From Gen Y Women to Employers: What You Need to Know about Work-Life Balance
Posted by knbarrett on November 30, 2011
Business and Professional Women’s Foundation recently released From Gen Y Women to Employers: What They Want in the Workplace and Why it Matters for Business, a report that explores Gen Y women’s career choices and the opportunities and challenges they face in the workplace. Results from our national survey of Gen Y (born 1978-1994) women challenged popular perceptions of Gen Y women in the workplace. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore some of the key misconceptions across four thematic areas: work values, work-life balance, gender in the workplace and inter-generational workplace dynamics.
By Kara Nichols Barrett, lead project researcher
Today’s topic is work-life balance. Over 660 Gen Y told us about:
- the relative importance of work-life balance;
- their definition of work-life balance;
- challenges to achieving work-life balance; and
- individual and employer strategies for achieving work-life balance.
Here are the top “do’s” and “don’ts” from Gen Y women to employers on work-life balance.
Don’t underestimate its importance. We know it sounds like a broken record to state yet again that Gen Y women value work-life balance. But, work-life balance is REALLY important. Ninety-six percent of us ranked it as either very important or important. What’s more, the importance we place on work-life balance cuts across our key areas of difference: occupation, marital status, and whether or not we have children. Too often work-life balance is treated only as work-family conflict. This approach misses the mark in three important ways.
- It excludes Gen Y workers without children. Work-life balance is equally important to us whether or not we have children. When work-life balance programs and policies favor workers with children, formal and informal rules often preclude Gen Y workers from work-life programs.
- It narrowly defines “family.” Almost three-quarters of us reported that family is very important. We are granddaughters, daughters, sisters, aunts, spouses and partners. Our family responsibilities extend beyond the nuclear family.
- It disregards responsibilities and interests outside of work and home. There’s more to life than work and home. In addition to work and family, the following aspects of life are also important to us: hobbies (55%), friends (44%), exercise (43%), and volunteering (36%).
Do ask us what it means. Just because the majority of us believe work-life balance is important doesn’t mean that we all understand or define it the same way. Twenty-five percent of us want to maintain separate spheres, 50% want to integrate work and life and 18% believe that work-life balance is really about workplaces better reflecting the realities of the workforce.
Don’t expect us to live up to the 1960s “ideal worker.” We aren’t looking for a policy or programmatic fix; we want different workplace assumptions and rules. Too many of our workplaces are built off of the 1960s “ideal worker” – the worker who is available anytime, anywhere and for as long as you need. Most of us don’t want to be that worker. Most of us believe that work is important and can be meaningful and enjoyable, but we don’t want to mistake our jobs for our lives. If you are really serious about addressing our work-life challenges, you’ll have to explore assumptions about the “ideal worker” and the role of work in an employee’s life.
Do focus on work arrangements. We know there’s a wide range of programmatic options for employers looking to boost work-life balance. No one is going to complain about onsite health services or a games room, but we suggest that you start with how work is structured. We want programs that address when, where and how work is done. Thirty-seven percent of us said that the most important program an employer could offer is flexible scheduling, 26% said results-based orientation and 15% said telecommuting.
Be sure to check out Chapter Two of the report for a complete overview of our work-life balance research findings and employer implications and applications.
This research, funded from the Virginia Allan Young Careerist Grant, is part of BPW Foundation’s ongoing “Young Careerist” research project that since 2005 has been exploring the career opportunities and challenges facing today’s young working women. The research gives voice to a distinct group of working women who are vital to developing a diverse and skilled workforce. Research has been conducted using social media, focus groups and this national survey. To find all of the research and this report, visit our Young Careerist website.