This just in: Gen Xers aren't slackers after all.
But far fewer of the 23- through 37-year-olds are focused on career advancement above all else than people of the same age were 10 years ago.
According to a study released earlier this month, Gen X employees in 2002 worked more hours per week than employees of comparable ages in 1977 (45.6 hours on average vs. 42.9). But the younger generations, including Generation Y -- the 18- through 22-year-olds -- also have become much more conscious of personal trade-offs as they advance in their careers, and an increasing number are choosing not to vie for higher positions in the same way their baby boomer counterparts did. That does not mean they are not advancing. They simply aren't willing to cut back on family time to get there.
Among college-educated men of Generation Y, Generation X and the baby boom (ages 38 through 57) in 1992, 68 percent wanted to move into jobs with more responsibility. That compares with only 52 percent of people that age in 2002. Among college-educated women of the same age groups, 57 percent wanted to move into jobs with more responsibility in 1992, compared with just 36 percent in 2002.
"That was an unprecedented drop. You don't see typical changes like that in 10 years that often," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, which conducted the survey for the American Business Collaboration, a group of eight major corporations, including Deloitte & Touche, Exxon Mobil and IBM. "The advancement issue surprised me enormously."
What it says to her is that the younger generations looked at their boomer counterparts in leadership positions and saw what their own life might be like if they moved up. "They say, 'I am already working hard. Is the trade-off worth it?' "
Meanwhile, perhaps tied to that, is the fact that Generation X fathers spend an hour more a day with their children than fathers of the boomer generation did, according to the study.
"I think I spend more time with my children than my father did," said Paul Cisneros, senior project manager at Abbott Laboratories. "It's very important to me." In fact, Cisneros, 35, was leaving early the day I interviewed him because his parents were coming into town, and he wanted to spend time with them and his children, a son, 31/2, and a daughter, 11/2.
"I think there's more of a desire to balance work and life, but also a desire to do well in your job," Cisneros said. His day is spent working with technology workers in Europe, so he wakes around 4:40 or 5 a.m. to work at home before he goes into the office. That way, he can come home relatively early to spend time with his children.
Many companies have watched these changes in recent years and are trying to figure out how to still create an effective workplace when people have muted desire to shoot to the top of the ladder. The study "confirms what I was already seeing. Our Xers and our Y's are more focused on 'I want to be more involved than my father was. I want to see my kids,' " said Betty Purkey, manager of work-life strategies at Texas Instruments. "I do see our younger employees not necessarily asking for permission. . . . They are not asking, 'Can I go coach my kids' soccer team?' It's more like, 'This is on my calendar. I'm going to coach my kids' soccer team.' "
The challenge with the data -- coupled with the anecdotal evidence -- is how companies can translate that knowledge "into something that's really real and make some changes in the way you work," Purkey said.
The newer Gen X and Gen Y employees are changing the way work works, according to the study. But how those changes are happening is as yet unclear.
"I do know they want a different way to live and work, and most employers know that when they're recruiting," Galinsky said. "What I hear companies talking about is redefining the fast track, creating sabbaticals and leaves."
Frank DeRosa, 33, the director of human resources for tax practice for the Southeast region with PricewaterhouseCoopers, has taken time off for his son's first day of school or performances in the Christmas play. "Every day you need to prioritize what's important to you," said DeRosa, of Sterling.
As long as he tells his boss, he most often gets time off to handle family matters. He has gone home early to help coach his child's soccer practice or take his three children to doctor's appointments. His wife is a stay-at-home mother but recently launched a not-for-profit. They help each other out with family duties, he said.
"I look at what's important to me," DeRosa said. "I look at [PricewaterhouseCoopers] but also at my family."
He also feels he spends much more time with his family than his father, who had to commute two hours a day to New York City. "He left at the crack of dawn and came home late at night," DeRosa said. "I have more of a balance."
DeRosa was promoted this month and is studying part time for his MBA at night. But he will not give up his family time.
People like DeRosa and Cisneros are considered "dual-centric," according to the study. Although their mothers and fathers were typically solely family-centric or career-centric, the younger generations assume they can do both. And they're trying to do so. But not at the expense of working hard at their careers.
Chris Bona, newly promoted senior manager of public affairs at Abbott, was not shy about asking for time to join his wife at doctor's appointments when she was pregnant with their daughter, now 9 months old, he said.
His wife also works at Abbott, and since the baby was born, she has been able to work out a flexible schedule so she can work from home when she needs to.
"From my personal experience, as important as work is for me," family is just as important, he said.
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