Friday, July 9, 2010

A Millenial Dilemma: Trying to Find a (Work/Life) Balance

My generation is a lot of things. We have a lot of great traits: we’re tech-savvy, we’re mobile, we’re driven (albeit in a different way than the other generations), and we’re always trying to be better. We’re also viewed very negatively by “them.” They say we have a high sense of entitlement without having earned it and have no attention span, but that’s for a different post. We tackle work differently too.

The 9 to 5 work schedule is crumbling because of technology. Smartphones are keeping us connected and able to answer emails all day and night, but they’re also allowing us to access our Facebook and Twitter accounts while we’re “working” (a lot of companies are very worried about this). We can stay connected to both worlds all day very easily. More than any previous generation, we’re seeing a merger of professional and personal life.

In the past, it was easier to keep work at work. If you were someone like Don Draper (Mad Men is back on July 25th!), you didn’t bring work home and definitely didn’t have the wife and kids on your mind at work. You’d go to work, flip on the “work mode” switch in your brain, and get working (admittedly, “work mode” in Mad Men sounds pretty great). Then, you’d come home (or the home of a mistress, or a bar, in Draper's case) and flip that switch off. Now, we’re never completely “off” and never completely “on,” which is restructuring how we spend our time. So the real question is this: How do we separate work and our personal lives? Here are a few ideas.

Set Clear Boundaries: Because of the speed at which information is passed these days, it’s hard not to be connected. We get emails, notifications from Facebook, text messages, and Twitter updates all day, and it is frustrating when we can’t answer them in real-time. We’re hooked on technology because it literally affects our brain like love and cocaine. But in reality, is it really life or death to answer email while you’re out at a baseball game or a bar? Most of the time, everything will still be OK in the morning. Give yourself some time off.

Separate Social Media Accounts: Some people have a personal and a professional twitter account. By keeping your personal contacts and friends on one Twitter account and then an occupation-specific account, you can make sure your lives don’t bleed into each other. This is something I don’t personally believe in. A lot of people think that you should keep separate ones, but I don’t see the point. I’m not about to whitewash myself just so employers think I’m someone else; I see it as inauthentic. Our generation is pretty into authenticity.

You know, the more and more I try to think of ways to separate life and work, the more I stop believing it’s possible. It’s not really an “on” or “off” life anymore, it’s more of a dimmer switch. This means that we’re going to need to adapt. Employers are going to have to learn how to deal with workers who are making plans and communicating with their friends over various channels while at work. Families will have to learn to cope with other family members who are always checking their email, never completely disconnected from their job. Some people going to learn how to balance these things, but I fear a lot won’t be up for the change. That’s too bad. We’ll move forward without them.

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