According to Time (and just about every other media outlet), millennials want “a life that’s more balanced between work and fun.” General consensus is that 20-somethings want less time at the office and more time to partake in life’s experiences and everything the world has to offer.
I beg to differ. It’s not so much about work/life balance as it is about the flexibility of one’s schedule. Ask a 20-something to meet a hard deadline, and you’ll probably have no issues getting what you want delivered, when you want it. Ask a 20-something to be in the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. because that’s policy—even if it’s not when and where they are most productive—and you’ll likely be met with resentment and, quite possibly, a lessened quality of work.
Most of the millennials we know don’t conform to the entitled personality and lazy work ethic that the general public has been quick to label this generation with. In fact, the opposite is true. Young professionals are hungry for success. We want to make an impact, to feel valued, to impress our managers, and, most of all, to be trusted to craft our own schedules.
Fast Company calls millennials “the first generation of freelance natives,” and the data supports that theory. A national survey conducted by the Freelancers Union shows that 38% of millennials are freelancers, and that number is only growing. Unlike previous generations, we’re optimistic about the unpredictable future of our freelancing careers, not scared. Perhaps it’s because we came of age in the wake of the financial crisis of ’08, when there weren’t many jobs to be found through the traditional route and we had to forge our own paths.
But even non-freelancing 20-somethings are front-loading their careers with the purpose of procuring a more balanced lifestyle down the road. As a 30-something mother of two, Eberjey founder Ali Mejia considers work/life balance a huge priority for her right now. But that took some incredible foresight and meticulous planning in her twenties. “It was clear in my 20s that I wanted to have time for my future kids.” So she came up with an idea and worked nonstop to turn it into a company, so that her time would be her own when she needed it to be.
But not every millennial is so future-oriented. In today’s world, positive work culture has become the benefit du jour. Young employees want to feel valued at the office. We want to feel a sense of comradery and community. In an age where you can investigate the culture of an office before you accept a job offer, or you can choose who you work with as a budding entrepreneur, the line between friend and co-worker becomes increasingly blurred.
Heather Serden and Danielle Yadegar, two lifetime friends who co-founded the startup Above the Glass, ask the question, “Why wouldn’t you want to work with your best friend?” When you’re fortunate enough to be passionate about your work and you work alongside someone you enjoy spending time with, then aren’t work and life one in the same? Brainstorming sessions that last until 3 a.m. are no longer a dreaded struggle: They become an exhilarating way to pursue your dream.
In my mind, it’s not how I can work less but how I can work smarter. Perhaps work/life balance can grow in priority as you age. Putting in your long hours before you have responsibilities like children, a life partner, retirement savings, and a home, I believe, is an effective way to manage your life. Perhaps working until 2 a.m. some nights may not be the worst thing in the world. At least for a 20-something.
Are you too favoring a heavier work schedule now in preparation for the future? Here are some of our favorite accessories that transition beautifully between work and play.
So, what do you think? Is work/life balance overrated? Share with us in the comments.