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Millennials accused of lax work ethic say it's not all about 9-to-5

As millennials in the workforce encounter Generation X and baby boomers, a cultural clash is emerging: Millennials do not consider "work ethic" a top characteristic of their age group.

Furst said younger workers' emphasis on a better balance among work, family and friends even at the start of a career is "admirable. You sit here, and say, 'That makes sense.' "

The influx of a bulge of workers into the economy, especially at a time of starkly higher unemployment, has spawned an industry of pollsters, authors and consultants seeking to explain the young generation. The titles of books about millennials appear to reveal a certain condescension from older generations: "The Dumbest Generation" and "The Trophy Kids Grow Up."

Even more-neutral studies focus on the generation's supposedly weak work ethic. In a book due out this month, "The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace" (Harper Business), authors Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman report on a survey they conducted last year showing that almost nothing bothers older workers as much as having colleagues who put in fewer hours, while millennials seem wholly unperturbed by that reality of the workplace.

Jennifer Miller, 44, director of talent acquisition at Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District, said younger nurse recruits in job interviews frequently make demands about when they can and can't work. "The younger candidates start talking about how their shifts need to fit into a predetermined schedule, rather than working around whatever the hospital needs," she said. "They say, 'I can't work evenings.' I was schooled in you don't put up roadblocks at all in an interview."

Some young Sibley nurses crave more responsibility and grander titles without putting in the years of grunt work that previous generations saw as the gateway to advancement, Miller said.

"We had a new grad [last fall], she finished a master's degree and she wanted to be a nurse manager. But she had no nurse managing experience. I wouldn't have made the assumption that the mere fact I had finished this new degree meant that my employer would find me a new job."

At Hertz in Alexandria, Rogalia said his peers at work are sometimes easily distracted. "We've had to take disciplinary actions," he said. "We had a new hire who was watching video on his iPhone with his headphones on, and the customers were kind of looking around to see what this kid was doing. He was laughing. He stopped showing up after a while."

Rogalia, who wakes at 5 a.m. for work and does not get home until about 8 p.m., said it was only recently that he felt he had a decent work ethic. After graduating from college in 2007, he lived at home in New York with his parents.

"Life was great, but I didn't feel good about myself," he said. "I was lazy. I was working two part-time jobs. I think the older generations do have a better work ethic. My parents pampered me and gave me anything I asked for."

One busy Friday night at Potomac Pizza, Haleem evaluated his younger colleagues, all in their early 20s and still in college: Ryan Mooney, a sophomore at Montgomery College; Bill Lustig, an American University senior; and Chris Healing, a Catholic University senior.

"Mooney's always in the back room at the computer, trying to win online betting," Haleem said. "Bill, he's always getting yelled at by his girlfriend. Everyone will tell you that she's a great girl. She keeps tabs on him. Let's keep it at that. Chris is always texting with his girlfriend."

They all seemed busy enough, except Mooney, who was looking to skip out for a break at a nearby bar. "Why can't I just leave?" he asked nobody in particular as he clutched a piece of paper with predictions on that evening's college basketball games.

Lustig, hungry for tips, overheard Mooney and shot back, "You can leave, if you want -- more tables for me."

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