Work/Life Balance is no longer a gender issue, it’s cultural and generational

Work/Life balance has been in the forefront of business productivity plans for over a decade as more women entered the work force in management positions and contributed to better company performance. What started out as a gender issue, later became a generational issue, and now it’s a cultural issue. With 70% of US moms working in 2014, the cultural conversation has shifted from whether women should work outside of home to how do we understand the needs and values of the working parents, and tailor policies accordingly, to attract and retain the best talent regardless of gender and/or generation. Talent is a company’s most powerful sustainable competitive advantage. These valuable insights are extremely important in branding strategies of your value propositions to the new world marketplace customers as well.

WMRI (Working Mother Research Institute) recently conducted a fascinating study on 3 generations of men and women that make up majority of the work force now: Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980) and Gen Y, aka millennials (1981-2000). Interesting similarities and differences between generations of parents as it relates to the best ways to manage work and personal lives….clearly common grounds for all working parents as well as areas where generational and gender attitudes diverge…..

Do you remember Gen X being referred to as slackers years ago? They earned this reputation mainly because they were the first generation that demanded work/life balance. For work-centric boomers, they were slackers. Can you imagine what Boomer bosses are going through now with Millennials? I’ve spoken to many business leaders who stereotype and mischaracterize Millennial’s love and expectation of work/life balance as laziness and lack of ambition, versus a cultural shift and thoughtful re-prioritization of personal and family values.

This WMRI extensive study clearly outlines that Gen Y moms feel far more optimistic and happy than previous generations—mostly because of the support they are receiving from their spouses (as equal active partners) but also from their parents and managers. Gen-Xers tend to be stressed often viewing work as a financial necessity…but they are ambitious, highly educated and tech savvy, and overwhelmingly part of the dual-earner couples. And baby boomers feeling stretched as new demands of caring for parents, retirement and aging are upon them….hard to imagine when they find the time to look and feel younger than their age. The only group that outshine Millennials in their optimism is the female breadwinners—in every category. Interesting, huh?

Couple of surprises about Millennials, even for me…although they are cheery about family finances (64%), pleased with their relationship with their spouses and partners (71%) and were even happier about contributions fathers make in caring for their children (73%)…and although this generation is more career-minded than the previous two….they are more conflicted about child care and career. Most agree that one parent should be home to care for the kids (60%) and home when a child gets there (83%). And this is the generation that feels free to choose between work and staying home and they figure out how. Don’t be surprised if Millennial parents choose to stay at home for some years during their career. Providing flexibility may or may not be enough for them. More than half of all men and women in Gen Y think flex causes work to interfere with family time. So separation of work and family is more important to them. And encouraging unplugging even more so, specially at nights, weekends, vacations, etc.

Depending on your perception, this may emphasize some stereotypes about laziness and sense of entitlements for this generation, but like it or not, this is the future work force. Millennial’s need to unplug is not to avoid hard work, but to help them fuel for the job—whereas boomers and Gen X’ers liked the always-on, always-connected work culture that gave them flexibility of working remotely. Let’s not mischaracterize these cultural shifts in needs and values. The always-on fatigue is somewhat evident in previous generations.

What everyone wants most in the workplace, no matter the gender or generation, are job security and stability, competitive earnings and flexible schedule and culture. But communicating each for different generations may be very different. The key is ensuring that the flex options match the needs of each life stage.

Here’s the common ground regardless of gender or generation…top 3:

  • Couples should have equal input of how income is used no matter who earns what
  • Children should be cared for equally by both parents
  • Work and personal time should be kept separate

Now ask yourself if your current business practices and policies support these values? How about your branding and marketing strategies? I’m starting to see a few fathers in commercials but are we representing working parents both equally caring for children and deciding on spending? Think about it…this is a huge opportunity.

I have written about many studies that have shown that Millennial dads are more enthusiastic and engaged with their kids than previous generations. The latest Pew research released this month revealed that more dads are staying home with the kids. Although this study did not break down by generation, it showed an overall rise of stay at home dads in recent years. High unemployment rates around the great recession contributed to this increase, but the biggest contributor to long-terms growth is number of fathers who stay at home primarily to care for their family. Even more interesting and noteworthy is that working fathers with children under 18 are just as likely as working mothers to say that it is difficult to balance work and family. Roughly equal shares of working fathers (48%) and mothers (52%) prefer to be at home raising their children, but they need to work because they need the income.

These are the trends that will likely have dramatic impact on workplace policies in the not-so-distant future for both mothers and fathers. And they should have dramatic impact on your marketing and branding strategies today and onward.  Do you want to have a powerful competitive differentiation and advantage?  Start embracing these cultural shifts in needs and values.

Are you ready for the shift?

Keep staying informed, and please share your thoughts and comments below….

 

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