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Work Dissatisfaction is not a “Millennial Thing”

By January 6, 2016 0

It’s a people-thing. We’re just the first ones who are nonchalant enough to complain about everything that sucks about the full-time work/life balance (or lack thereof).

Generations ago, gender roles were clearly defined: boys grew up, went to school, and got jobs. They worked long hours and brought everything home for their families. Girls grew up, went to school to find husbands, and if they didn’t find husbands there, they found them at their first desk job, had a few kids, and never looked back. This was not that long ago. My mom loves to tell a story of going to her high school counselor in the 70’s and asking how to get into college for architecture, to which his reply was, “No, women don’t do that. Be a secretary or a teacher. And take up golf while you’re at it; it will be important that you can play golf with the spouses of your future husbands’ coworkers.”

I’m a teacher by profession, so the only thing I can’t complain about is my schedule (don’t get me started about the in-between; that’s for another blog space), but I watch my S.O. suffer day-in and day-out through 2 jobs and endless micro-managing, while constantly being thrown under the bus by both bosses and co-workers alike. My father is almost 60, has been battling cancer for 2 years, and his boss still told him there wasn’t the flexibility for him to use his allotted vacation days at the close of the year. My mom has been in the same position for well over 8 years, her boss just retired, and there has been absolutely zero mention of anyone giving her the opportunity to even interview for the open job, let alone fill it. And will they even fill the job at all, or just shuffle the work around to other peoples’ plates?

Conversely, I’m writing this article for a crazy friend I had in high school who went out, lived an equally crazy young-adult life, and wound up starting her own blog because fuck the rest.

You tell me which way the debt-ridden, hard-working, self-proving, world-exploring generation of today is more likely to turn.

Countless articles and reports have come out that Millennials are miserable to hire because they’re self-centered, have no work ethic, or aren’t driven. But let’s paint a picture here: youth these days are expected have their life figured out by age 18, get into a good college, fork over tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of dollars to go to school at that good college. They surmount crippling debt before they can even (legally) buy a drink at the bar. Then, BANG, school’s over, they’ve made it to graduation day, and the countdown begins to 6 months and your first student loan bill arriving in the mail. Some stay close to base camp for the first few years; others, eager to stretch their wings, take a job 8 states over in a town they’ve never heard of, and they begin to build some semblance of a “real life.”

Whether they’re still sleeping in their childhood bed or roughing it in a sparsely-furnished apartment in the city, can you blame this generation, the ones who survived Y2K and saw 9/11 on live TV and elected the first African American president, for not jumping at the chance to waste their adult lives working 8, 10, 12 hours a day?

Things are not so defined and simple as they once were. People stay single longer. More people go to college in order to better their chances at creating a promising career path so they can fund a more exotic, fulfilling life. Cam Marston’s article, “Myths About Millennials: Tips for Managers about Retaining Millennials,” points out that, “Millennials view time as a currency. While Baby Boomers tend to see time as something to invest, younger generations view it as a valuable currency not to be wasted.” Millennials as a whole are not lazy workers; they are people who want to get the job done with enough time and sanity left over to live their life outside the office.

The world to a Millennial is both a smaller and larger place than it ever was; there are an infinite amount of trips and ventures awaiting a weekend, and every one of them is possible, attainable, doable, if only awarded the time necessary (and the right Groupon).

millennial name tag

Marston’s article also observes that Millennial workers may see jobs as just “something to do between weekends.” It’s curious as to why, exactly, this is a bad thing. Imagine the potential and productivity of employees who are committed, fulfilled people outside of the office; would that not make them more productive, happy, satisfied workers inside the office? How many studies have to be done that show the high quality of work produced by employees who are given frequent and appropriate time off throughout the work year? How many of us wanted to buy a one-way ticket to Sweden this past year when companies in the country announced they would experiment with a 6-hour workday? (*raises both hands, jumps up and down*)

Again: they are not a greedier, more selfish generation, necessarily. The world is full of active, young, engaged individuals who enjoy things like camping, rock climbing, hiking, Cross Fit, marathons, charity events, Netflix, photography, volunteering, family reunion-ing, pregaming, tailgating, connecting, serving, exploring, giving, learning…

The world is a smaller place, and larger all at once. Millennials are people who care so much about the smallest things in life, like a cup of coffee, and the biggest things in life, like the view from atop Mt. Washington, that they spend countless minutes each week taking and posting pictures of those things, and everything in between, with the perfect effects or edits necessary to make the moment as absolutely breathtaking to the public as they feel it is to themselves personally. They stitch their lives together by the moments lived, friends visited, experiences had.

There is so much more to their “self-centered” view than a huge corporation could ever understand; there is a life, and suddenly I, at 26, feel so bogged down by the constraints of normalcy and success that I forget to or miss out on living that life, and I find myself wondering, what’s to stop me from selling all my worldly possessions and moving to a remote island shack for the rest of my days? (For a blueprint on how to do this, read here).

Before you put Millennials in a box of stereotypes and look down on their work ethic as professionals, think about the things that make you happy: a cozy night at home with a glass of wine; dinner out with your S.O.; a visit to a place you’ve never been before; a hike with your dog; a weekend at the spa. Imagine a world where employers understood the person behind the employee, where lunch breaks were relished and getting out at 3:30 was not some sort of an absurd delusional dream. Imagine moms who get to watch from home as their newborn grows without ever having to even think about stepping back into the office until their first birthday; imagine kids with two working parents who never miss a field trip or school play; imagine actually having the time to enjoy the life you’re working so hard to fund, build, and keep.

I’ll leave you with a trip down memory lane: it’s my senior year of college. I drive by my school’s natatorium and pick up my boyfriend, now fiancé, who has just finished competing in his Senior Day swim meet. His team had just managed to beat their long-standing rivals who had never lost a meet to them before. He’s beaming the biggest smile. We’re 22, jubilant, and naïve.

We drive to a local diner to eat a celebratory lunch with some of his siblings and their friends, all ranging in ages from 25 to 28. Most are living in Boston or NYC, some have stayed closer to home, a few having gone back to school and recently finished their Masters degrees. They’re all real grown ups out in the real world, and I’m shy in their presence. And then we sit down at a booth, and something weird happens.

They all start catching up, chatting and making small talk, and slowly begin revealing how miserable they are.

Rent is too high, pay is too low, hours are too long, family is too far, bars are too expensive, sleep is too little, work is too much, friends are barely enough.

I stared helplessly at my salad and thought, “Oh my God, I don’t want to graduate.”

Adult life is too long for constant misery. Here’s to a generation whose hopes are high enough about the future that they want to change the way we live the day-to-day present. Hire as many Millennials as you can; if anything, they’ll at least be great company for a beer and the playoff game after work.