In the 2009 film ‘Up in the Air’, Anna Kendrick plays, Natalie Keener, the anxious, ambitious, and freshly-graduated new hire at the company where George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, works. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
“I took Tuesday off,” my roommate, a paralegal applying to law school, told me last night, the two of us bleary-eyed from long workdays, slouching in the living room of our Brooklyn apartment. “It’d be nice to work at home when I’m sick, but my boss doesn’t believe in it.” She was doing the work of two paralegals, as the law firm recently decided to downsize their administrative workforce, while getting the salary as one paralegal. Turns out, she’s not the only young person with this sentiment — according to a 2015 survey by Ernst & Young Global Generations Research, in the last five years, workers around the globe are having a harder time making ends meet in spite of working longer hours. Costs of living have risen (everywhere, but especially in urban areas) while salaries have stagnated. In a new Pew Research Center survey of 1,807 U.S. parents with children younger than 18, conducted in September and October, almost 50 percent of both parents in two-parent families work full-time. To make matters worse, there is a gap of understanding between the bosses and their (usually) younger employees.
“I really see that there’s an empathy gap in the workplace,” Karyn Twaronite, EY global-diversity and inclusiveness officer, told The Washington Post. “When there’s frustration about work-life balance in the workplace, and you think your boss doesn’t get it, that very likely could be true.” Baby boomers, the generation born after the Second World War, make up the majority of top management positions, and only 47 percent of them surveyed by Ernst & Young are part of a full-time dual-income household. In contrast, 80 percent of millennials surveyed are part of full-time dual-income households. And unfortunately, this doesn’t mean double the income: the Washington Post notes workers in companies that laid off employees in the 2008 Recession have longer hours and are doing the work of two or more people — for the same amount of pay. According to the Pew survey, 56 percent of working parents find achieving work-life balance to be difficult. Those who are familiar with memes on the internet know about Old Economy Steven: a blotchy-faced, slack-jawed white teenage boy in a ‘70s school photo who represents the baby boomer managers who complain about the “lazy young people” of today: “Fails Out of High School: Gets Job, Buys House, Retired Happy.” “When I Was in College My Summer Job Paid My Tuition. Tuition was $400.”
Being able to work remotely is a priority of many young people, and they don’t see it as “slacking off.” At its heyday (as in last year), viral content website Upworthy was allowing its content creators to work remotely from anywhere in the world (provided they still had internet access) — and yes, they still received health insurance. The company even paid for their employees to occasionally work in a co-working space in their area if they craved the camaraderie or ambiance of an office space. Andrew Montalenti, the co-founder and CTO of a tech startup called Parse.ly, is explicit about hiring remote workers: “We decided to create a company where people would want to work, and we knew intrinsically that one of the ways we could keep our team happy and productive was to create an environment that was suited to each individual’s needs,” he told PowerToFly in August 2015. While he is based on the East Coast of the United States, his engineers can work at home in Europe. “Giving each engineer the opportunity to create the environment that’s most conducive getting to and maintaining the gear six is a huge benefit,” he said.
But more traditional bosses are more accustomed to daily face time as a sign of a dedicated worker. “They’re afraid people who don’t come to the office won’t work as hard,” Twaronite explains. Millennials prioritize a flexible work schedule so much that, according to the survey, they would willingly take a pay cut, forgo a promotion, or relocate. 40 percent of young workers surveyed were even willing to move to another country for paid parental-leave policies. (The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave.) This lack of flexibility in a job, as it turns out, is one of the top reasons that young people quit their jobs.
While texting my fellow young workers for more personal insight on the work-life balance situation, one friend, working as an investment banker in San Francisco texted me back: “I’m so sorry! I’d help you but I don’t feel well. I just got the flu from working too many 18-hour days.” She didn’t have time to get the flu shot.