Forget Balance! Gen Y Wants Work-Life Integration

By Lauren Lee Anderson

As Baby Boomers make their exit from the workforce, offices around the world are finding themselves challenged by the next generation of employees: Gen Y (AKA Millennials). It’s no secret that some managers are running scared of these supposedly entitled and technology-addicted cohorts, but studies have shown that their bad wrap regarding employee performance might not be all that accurate.

Stereotypes of their work motivation aside, there is no question that this often-misunderstood group of employees are challenging conventional thinking about what a modern career looks like. The real question is — are you ready for them?

Gen Y’s Work Motivation Won’t Depend on Being Chained to a Desk

While their parents and grandparents craved security and structure, study after study has demonstrated that Milliennials value autonomy and independence in the workplace quite highly, which often translates to a desire to work outside the confines of a 9-5 work schedule.

That being said, don’t mistake their desire for alternative scheduling with laziness or a negative work attitude. When provided with the proper employee motivation and engaged in their work, Gen Y are known to work 50-60 hour work weeks, including evenings and weekends.

From flexible social media policies based on trust to the use of online chat tools that allow staff to work remotely, companies need to be prepared to change their management strategy  to meet the needs of the digital generation to maximize their employee performance.

“When Millennials say they want ‘balance’, they don’t mean work less. They mean work differently and more flexibly. There’s a big difference”, mentioned Cali Williams Yost in a piece for FastCo. The problem with our understanding of millennials (and I say ‘our’ even though I am one of them), is that the traditional language around describing work-life balance favors the old. ‘Balance’ to them (me) is flex hours and, perhaps, working from home. They want a “workplace where the programs and culture are more flexible,” not the need to work harder or smarter.

Gen Y’s penchant for technology has earned them the name ‘digital natives’. As Marie Puybaraud explains, “Technology has been integrated into the lives of Digital Natives since early childhood, providing them with the skills to naturally adapt to it from a young age. They have developed an innate understanding of digital and computer technologies, which have evolved into essential parts of their daily lives.”

A 2011 global workforce study into the professional lives of digital natives revealed that they typically spend between two to six hours a day online. These habits have resulted in a generation of multi-taskers who seek out connection and opportunities to use technology to improve their professional lives and achieve their goals for work.

This means that managers will need to adapt processes and organizational culture in order to attract and retain star Gen Y talent that can become their high potential employees. From flexible social media policies based on trust to the use of online chat tools that allow staff to work remotely, companies need to be prepared to adapt to meet the needs of the digital generation in order to yield the best employee performance and improve morale.

Managing the performance of millennials is not that complicated. Give them the employee feedback they crave with 15Five.

A Generation of Employees Motivated by Passion

While Gen Y shares some of the financial motivation of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, their employee performance is largely driven by a quest for passion and meaningful work. Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why‘ credo has never been more important or relevant than when it comes to recruiting and retaining Millennial talent. These young people are driven by passion and the desire to do meaningful work with tangible outcomes. This makes it all the more important for companies to keep their WHY alive and at the centre of all their activities.

But a truly purposeful job can’t be conjured up out of thin air. As Nathaniel Koloc writes in the Harvard Business Review, there are a variety of manager qualities that leaders  can draw on to keep passion-seekers satisfied and improve employee productivity. “Once you know the mission you’re trying to accomplish, tell the world”, Koloc explains.

“Call it marketing or communications or storytelling or design, but make sure you’re getting across how much you care about your vision and how you’re working towards it. If you do so correctly, you’ll have their hearts beating before they’ve even heard the details. Things like start dates, vacation days, and even salaries and bonuses are then far less likely to be deal-breakers.”

They Need Employee Feedback, Regularly

If there is anyone that truly understands what motivates Gen Y employees in the workplace, it is Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg, a site dedicated to launching the careers of new graduates. Friese explained in a recent news piece, “One of the most prominent stereotypes about Gen Y is that they like receiving a lot of feedback, and that is true. Immediate, effective feedback allows millennials to produce better results more quickly, making their work flow even more efficient”.

Regular performance feedback and open communication — both praise and critique — is an essential component of job satisfaction and work motivation for the Gen Y set. The key to providing employee feedback to young workers is to offer opportunities for both formal and informal feedback.

While annual employee performance reviews can be valuable, it is important that managers make the effort to check in with their staff on a weekly basis (try team communication software) and take the opportunity to provide acknowledgement and encouragement when appropriate. As Kelly Grigorio explains, “commenting on their progress makes the greater-good serving Millennial feel they are working with a purpose.”

Just like our grandparents had to adapt when our parents entered the workforce, so too must we be willing to adapt to the changes that Gen Y is bringing to offices around the world.

I believe that if we open our minds to new ways of thinking and doing, instead of desperately clinging to old ways of being and thinking, Millennials can have a lasting positive impact on the way we live, work and play. So instead of resisting, try listening.

You might just be surprised by what you hear!

Image Credit: Tom Woodward

How do you lead the millennials in your organization? Any tips or tricks worth sharing?


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  • Matt

    Our organization is about 90% Gen Y so I totally agree with this article! As a Gen Y myself, I think it’s so important to acknowledge these things right from the get go. We have these conversations with potential new staff in the recruiting process and our week long on-boarding program is designed with a Gen Y focus. We spend the first day focused on history, culture & The Why (we actually watch Simon’s video as part of training) and on really helping our new staff feel as though they made the right choice (because we know they make that decision on their first day anyway).

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  • Mason Fuller

    We have been extremely flexible with our employees. As we grew we found that everyone had a different idea about how “flexible” their schedules should be. I encourage people to take care of their personal lives in tandem with work, if the position allows. Here is our new Flexible Workplace policy:

    It is important to Atlas Resell Management that employees have work life balance. As a result, the company offers flexibility in hours worked. The following expectations have been established to ensure consistency within the workplace:

    • Employees need to work 40 hours per week.
    • The duties of the position must be completed accurately and on time.
    • Certain positions require attendance during normal work hours and flexibility is limited. These positions are identified as jobs that relate to customer service & sales hours, shipping & receiving schedules, and times that our customers or vendors require set appointments during specific times of day.

    Flexible schedules need to be arranged with your supervisor to ensure proper coverage.

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  • Nancy S.

    I don’t think Gen Y are true Millennials. Gen X are the children of baby boomers and Millennials were born in the 90’s. That leaves us early to mid 80’s kids who didn’t have social media during high school or maybe even college, if we went right away, but we also feel pretty comfortable with technology and a looser work life balance motto. As such, I have always considered myself (early 80’s here) a Gen Y/Tweener, since there is a micro chasm between the generations that can be carved out.

    • Labels are ridiculous all around. Those who adopt them wear them as a badge of honor, a method for feeling connected to one another or assuming the characteristics of the group with which they identify. Those who create labels do so in an attempt to influence, control or sell to the people being labeled. I always thought it silly to label Gen Y or Millennials, a group of people spanning two decades. Sure some of the criticisms of this group are specific to acculturation, time, and space. Others are the challenges of youth in every generation since the dawn of modern humanity. So I’ll just call you Nancy and, rather than make assumptions based on your cohort group, I will ask you questions in the event that our paths cross offline. 🙂

      • Nancy S.

        A wise response to any circumstance in life, I must say.

  • N Lewis

    This is all so true. I’m a millenial and i work in an office environment that has achieved all the above requirements. and I’m completely happy at my 9-5.



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