A Gen-Z Take on Work-Life Balance

Humans, if nothing else, are adaptable. But when the lowest rung at top firms start to speak up, it is time for change. Last month, Goldman Sachs got called out by first-year analysts for something increasingly unheard of amidst the working class: work-life balance. As a result, firms like Credit Suisse and Warburg Pincus decided to throw something more tangible than Zoom yoga sessions at their young associates to retain talent: money.

But if happiness cannot be bought with money, can loyalty be? If not (anymore), firms need much more than money to retain millennial and Gen-Z talent.

Work and life to work-life: A trade-off

Work, and its relationship with people, has always been a controversial issue. But can we do away with work? Not really – people still need to work to earn money. Apart from financial income, studies have found that unemployment impacts mental health and might even put people at greater risk of depression, anxiety and loss of self-esteem.

If we look at the data, on average, working hours have never been lesser. At the same time, holidays and vacations are at an all-time high. While behind productivity, wages have never been higher either. So, what has prompted those 13 analysts from Goldman Sachs to complain? The illusion of money wearing off and the want of life, in my opinion.

Also read: We Need to Talk About ‘Work From Home’

Ever since the industrial revolution, quality of life (now measured in indexes and outside the traditional economic metrics like GDP) has increasingly improved. For millennials and Gen-Z, the focus is no longer on survival but on living a better life. Simultaneously, promises of upward economic mobility are propelling more people to work harder than ever before. “You can become the top one per cent”, the dream says, “only if you work hard”.

Like every other generation, the millennial or the Gen-Z mindset is not free from imitating the previous ones. We have always linked money to a better life, so much so that people are now more than willing to work hard. But what happens when everyone becomes rich? Sooner or later, reality catches up with fiction.

Employee well-being: A managerial dilemma

Just like the Gen-Z, organisations too glorify hard work as they continue to function on historical ideals to guide themselves. Organisations, replete with older managers, continue to see a young employee’s appetite for working as a sign of greater loyalty. Often, that loyalty is rewarded by managers with hefty bonuses and promises of promotions. However, we need to understand that these are old systems, enforced on a different generation than the one for which they were designed.

For obvious reasons, organisations cannot flourish with employees working just an hour a day. But the need for limiting working hours was felt right from Victorian times – one of the reasons why output continued to rise while working hours fell. An analyst can contribute only so much to brainstorming sessions if they are sleeping less than four hours a day. The logic follows even for the new normal, where work-from-home continues to blur the lines between work and life.

It is not to say there would never be times when employees would be needed to push to get work done, perhaps in overtime or at odd times. But after the work completes, it takes a good manager to guide the employees back to their beds.

Until that happens, newcomers would continue to burn out. Meanwhile, the organisations would continue to bleed cash for latching onto younger talent, with their managers shouting back the old navy refrain, ‘The beatings will continue until morale prospers.’

Aayush Gupta is a second-year MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad. Prior to this, he was a management student at Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty