Gen Y gets a recession reality check

Oct 23 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

They've known nothing but boom years, so the economic downturn is coming as something of a shock to up-and-coming Generation Y workers, with half complaining that managers are now cracking the whip and putting them under greater pressure to work longer hours.

A survey by the UK Association of Graduate Recruiters has found that half of young professionals now feel they lack good work-life balance and, despite the toughening jobs market, would consider leaving their jobs as a result.

The association is urging managers to resist the temptation to create a "misery culture" within their organisations, as all it does in the long-term is mean workers head off elsewhere as soon as they feel it is safe to do so.

Carl Gilleard, AGR chief executive, said: "At a time when many organisations are under financial strain, it is very tempting to let quality slip and to abandon policies such as work-life balance altogether.

"After all, the thinking may go, graduates are lucky just to have a job. However, our advice is that employers ignore or adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to work-life balance at their peril," he added.

A U.S study earlier this month suggested that the downturn, rather than encouraging people to stay put and work harder, in fact simply sent levels of loyalty and trust plunging to new lows.

Long hours, increased anxiety, uncertainty and stress would mean managers were going to have their work cut out maintaining the morale and engagement of those left behind, particularly top performers, the Center for Work-Life Policy said.

The AGR survey of 40 graduates found that, once enthusiasm for and engagement with an employer brand was lost, it was very hard to recover.

"However, today's graduates also have some adjusting to do having never before experienced a period of economic contraction. Getting the balance right in the current economic climate is going to take movement on both sides from employers and from graduates," pointed out Gilleard.

The report identified three distinct types of graduates. The first and largest group, defined as "work hard, play hard" by the AGR, saw work-life balance as a clear separation between work and their lives outside work, with set working hours.

The second group, called "worried and weary", saw poor work-life balance as a "spill over" from work to home life. They did not necessarily work long hours but found the stress of work often affected their enjoyment outside it left them tired and lacking in energy, the AGR said, adding that the majority of people in this group were women.

The final group, called "willing workaholics", was perhaps most characteristic of Generation Y workers born after 1982, said the AGR.

These workers were happy to put in extra hours as long as they had some choice and control in deciding how to divide their time. This group was also most happy to blur the boundaries of their work.

Those graduates who felt they had poor work-life balance reported long hours, lack of work breaks, poor management, long commutes and studying for professional qualifications as major causes, said the AGR.

Knock-on effects including decreased job satisfaction, lost friendships, damaged home life, stress and health problems and less commitment to their job.

While some were willing to tolerate poor work-life balance in the short-term for pay and career progression or because of a bad jobs market, many felt they would rather find another job entirely, suggested Gilleard.

Older Comments

A reorganization during economic downturn reminds employees that the companies that employ them only have limited loyalty: companies use their limited loyalty to employees to realize their corporate goals.

Smart employees learn that they should use their loyalty to companies to realize their personal goals.

Rob Hooft The Netherlands