For the past few years, there’s been a glut of articles about the millennial generation in the workforce. These articles originally focused on how millennials’ perceived laziness and entitlement kept them from securing long-term employment. Coincidentally (or maybe not) these articles first started popping up around 2009-2010, when the great recession made for the toughest jobs climate in decades, especially for young people trying to find their first good jobs out of university – a difficult task for most grads even in a boom economy. Over time (as the economy improved and millennials’ ranks in the workforce began to swell), these millennial-focused articles shifted to discussions of what makes millennials “difficult” to work with. There are a few negative stereotypes that tended to come out of this analysis:
- Millennials ask for raises and promotions constantly.
- Millennials hop around from job to job with little loyalty to their employers.
- Millennials always want to take more vacation time than their superiors.
Of course these stereotypes (like most stereotypes) don’t actually hold up to scrutiny. And in the past couple years it seems as if the business press has finally caught on to the fact that millennials are fitting in and thriving in working culture. Now, companies recognize that this generation offers unique advantages to employers. Millennial-focused analysis has shifted to talking about millennials’ good qualities, including being creative, highly proficient with technology, and excellent multitaskers.
What it comes down to is that companies are now fighting over millennial talent. They’re trying to do all they can to get the star performers to the table. On this topic, we read an interesting piece in the Toronto Star recently – just the latest in the long history of millennial thinkpieces – that bats down one of the nastiest stereotypes about millennial workers. It discusses how new research shows that millennials actually take less vacation than other employees, and tries to tease out the implications of how a seemingly-more “casual” working environment can lead to a chained-to-your-desk working culture.
The article, titled “Millennials Can’t Afford to Keep Skipping Vacation,” discusses the phenomenon of millennial “work martyrs” – people who are afraid to take time off, even if that time off is paid vacation mandated by employment contracts. It cites research from the non-profit U.S. Travel Association that millennials take much, much less time off than stereotypes would dictate. (We should mention that, over the past 15 years, the use of paid vacation days has fallen off a cliff among a lot of different age groups). At Argentus, we try to stay abreast of whatever’s happening in the world of work, so it’s interesting to us think through issues like this.
So what are the implications of this trend?
The article echoes a lot of anxieties about 21st-century white collar working culture more generally: that in our hyper-connected world, employees are expected to be always working, even when they’re not in the office. Companies reward people based on time commitment rather than productivity. Vacation time might be generously apportioned, or even unlimited, but workers don’t necessarily feel like they can take vacation. The Star article cites an interesting case: in 2015, Kickstarter began offering unlimited paid vacation, but the result was that actual time off taken went down. It appears that workers, especially millennials who are often working more junior, more precarious jobs, won’t take time off unless you tell them to.
Whether this plays out in every company, anxieties about these changes in the workplace are real: they illustrate the importance of work/life balance, which, despite being a buzzword, is also a real concept that pays dividends for employers: employees who take vacations are not only happier, they’re more productive.
The solution? Maybe companies should start enforcing paid time off instead of rewarding workers who adopt a “work martyr” mentality.
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