Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why Boomers Don't Comprehend Work-Life Balance

This evening's #HRHappyHour was on the subject of work-life balance. When the discussion turned to generational differences, there was a palpable cringing from several of the Gen X and Gen Y participants. The post-Baby Boom generations are absolutely sick and tired of being grouped, labeled and stereotyped. They want to be accepted as individuals with various preferences unrelated to their age, generation or the times in which they have come of working age.

Fair enough. I can respect their frustration. Being prejudged based on a classification is never fair and often leads to incorrect assumptions.

So in this post I will stick to commenting about my own peers, the Baby Boomers and our relationship to work. (Aren't you allowed to stereotype your own group?)

Why is that many Baby Boomers have a hard time grasping the concept of work-life balance? The answer is very simple: Guilt.

For most workers my age and older, there has always been a clear designation between work and non-work. During work hours, you better be working. Lunch break and coffee break were available for personal errands. Unless you had a funeral to attend, taking off work time to attend to family matters (or heaven forbid fun/hobbies) was a signal that an employee was lazy, not dedicated to the company, a lousy worker, a poor planner, or a combination thereof. No self respecting employee would even think about taking time off for personal matters.

We have always felt that it was our responsibility to make arrangements so that life did not impede on work. Personal life and family life is something that happens after hours.

Work-life balance? It's like an oxymoron to us. Our idea of work-life balance is chit-chatting with co-workers about our families and having birthday cakes and baby showers in the office conference room.

Truly this is one paradigm that is difficult for us to shift. We hold fast to these views. We still feel guilty if we are not working during work hours.

On the brighter side, most of us our doing a better job of understanding and accepting that employees can accomplish a full week of valuable work while mixing and matching work hours with life hours. I see this in my own company every single day.

Companies have made tremendous strides in work-life balance. We're seeing flexible schedules and virtual workplaces like never before. We old timers are coming around. And if we don't, no worries. We'll be out of the workforce before you know it. You'll soon be able to mix-up your work and your life as much as you please without our baby boomer guilt looking down on you. Just make sure you keep getting your work accomplished or we'll be saying "I told you so" from our wheelchairs.....errrr.... from our lovely retirement communities where we are relaxing without any work to feel guilty about.


Blogger Jill said...

Here's a thought which may apply more to the older boomers born in the '50's. Since it used to be that there were mostly men in the workforce and more women were staying home with the kids, etc., those men could concentrate on just work when they were there. Their stay at home wives would handle all that family and personal stuff for them.

Now, where it's equally men and women who work, there's often nobody to do that personal stuff so it has to come out of work time.

No big deal to those younger ones who find it "normal" to be part of a dual-income family, as it's clear that there will often be times during work that one has to do their personal stuff. But it still feels weird to the more traditional folks, I guess.

6:52 AM, October 09, 2009  
Blogger Steve Boese said...

Beth - excellent post and a great expansion on some of the discussion that took place on the show. To some extent I agree with the school of thought (most notably articulated by Tapscott) that the generation that has grown up with constant digital connection via the web and smartphones are much more inclined to see work and life in a more fluid manner. What teen or college student doesn't have their homework constantly interrupted by text messages and Facebook updates. It is no big deal to them in school, and once they enter the workforce is seems very normal as well. Thanks very much for joining in last night, and I hope you will call back in the future.

7:29 AM, October 09, 2009  
Anonymous Dave Ferguson said...

As a Boomer, I ain't all that crazy about being typecast, either. You make a number of sound points, though I'm skeptical about statements like "for most workers" and "we have always felt."

Perhaps that resistance to work/life balance is stronger among Boomers in supervisory, managerial, and especially executive positions--the kind of people who also resisted crazy ideas like childcare, flexible hours, and telecommuting.

But not stock options for the Big Cheese. That's incentive.

11:09 AM, December 15, 2009  

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