The one thing students want out of their career, more than anything else, is not leadership opportunities, security or prestige, but work-life balance.
Work-life balance is supposedly what the kids want these days. Everything points to that, but what is it and how can it be a career goal?
Somehow, work-life balance has become the battle cry of a generation. As a Gen Xer, I understood that you have to put in hours, face time, blood, sweat and tears to climb the corporate ladder, and that’s what I have been doing. Is the joke on me? Is it possible to have it all at work and life? I would never ask in an interview about the company’s work-life balance, as a candidate asked me recently. Still, everyone from entry-level employees to the CEO is talking about it, and it doesn’t seem to be just a fad.
As president of Universum’s Americas business, I am particularly interested in what drives people to join organizations. Each year we globally survey students and young professionals, asking half a million students about their career goals, job preferences and ideal companies. In the U.S. alone last year, we surveyed 65,679 undergraduates at top academic institutions. Consistently during the past three years, the one thing students want out of their career, more than anything else, is work-life balance. Not leadership opportunities, security or prestige, but balance.
What is the driving force behind the emerging workforce’s desire for balance, and what does it mean for companies? Should we expect employees to spend less time in the office and give more flexibility? Will this result in lower productivity at a time when companies need to do more with less? Or have we misunderstood the meaning of work-life balance? The answers to these questions could mean we have misjudged this generation as lazy, and could indicate that our efforts to appeal to its preferences have been misguided.
Universum’s 25 years of research about student career preferences confirms work-life balance as a top priority. The actual experience of work today is different from before, due in part to rapid advancements in technology and communication. Today, thanks to virtual technology, most people have the ability to work and communicate from anywhere.
Even when they leave work, employees are expected to keep working. Gone are the days when people leave the office and don’t need to do anything else until they return the next morning. Millennials have spent their entire lives being “plugged in” — at home, at school and now at work. The emerging workforce is unique in that it has never really experienced a world in which life and work were separate.
Just as technological advancements have affected the way we work, job expectations for millennials are different from those of previous generations. The overwhelming majority — 85 percent — of students surveyed globally indicated that work is more than a way of making money; it’s a part of who they are. In this sense, students’ call for work-life balance isn’t an indication of laziness — it’s the need for their jobs to be representative of who they want to be.