Jennifer von Pohlmann is busy. As public relations manager for foreclosure tracking company RealtyTrac, von Pohlmann, 29, works about 55 hours a week, but not always at the office. She checks work emails at home—a lot—and she also keeps up on personal email and Facebook at work. She’ll come into the office at 4 a.m. if needed. 

But she also spends time in the company gym, and she says her boss understands if she needs to leave the office for an engagement photo shoot for her upcoming wedding.

Von Pohlmann exemplifies work/life balance à la Millennial—not your grandmother’s or even your mother’s definition, but something more flexible and integrated, and also technology-related.

Millennials consistently value work/life balance above all other career goals, according to an annual survey conducted by Universum, a global employer branding consulting company. Employers sometimes look at this survey and others like it and roll their eyes, thinking Millennials are spoiled slackers.

Not true, says Melissa Murray Bailey, Universum’s president of the Americas. “Millennials get a bad stereotype because Gen X-ers and Boomers hear ‘work/life balance’ and think they want to work less. That’s not what it means to them. Control over the number of working hours is not even in the top 50 percent of concerns. What they want is to be more flexible with their time.”

In the past, work/life balance often meant setting firm boundaries between work and family or leisure pursuits and negotiating in advance with the boss to have a remote-working day or time off for personal business. Nowadays, to Millennials, it means not setting boundaries and expecting the boss to go along with a work schedule that often shamelessly incorporates personal time—as long as the work gets done.

Different Priorities

“It’s a different sense of priorities,” says Sean Bisceglia, president of Scout Exchange, an online marketplace connecting companies with recruiters. Scout Exchange recently surveyed 20,000 HR professionals about Millennials, asking about work/life balance and other concerns. Bisceglia is also familiar with the issue at his own company, which has about 55 employees, 70 percent of whom are under 30.

Millennials are not slackers, but they do leave the office for hobbies like yoga, bike riding, and other hobbies, Bisceglia’s survey showed. “Previous generations did those hobbies after work or on weekends,” he says.

Another glaring difference: “They don’t ask—they leave. It’s, ‘I gotta go to my fantasy football,’” Bisceglia says.



Work Life Balance 604 Scrabble

Forget Hours, Look at Job Completion

Setting up a process to approve such activities won’t work if companies want to retain Millennials, Bisceglia adds. “If you smother them in bureaucracy, they won’t stay. Companies that want to win at this game have a culture around work/life balance,” he says.

Many hobby-wandering Millennials log in extra hours at the office or at home to get their work done. “The emphasis is on making your numbers, getting the job done. If they’re doing that, they have a lot more latitude,” Bisceglia says.

Work/life balance is not about hours these days, it’s about productivity. Millennials multitask, mixing gaming and social media with working.

“They’re able to toggle between spreadsheets and social media, and they don’t hide it,” Bisceglia says. They use technology so much that employers couldn’t track time spent on work even if they wanted to. But increasingly, they are accepting the constant work/life flow in the office.

It’s a big change. Though social media didn’t exist in the past, “Fifteen years ago, if a boss walked in and saw you watching TV in your cubicle, there’d be an issue,” Bisceglia says. Now, if a boss sees an employee texting or scrolling through Facebook, it’s not a big deal.

Balance Means a Friendly Workplace

For Millennials, work/life balance also means enjoying time spent with colleagues at work, and often interacting with them after hours. When asked what they wanted most from an employer, Millennials who listed work/life balance as their top career goal in Universum’s latest survey specified a friendly work environment as the top draw.

“They are not drawing a line between work and not-work as older generations are. They are integrating work with life. It’s someplace to go where you have fun and friends. The lines are really blurred,” Bailey says.

Bisceglia agrees. He provides happy hours and trolley rides for his employees in Chicago, and is planning Uber rides to a baseball game.

Von Pohlmann agrees that having friends at work is an important part of balance. She goes out to lunch with co-workers every day. They send one another instant messages throughout the work day and get together on their off-hours.

“It helps me want to go to work when I have friends there,” she says.

For employers, cracking the code to Millennial work/life balance doesn’t mean trying to control the new generation’s habits, but working with them. “It’s simple. To get the best and the brightest, you have to adapt,” Bisceglia says.