Personal Finance

Millennial managers struggle for work-life balance

Millennials... breaking the job mold
Millennials... breaking the job mold

Millennials are climbing the corporate ladder—and feeling the challenges that it brings.

Eighty-five percent of millennial managers worldwide have moved into management in the past five years, according to a new study by accounting firm EY. And 62 percent of millennial full-time employees worldwide are in jobs where they manage the work of others, almost the same share as the 65 percent of Generation X full-time workers who are managers.

The promotions for millennials, which EY defines as people age 18 to 33, have come with some trade-offs. Overall, 35 percent of millennials globally said it has become more difficult to manage work-life balance, EY found, making Gen Y slightly more stressed than Gen Xers (34 percent) or baby boomers (30 percent). Harris Poll surveyed more than 9,600 full-time workers, including 1,200 in the U.S., for EY.

For millennials under pressure, almost half said their increased responsibilities at work were a major contributor to a lack of work-life balance, and 44 percent pointed to more responsibilities at home.

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Millennials "want to be able to work hard and have a life at the same time," said Karyn Twaronite, EY's global diversity and inclusiveness officer. "Flexibility really is a foundational item for them, not just a 'nice to have.'"

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Millennials are coming into management and early parenthood with different experiences than other generations. Unlike baby boomers, many millennials finished college when the job market was bleak and were saddled with big student loans. They have also come of age at a time when women's rights in the workplace and elsewhere are better established. Some 78 percent of millennials and 73 percent of Gen X respondents in the EY survey said they had a spouse or partner working full time, compared with only 47 percent of boomers.

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As a result, work-life experts believe millennials are responding to their new stage of life in distinctive ways. For one thing, the EY survey found that millennial men appear to be more inclined to make sacrifices at work for the sake of work-life balance, with 67 percent saying they changed jobs or said they would to manage work and family, compared with 57 percent of women. Men also indicated more willingness to give up a promotion, relocate, take a pay cut, or even move to another country.

"In my own view, men may be more willing to make these sacrifices because they face fewer headwinds in the workplace. A woman who says no to one promotion –she may feel that she may never get asked again," Twaronite said. But even so, she said, the men's attitudes represent "another example of how traditional gender roles are shifting, with men and women taking on more equitable roles."

Men are also spending more time with their school age children. A study by the Families and Work Institute found that women still spend more time per workday caring for children, and their time increased from 3.8 hours in 1977 to four hours in 2008—but over the same time period, men increased their hours from two to 3.1.

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Certainly, both millennial men and women in the EY study indicated much more willingness than older generations to dial back on their careers to create work-life balance. Some 65 percent of millennials said they or their spouse would reduce work hours, compared with 49 percent of Gen X respondents and 32 percent of boomers. And 44 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to have flexibility, well above the 35 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of boomers who would take that step.

Millennials "tend to focus more on quality of life and a multifaceted identity," said Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. "That creates more possibilities for work-life conflict."

Gen Yers are also more apt to say they would move to be closer to family in a bid for career-life balance, perhaps because they are at an age when the need for child care is high: 62 percent said they would, versus 46 percent of Gen Xers and 31 percent of boomers, the EY survey found.

"That generation is a little bit more comfortable with extended families. Maybe it's because of all the helicopter parenting," said Twaronite.

EY's findings jibe with earlier research by the Council of Economic Advisors. In a report released in September, the council found that millennials placed more value than Gen Xers or boomers on time for recreation, contribution to society, living close to friends and family and finding new ways to experience things—signs of wide-ranging interests, but not the mentality of career strivers.

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Millennials, Twaronite said, "are aging into becoming grownups. But contrary to popular belief, they are working harder, they are willing to make sacrifices, they are ambitious," she said. "They're not the 'No Generation.' I actually think they're the 'Go Generation.'"

Maybe so. But given millennials' unique priorities when it comes to balancing work and family life, it remains to be seen exactly which way they will, in fact, go.