Why Millennials Need to Be Unrealistic About Their Work+Life Fit

I recently attended two conferences where researchers presented studies on the Millennial generation's beliefs and expectations about how work will fit into their lives throughout their careers.

The conclusion of the research was not surprising: 20-somethings expect a great deal of flexibility. They expect flexibility in how, when and where they work while employed, but also they want to flexibly manage their careers.

However, I cringed during the presentations when the two 50+ year old researchers both commented that men and women in this generation may be a bit "unrealistic." I was taken aback because these goals may seem fanciful in the context of an Industrial Age economy, but they're more understandable when you consider what Millennials have witnessed during their formative years.

Millennials watched the concept of work and career change fundamentally. Technology and globalization decimated the boundaries between your job and your life and rendered the promise of the full-time job with benefits obsolete; therefore…

20-somethings need to be "unrealistic" about their work+life fit.

In a recent article for The Christian Science Monitor, Lindsay Pollack commented on the findings of the "Shaping a New Future" study of 1,000 Millennial women that she conducted with Levi's Strauss & Co, "They are living life on their own terms, and we can learn a lot from how they are navigating our 21st Century world."

What does that world look like in terms of work and careers? It's unpredictable and self-directed. Two recent surveys (Workforce Trends Study and Manpower) found the use of temporary talent by companies instead of full-time employees "is a post-recession phenomenon that is here to stay." Not surprisingly, the 2009 Emerging Workforce study reported that 94% of respondents felt that an employee should seek their own career opportunities, and only 24% were satisfied with the growth and earning potential in their current jobs.

Millennial expectations align with this dynamic, free agent existence. As I've written before, we would all benefit by sitting up, taking notice and learning. Examples of new more flexible ways of managing your work+life fit have gotten attention recently and include:

There's only one caveat…there must also be a new, updated, "realistic" approach to money.

Money—making it, spending it and saving it—is different in the world of a flexible work+life fit. In other words, it's not your grandfather's or even your father's financial reality.

The steady, ever-increasing paycheck deposited into your bank account every other week has given way to a more inconsistent, unpredictable, multi-stream, project-based cash flow. This requires an updated, "realistic" approach to finances outlined in the new book, Generation Earn, by US News & World Report columnist Kimberly Palmer.Generation Earn

Unlike more traditional "how to" personal finance books, Palmer attacks the financial implications of this new Millennial work+life fit reality head on by covering topics such as:

  • How to create and manage multiple streams of income either as your primary means of support or as a supplement to your main job. (Includes excellent advice from Michelle Goodman, author of Anti 9-to-5 Guide).
  • How to manage the "new" frugality and buy green.
  • How to create a flexibility plan to present to your boss when you need to adjust your work+life fit.
  • How to calculate the "true" cost of staying home once you have a child (page 148—important because you need to "factor in the value of future earnings and promotions" in order to get an accurate picture)
  • How to negotiate living with your parents again, and
  • How to face the (tough) reality that you will have to fund your own retirement. It's important because, as Palmer points out, the existence of Social Security for this cohort is tenuous.

Yes, according to Industrial Age thinking, the expectations of Millennials for job and career flexibility may seem "unrealistic." But in the context of today's circumstances, they make sense.

When, where and how 20-somethings work and manage their lives is going to look very different from the experience of most Boomers and many Gen-Xers. This requires not only a new, more flexible work+life fit model, but also, as Generation Earn points out, a completely new relationship with money.

Do you think Millennials are "unrealistic" about their work+life fit expectations or do you believe they are adapting to what work and careers will look like going forward? How do you believe the way we manage our personal finances needs to change?

I invite you to join me on my Work+Life Fit blog and on Twitter @caliyost

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  • SWPM

    I am a baby boomer who happens to agree with this generations viewpoint on work/life balance.  Employers tend to forget that the who reason pensions and employer sponsored health insurance came into being was to attract and retain employees post WWII.  There was such a manpower shortage after the war, that employers used these "benefits" to attract and retain the best talent for life (35-40 years).  Now that employers no longer want or care to offer these benefits, the tide has turned back to empowerment of the employee vs the employer.  And I think this generation will return to the work life balance my grandfather had because of this.  He worked as an independent tradesman.  When he worked, he worked an 8-10 hour day, and when he did not work, he took his grand kids to the zoo and the museum.  He had flexibility, a good hourly wage, and a good work/life balance. 

  • Cali Williams Yost

    Hi Caitlin,

    I am so glad that you reminded us about the harsh reality of health care. It is indeed a huge, expensive challenge as more people of all agents find themselves "free agents" whether by choice or circumstance. You might be interested in a post I wrote during the health care reform debate. I still believe that one of the main drivers behind the need for health care reform is the changing nature of work and jobs. Unfortunately you still don't hear much about that in the discussion and I think if we all acknowledge this fact it would begin to make more sense to everyone. But alas most lawmakers still think it's 1980 and everyone has a full-time job for life with health benefits. Not so. Not so.


  • Cali Williams Yost

    Hi Amber,

    First let me applaud your passion! Good luck with The Fab Life Project. As you move forward, check out some of the posts I've written here and on my Work+Life Fit blog about the limits of the term "balance" in today's reality. Also, as someone who has worked inside of organizations creating and implementing flexibility strategies for more than 15 years, any change will only happen if the solution works for the business as well as the individuals. Gen-Yers can play an important role in helping their employers rethink inflexible work practices. I have found you will get a very fair hearing as long as you are able to show that the work will still get done and get done well. Keep me posted on your progress!


  • Caitlin Kelly

    The greatest challenge for anyone of any age who cannot rely on raises, bonuses, commissions or any sort of secure income is not simply saving for their retirement -- but earning enough and controlling their expenses accordingly. I spoke yesterday to someone in their 50s, who runs his own business and has for decades -- single -- paying $940 a month for his health insurance. This is a sick joke.

    The cost of buying "free market" health insurance continues to deeply and unfairly burden anyone who works without employer-subsidized health insurance, no matter why are working on their own.

    Every notion of "freedom" is moot without the real, practical politically invulnerable ability to stay healthy AND solvent. Good luck with that!

    Caitlin Kelly

  • Amber J. Adams

    Great Article!!

    I am so passionate about getting Millennials (or Gen Y) to really start thinking about how we are really in a position to change the way we work, and take life/work balance from a "concept" to a "reality". It's the main focus of my blog, The Fab Life Project. I'm on a mission to educate Gen Y about pursuing the opportunity to really shape our lives. In the future I think we will see more innovation done by Gen Y'ers and more demands for flexible schedules by those who still work for corporate.

    I'm down for the cause!

    Amber J.

  • David Kaiser

    I think the world of work is changing, becoming more flexible, more free-agent, less hierarchical. The old rules are no longer "realistic." The 9-5 model evolved out of the factory, and we don't have that many factories anymore, and we have lots of computers and wi-fi and outsourcing, so flexibility is already baked in, we just need to embrace it.

    David Kaiser
    Executive Coach and CEO