Work-life balance across and beyond generations

In our previous blog post, we discussed the three key attributes Polish employees want in their job. Those attributes were: excellent compensation and benefits, a good work-life balance and challenging work. Today we are delving deeper in the topic of work-life balance.

The numbers


One critical factor for determining work-life balance is the number of hours worked. Employees who work for fewer hours are said to have a good work-life balance. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development), Netherlands ranks 2nd after Russia in the list of countries with the best work-life balance.
Only 0.5% of employees in the Netherlands work for 50+ hours a week compared to 11% in America. Poland is ranked higher than America given only 6.7% of employees work for 50+ hours. Full-time workers in Poland devote approximately 60% of their day to working. The rest of the time (approximately 14.4 hours) is spent eating, sleeping and engaging in leisure and social activities. [1]
It’s not surprising that work-life balance is centred on the amount of time spent at work given it has a direct correlation to personal health factors like stress. OECD’s Better Life Index states that long working hours impair personal health, increase stress and jeopardise safety.

Why is work-life balance a crucial issue in workplaces today?


The term work-life balance has been popular for a few years now thanks to millennials (individuals born between 1981 and 2000). Considering 75% of the global workforce by 2025 will be composed of millennials, employers are actively looking for ways to provide working environments appealing to this demographic. [2]
Work-life balance hasn’t been a critical issue for several decades since prior generations like baby boomers (individual born between the years 1945 and 1960) were exposed to hardships having been born immediately after World War II. For this reason, factors like making a living were more important than work-life balance.
The generation that came after baby boomers (Generation X or individuals born between 1961 and 1980) saw the importance of work-life balance having seen how their parents (baby boomers) struggle with long working hours. As a result, this generation focused on work-life balance on a personal level like prioritising time. With millennials, employers are being forced to overcompensate and take up work-life balance as a critical issue since this generation dominates the entire workforce.
Generational issues aside, work-life balance has been proven to prevent chronic stress, a common health problem in workplaces today. [3] Chronic stress is linked to a multitude of other health problems like hypertension, chronic aches, insomnia, anxiety, depression as well as digestive and heart health problems common among millennial employees. Most importantly, these health issues are linked to burnouts which cost employers $120 to $190 billion yearly in healthcare costs in America alone. [4] Work-life balance is, therefore, a crucial cost-saving factor for employers today.
Source: Barclays


Work-life balance according to baby boomers


Although the workforce today is dominated by millennials, baby boomers and generation x employees are still present. Work-life balance may mean something different for these groups.
For baby boomers, jobs are a priority, above everything else since their parents went through the Great Depression where most lost everything. Baby boomers are, therefore “wired” to embrace hard work and tough times to ensure they never face financial challenges experienced by their parents.
They also tend to be more loyal to their employers. Since they have worked hard for many years, most hold high-level positions today which come with a lot of stress. Employers who want to create a work-life balance for baby boomers should focus on reducing or eliminating stress.


Work-life balance according to Generation X


Unlike their parents, Generation X are less likely to stay in stressful jobs. They don’t have a problem changing employers if they aren’t satisfied. If a Generation X member watched their parents struggle, they would most likely value a stable job above everything else.
However, for most employees in this generation, work-life balance can be as simple driving their kids to/from school one or two days a week. Most Gen-Xers don’t mind long hours as long as they are recognised accordingly. In a nutshell, it doesn’t take a lot to make Generation X employees happy.


Work-life balance according to millennials


Like their predecessors, millennials don’t have a problem changing employers. In fact, they would do it more willingly. They can also change professions or industries with ease during their working years; something Gen-Xers have a problem doing.
To millennials, work-life balance is about flexibility above many things. They want to dictate their own working hours and schedules. In fact, they may be willing to take lower salary offers for the sake of more flexibility. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken to mean millennials don’t care about compensation. Benefits, salary, and retirement packages are valuable to them although they view pensions and social security benefits as a bit lengthy and outdated.
In regards to job seeking and employer preferences, millennials are less likely to take a job for financial security purposes only. They care deeply about jobs that align with their personal beliefs and goals. According to millennial author and financial expert, Stephanie O’Connell, the prospect of working extremely hard for decades just to retire one day isn’t appealing to millennials. Instead, most would rather seek employment opportunities they are genuinely interested in. [5] Most would go as far as selecting organisations that share their values and employers who prioritise socialisation. Employers who offer a mixture of job and lifestyle opportunities, i.e. jobs with additions like gym memberships, happy hours, philanthropic projects and remote working have the upper hand with millennials.

Going past generations


Generations aside, the perfect work-life balance is characterised by a happy and flexible working environment for all. It’s worth noting that individuals in the same generation can have different insights about work-life balance. When employers focus on creating a flexible and happy working environment for all, work-life balance can be achieved across all generations.
Flexible working environments reduce stress, increase job satisfaction and help employees adopt and maintain healthier habits. Employers should allow flexible working hours among other perks like working from home to create working environments that are appealing to all.
Employers should create a happy working environment by prioritising healthy cultures to make employees feel valued/part of something big as opposed to just working for money. Opportunities for growth and social connections should also be availed. The importance of having comfortable office conditions can’t be overlooked. Employees should work comfortably. They should also have some time away from work.
Important: Work-life balance comes with unique challenges. Employee productivity can decrease if a perfect balance isn’t made between professional and personal life. For instance, open vacation policies in companies like Netflix and Virgin allowing workers to go for random breaks whenever needed can affect direct customer relations. Employees can also hurt their personal lives by working past stipulated timelines. Studies have shown that 81% of workers open work-related emails outside working hours. [6] All in all, the importance of a good work-life balance can’t be overlooked by anyone especially employers today, provided there is a balance.