Whenever I read that Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and early 2000) will shake up the workplace, I'm never sure whether it's a real revolution in the making or just wishful thinking. Didn't we say similar things about Generation X—about how they won't work as hard as their parents?
University of California at Hastings law professor Joan Williams is the latest to argue that Millennials—particularly the men—want a different structure. She writes in the Harvard Business Review blog that there's a generational shift taking place between those currently in executive positions (where 75 percent of the men are married to homemakers) and the group behind them. The "he works all of the time, she does all the housework" arrangement won't cut it with the younger group, writes Williams:
This mindset, created by the peculiar demography of upper-level management, is increasingly out of sync with most of the workforce. Younger men increasingly want schedules that work around family needs—just as women have been demanding for yearsWilliams gives two curious examples of impending change: surgical residents and blue-collar men. First, Williams notes a study in which Millennial men joined women at four hospitals in Boston to support an 80-hour per week work limitation for surgical residents (traditionally, the limit was 120-hour per week). Second, Williams says Millennial men are crossing class lines to join their blue-collar brothers in rejecting the over-load work culture. She cites a study by Michèle Lamont who finds that blue-collar men regard the competitive, all-consuming corporate ethos to be signs of "selfishness."
Instead of accepting the work-till-you-drop culture, writes Williams:
Millennial men are beginning to do what women have done for decades: to work as consultants or start their own businesses that give them the flexibility for better work-family balance.
Williams says her own study shows that many lawyers "in their prime" left big, fancy law firms "so they could practice law in ways that allow them to be more involved in children’s lives." She adds:
Like blue-collar guys, these younger professional men have different understandings of ambition and different ideals of fatherhood. If they’re unable to change their organizations to allow time for family life, like the young surgeons were, they will leave. (Big Law, take note.)
I'm still not sure that the plight of surgical residents is analogous to Big Law associates, and I'm certainly not convinced that lawyers are now embracing blue collar values. But we won't quibble.
So is Big Law taking note of Millennial priorities? Well, I think Big Law is paying lip service to the whole concept of work-life balance, but I'm not convinced they are changing the basic work structure all that much. And, to be frank, I'm not sure why they need to do so.
While I agree that Millennials are different from their parents (what generation isn't?) and that they're generally more chilled about gender roles (even tough guys change diapers now), I can't imagine law firms or any other profit organization getting more relaxed. Quite the opposite in this competitive, technologically-driven environment.
I mean, are firms and corporations really hurting for talented, eager applicants to fill their partnerships or C-suites? Last time I checked, there were plenty of people (still mainly men) who would gladly sacrifice the family puppy or a distant relative for the privilege.
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Related post: What Millennials Want on the Job