A Generation Teetering Off Balance: Workaholism or a New Way of Thinking?

October 9, 2007

Work. Life. Balance. These words tend to get tossed together a lot. Hanging out as though they go so merrily together, no one should give any thought to how difficult a concept this is not just to grasp, but to actualize. It’s a buzzphrase in conversations ranging from employee retention to job satisfaction to recruiting to gripe sessions with friends to exit interviews! Sure, we “value” this concept; most everyone strives after it. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? I’m coming to the conclusion that Gen Y may not really know.

However, from conversations I’ve been in the past week or so, young professionals everywhere are in the midst of dealing with this very definitive issue in very real ways. The thing is, when real life (and work) start getting out of balance, Gen Y isn’t sure how to cope. From friends blogging about trying to find time for a personal life amidst a constant workload to friends talking about spending 60 hours in the office while their spouse waits at home, I seem to be noticing a somewhat disturbing trend.

It seems Gen Y entering the workforce may be turning to workaholic tendencies to cope and get ahead. I’m not sure why this is happening, given we have been labeled one of the most balance-oriented generations yet. Perhaps it’s our drive or our intense desire to prove ourselves. Perhaps it’s an impatience to realize the promise of career advancement and opportunities we were told throughout college were coming to us that has us slaving away at the office and after work. Could be the fact that another large percentage of our generation seems to have a knack for slacking off, making it the perfect time for more aspiring professionals to showcase their dedication and talent.

Is it just me, or is this a real concern? Maybe it’s truly a different way of thinking about life and Gen Y believes that there’s a seamless process in which work and life are really extensions of one another. Whether or not we are truly predisposed with such a mindset, there’s a harsh reality check in store for Millennials, regardless of how much we say we value balance: If you can’t ever turn your mind out of work mode, if you can never put down the blackberry, if you’re logging more hours in the office than anywhere else but at home tucked into your comfy bed, it is safe to say that you’re starting to resemble a workaholic.

So, what’s a generation to do when our lives are on the line? How can we find balance in a system that doesn’t define it for us? Can we face the challenge of prioritizing for life, when push comes to shove? I’m all ears.


19 Responses to “A Generation Teetering Off Balance: Workaholism or a New Way of Thinking?”

  1. Ryan Paugh Says:

    I hear you loud and clear Tiffany. I have faith that it’s a trend our generation will become all the better for.

    Sure, we’re struggling with balancing work/life now, but I think that’s good. We’ll learn early and benefit later.

    People twice our age suck at the balance. Maybe because they emphasized it too late, or didn’t even value it until mid-life-crisis.

    What’s great about Gen-Y is that it’s a serious topic for us now, early in life. I hope that means we solve the dilemma early too.

    I wonder if this makes sense…hope it does.


  2. Tiffany Says:

    I agree that thinking about these issues and struggling with them now is important.I worry that Gen Y assumes it already knows how to figure this stuff out, since we say we value balance so much, we do, right? It seems that perhaps, many of us indeed believe we value it, but are our actions speaking louder than our words?

    Self-examination is in order if we want to truly learn how to balance. We need to be honest when we are working too much or avoiding life to get ahead at work. And not just assume we know what the heck we’re doing. We are, after all, pretty new at all this.

  3. Ryan Paugh Says:

    Good call Tiffany. Self examination is definitely in order.

    I have a feeling though, that it’ll take a few pitfalls before most of us are willing to give up our stubbornness and make that all important change.

  4. Tiffany,

    This is one of my favorite posts by you. I think many of us are workaholics. Told we could have everything, we’re not quite sure why we don’t yet.

    I also think you’re right that many in our generation are slackers- there is a generational divide that is fairly pronounced. I think there is a section of us that puts life first, work second, but there is also a section that works crazy hard.

    The people in the middle, what may be thought of as normal, aren’t as prevalent. And then so many of us are stuck on the line in between deciding which side to cross over to, because we didn’t grow up under the illusion that you could have it all.

    Hm. This all sounds a bit too deep for a Monday, so off I go 🙂

  5. Tiffany Says:

    I agree: we are definitely stuck on a line, at a critical decision point. Many of us (myself included) tend instead of to really “balance” to waver. One week, focused too much on career, the next, too focused on everything but. I mean, I think that’s a better impulse than to just unwaveringly pour into one or the other and figure out how that matters in the end, but timing is everything with this issue, because if we don’t figure out what balance really is now, I’m pretty sure we never will.

    My mom always tells me no matter how much I say I’m busy, I’ll never have more time in my life than right now. 🙂

  6. holly Says:

    it seems that i learn what i don’t want before i learn what i do want.

    i had a job that paid well for my city, but i worked constantly (60 hours a week was commonplace). as i came to a breaking point, half our start-up was laid off due to losing two-thirds of our funding, including myself.

    my faith that i would be rewarded later for things i was doing then did not pay off. it simply doesn’t work that way.

    today i have a job that pays less than my last, but at 5 p.m. i switch off my monitor and my job. i go home and live a life, a very rich and full life that not only was i missing at my last job, but that was actually being ruined by the emotional stress it was causing me.

    for me (and i think this is a decision we make as individuals and not as a generation, which is what makes our generation what it is), my life is so much more important than my job.

    i think the key is finding something you feel is rewarding. i need to feel like i’m giving something back, and not all of us can do that in our careers. some of us give back in our lives, and in order to do that, work has to stay at work.

  7. Tiffany Says:

    Holly –
    You are so right. Finding something rewarding is key – not just for work, but for life as well. But without the time to figure those things out, it becomes easy just to pour into work.

    And while it’s true that we make this decision as individuals, not as a generation, it’s important for us to understand how our individual decisions impact not just the generalizations that are made about us as a generation, but the opportunities we will have to really make strides in fighting for balance as a group.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It illustrates so aptly the real issue – and a real solution.

  8. I am not of your generation, but believe it or not, many of us “older” workers went through many of the same issues. I wanted a job I loved, a private life that was exciting, rewarding and fulfilling and to make a real difference in the world by helping others in a meaningful way. Have I done that? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes other stuff got in my way, and sometimes other people tried to stop me. But one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you’ve just got to stop and think about what you’ve got, not what you don’t have. Stop running in circles and just BE. That’s when you will begin to clear away the stuff that doesn’t matter and see the path for you.

  9. Tiffany Says:

    I agree with you – that most generations go through this time. More than once, probably. I appreciate your insight, and I agree: we overthink things sometimes when we really need to just align our priorities and focus on the life we have.

  10. elysa Says:

    I really enjoyed this topic and with every comment I read I was reminded of different issues that play into achieving this balance. I completely agree with Holly that really when it all comes down to it it’s each person’s job to do what is right for them. I have friends who bust their butt 60 to 70 hours a week with the mindset that this is the time to do that while they are single and not tied down so that when they do “settle down” they will be able to slow down at work. I have a hard time with that mentality though. I work hard so that I can have a life. It is really hard for me to turn off work in my head. Even when I am not working I am usually thinking about it so my first step to achieving balance is to learn to separate those aspects of my life. Work when it’s time to work and play when it’s time to play. I think for those who say they are doing this now so that they won’t have to later they are just setting a pattern and patterns are hard to break. I think for every generation the twenties are about transition and learning what you want to really do with the rest of your life. Sometimes that is different that what you have been planning for all those previous years.

  11. […] I’m not advocating it, because it’s already happening. For better or for worse, Generation Y is working with our hearts on our sleeves, straddling our work and our lives, straddling our dreams and our […]

  12. Andy Drish Says:

    Hi Tiffany – My boss this summer (another Gen Yer) was adament about having her life compartmentalized, if you will.

    6:45 a.m. – Wake up
    8 a.m. – At work.
    5 p.m. – Go home
    until 11 p.m. – Family time

    On the other hand, I would love to work 12 hour days everyday if it is something that I love. And some may consider that being a “workaholic,” but if you love what you’re doing, can we really call it work?

  13. Tiffany Says:

    Hey, Andy. Thanks for the comment. I know a lot of people who are good at that sort of forced balance. Hey, I go home at 5 every day. Mostly. But, going home means something different for me most days than simply relaxing or doing normal evening things. It means going to work again – for this blog, for my master’s degree, etc. And that’s true for a lot of us Gen Yers. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing. And a lot of it has to do with timing. But right now, we’re setting patterns for the rest of our lives. So it’s something to think about – now.

    So, of course, I work nonstop at things I love, because I love them. But the danger, the very, very real danger, is that we will blow past our lives in the process of all this work. So yeah, I think we NEED to call work work. That way, we can define our lives in a way that has parameters. That allows us those moments of stillness and reflection.

  14. […] your brain, playing, of doing whatever you can to continually learn and stay sharp. But I also don’t have a ton of time to spend in that area. Which is why I love their simple tips. Check out a […]

  15. Great post, Tiffany. Really gives me something to chew on as I think about what I really need to do to achieve “success” as I currently define it. If being successful means that I have no life, maybe I need to redefine what that means and modify my behavior accordingly.

  16. […] November 2nd, 2007 It seems that Gen Y is adding a new characteristic to our list of generational generalities – many of us are joining the ranks of workaholics. Maybe it stems from our secret conservatism that we are mirroring tendency that characterized the careers and lives of our Boomer parents. It could be our intense desire to get ahead and our willingness to do whatever that takes. […]

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