back to e-flux.com

Millennials aren't lazy, they're workaholics


#1

As an older millennial who has worked as an inexhaustible freelancer her entire career, I bristle at the thought that my entire generation is comprised of lazy parent-basement dwellers with no vision or gainful employment to speak of. Rather, millennials work in a different way–namely there’s been an erosion of the stark contrast between work and leisure, and thus work hours often become “life hours,” and vice versa. For example, Katie Johnston in the Boston Globe writes about a 30-year-old guy who sometimes writes emails in the morning before he even gets out of bed, and he doesn’t even consider that work. It is work, of course, but it’s hard to consider yourself “at work” in bed with your pajamas on. Truthfully, I think that the structure of work endemic to precarious millennials who will take anything–permalance, freelance, zero-hours contracts, without benefits, etc.–is initially billed as the freedom to work at home, but actually encourages the blurring of work and life hours as pay is based on product delivered rather than showing up to a job. This makes having a hard day even harder, as one can’t have a “light” day if you’re work is based on a quota.

Do you think that this precarity is characteristic of millennial’s labor or is this a new issue with precarious labor in a neoliberal economy in general?

The millennial generation, the first to grow up with smartphones in their hands, is often stereotyped as lazy and entitled. But workplace experts say workaholics are common among 19-to-35-year-olds, perhaps more so than among older members of Generation X and baby boomers.

In one online study, more than 4 in 10 millennials consider themselves “work martyrs” — dedicated, indispensable, and racked with guilt if they take time off.

What’s more, nearly half of millennials want to be seen that way, according to the survey of 5,600 workers by Project: Time Off, a Washington, D.C., coalition that promotes vacation time.

So why are millennials bent on being workaholics? Even though the economy has improved markedly in recent years, young people in the workforce today have record levels of student loan debt. They are also less likely than previous generations to earn more than their parents, according to a Stanford University report. The percentage of children who are better off than their parents has dropped dramatically — 50 percent of those born in the 1980s have a higher standard of living than their parents, compared with 90 percent of those born in the 1940s.

The way millennials were raised may play into their always-on mindset, too, said Bob Kelleher, a Boston-based employee engagement consultant and author. Many of them were highly scheduled, he said, going to soccer camps, enrolling in SAT prep courses, and competing on the debate team in order to get into a good college.

And some have delayed several of the responsibilities of adulthood, he noted, living with their parents and putting off marriage and kids. That frees them up to work even more.

“This is a driven generation,” he said.

*Image of working millennial via Keith Bedford / Globe Staff