. One such way is to promote the 3Ps: play, purpose, and potential.
Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management suggests the 3Ps as a best practice method for building up company culture. Employees, especially millennials, want to work for companies that promote fun and creativity (play); that prove they are making a positive impact on the company, community, and world (purpose); and that keep them feeling motivated for achieving better standards and positions (potential). Pepperdine University also suggests providing employee activities — such as yoga, company outings, or educational lessons — to help promote healthy lifestyles and to help employees realize that the business is invested in their overall wellbeing.
Providing an environment for activities or relaxing work spaces is an easy way to subtly de-stress your millennial employees. Experts also suggest increasing autonomy for employees. This can be done through flexible work schedules and flexible or abundant vacation times. Millennials are already pioneering the flexible work schedule, so allowing them the freedom to work when they want to, and for as long as they would like, can cultivate an excellent work ethic and a positive work-life balance.
However, not every business will have the freedom to choose flexibility. In those cases, show your employees through example. Leave on time to prevent employees from feeling like they need to work late, or create special days that promise your employees a bit of a more relaxed atmosphere. One list suggests such days as “No Meeting Monday” or “Late Start Friday.” However, cultivating this culture takes more than just creating suggestions; it also requires accountability. Through example, you can show your employees that you will hold yourself accountable, and you will be able to more thoroughly hold your employees accountable too.
Millennials may be a new challenge for business leaders, and they are certainly challenging their limits, but creating a culture that meets their needs isn’t impossible. In fact, their blend of work-life balance could simply be a new form of workplace culture: making your work into a fun environment that enhances your life.
Through accountability practices, as well as a new twist on office activities, you could create a business that not only works for millennials, but for every generation that precedes them or follows them. A healthier work-life balance is in your hands.