Work Life Balance

Looks Like I Might Be The Only One Who Thinks Millennials Are Not All Delusional, Entitled, Lazy, Greedy Brats

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shutterstock_132892667In just the past few days there have been half a dozen articles painting a portrait of Generation Y, or the Millennials, as materialistic, entitled, delusional, lazy and greedy. What’s bringing on this slew of criticism?  A recent study co-authored by psychologist Jean Twenge. Every outlet lapped up her conclusions, quick to pick on the iGeneration, but not one of them offered another theory behind the answers from the high school seniors. Meanwhile, while I read article after article, all I could think was “maybe millennials are not delusional, maybe these kids just value work-life balance?”

The original study concludes there exists a “fantasy gap” in the mind of the Millennials. Twenge describes this phenomenon:

Compared to previous generations, recent high-school graduates are more likely to want lots of money and nice things, but less likely to say they’re willing to work hard to earn them.

To prove their sloth, the study asked specific questions aimed at gauging the work ethic of these teenagers.

To measure their attitudes toward work, the [high school] seniors rated on a one-to-five scale the extent to which they agreed with a series of statements, including “I expect my work to be a very central part of my life,” and “I want to do my best in my job, even if this sometimes means working overtime.”

The fact that they disagreed with statements like the ones described above doesn’t make me think they are lazy, it makes me think perhaps these teenagers just value work-life balance. Maybe they’ve seen their parents working early mornings and late nights, attached to their smartphones and taking work calls when little Tommy was hoping to see them watching his gymnastics meet. Maybe their reaction grows from wanting to right the wrongs they felt their parents made. Maybe they are thinking, “I won’t make my work = my life.” I haven’t done the extensive research that Twenge and her partner have done, but a desire to want more in your life other than your job does not automatically trigger the word conclusion that one is entitled.

Which is where the other side of the study comes in — it would be one thing if these kids didn’t want to work hard and accepted that they may never have “nice” things in their lives, but the study refutes that kind of realism.

To measure materialism, the youngsters were asked to rate on a one-to-four (“not important” to “extremely important”) scale how vital they felt it was to own certain expensive items: “a new car every two to three years,” “a house of my own (instead of an apartment or condominium),” “a vacation house,” and “a motor-powered recreational vehicle.” They were also asked straightforwardly how important they felt it was to “have a lot of money.”

The fact that the teens find these things to be “important” (whatever that means) suggests they are delusional to the researchers. But perhaps this is just the gap between what they have grown up with (money) and what they want (balance).

In fact, the researchers included what I assume is a teeny, tiny footnote since only two of the articles included the fact that Gen Y is less materialistic than Gen X.

“Materialism rose substantially from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s, peaking among members of Generation X,” they write. “Although materialism then declined slightly, youth in the late 2000s were still significantly more oriented toward materialistic values than were youth in the 1970s (Boomers).”

I can’t argue that Twenge is an expert on this subject and has authored two books examining the attitudes of “Generation Me” and the “Age of Entitlement.” However, I remain curious as to whether this fantasy gap is really just the seed of a desire for work-life balance. I wonder if these same kids at age 24 realize they simply want more from their lives than careers and are willing to sacrifice to get it. Maybe they just don’t know what “it” is yet at age 17 — maybe charity work, time with family, or spirituality.

Call me a hopeless optimist or a relentless contrarian, but until these research questions explore a new slant, I’m giving Gen Y a little more credit.

(photo: Peshkova/Shutterstock)