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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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