Does wanting balance mean you are lazy?

I stumbled across an egregious example of a pernicious trend in Businessweek today, in a piece entitled Do U.S. Business Majors Have a Case of Ambition Deficit Disorder? The author, Francesca Di Meglio, posed this question after learning that 61% of US business majors said that their highest career priority was work-life balance. The tone of the article is pretty strident that this represents a moral failing of the Millennials in business schools, and that other possible goals — like advancing in management, or seeking out challenging work — should be higher in the rankings.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence starts with this famous sentence,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Altogether too frequently, it seems to me, commentary about how people should be spending their time, and what we should consider valuable, forgets the simple and inherent importance of pursuing happiness. And working 60 hours a week for 40 years is not necessarily the short path to get there.

Cali Williams Yost wrote a thoughtful post on this subject, 3 Reasons “Balance” Has Become A Dirty Word At Work. Yost relates a discussion with a senior executive about Millennials, where he shares the “Millennials are lazy” meme. Yost thinks the truth is different:

He is not alone in that thinking. The meme that Gen-Y/Millennials “don’t want to work hard” exists, in part, because they talk so openly about work-life balance. But is the bias fair?

First, there will always be people in every generation who don’t want to work hard. The Gen-Y/Millennials are no exception, but is it accurate to ascribe that quality to an entire generation simply because they are open about how they want to make their lives both on and off the job a priority?

She goes on to answer  that question in the negative, citing new evidence from the American Psychological Association about workplace retention [emphasis mine]:

Although 60 percent of working Americans said they remain with their current employers because of benefits and 59 percent reported staying because of the pay, more than two-thirds (67 percent) said they choose to stay because their jobs fit well with the other aspects of their lives. Sixty-seven percent also said they stay at their current jobs because they enjoy the work they do. Even with the slow economic recovery and relatively high unemployment, only 39 percent of respondents cited lack of other job opportunities as a reason for staying with their current employers.

“Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work and, as such, they want to have harmony between their job demands and the other parts of their lives,” says David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “To engage the workforce and remain competitive, it’s no longer sufficient to focus solely on benefits. Today, top employers create an environment where employees feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that’s part of a rich, fulfilling life.”

Yost makes the case that Millennials are simply more likely to expect that desire for balance to be openly discussed, and to involve increased flexibility of where, when, and how work is performed. This is the internet generation, and they know that they can do some parts of their work anywhere. However, their boomer overlords and Gen X are more likely to want them in the office 9-to-5 to match the perceptions and norms of an earlier era.

But I don’t expect to hear the end of the ‘ambition deficit disorder’ meme anytime soon.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst Gigaom Research

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