Have you seen the new Hyundai ad about the guy who (GASP!) leaves work on time? “When did leaving work on time because an act of courage?” the voiceover asks. The answer is somewhere around 1973, the year of the first oil embargo. Until then, the US economy had enjoyed a 20-year run of steady growth. In that economy, just doing your job was enough. That bought you a house, a pension, health insurance, relative security. But then the price of a barrel of oil doubled, and, at the same time, the massive Boomer generation was entering the job market. Competition for jobs heated up. Working harder, longer hours became the standard. Then there was technology, or lack thereof. Without email or the internet, getting more done meant spending more hours at work—in meetings, on the phone, writing things on paper (didn’t mean to frighten you Millennials with that last one, sorry).
WHEN DID LEAVING WORK ON TIME BECOME AN ACT OF COURAGE?
Enter Generation X. The first digital generation, Xers increased productivity when they came to work, but they still had to work the long hours established as the norm by Boomers. In fact, the workday got even longer. In one study, researchers found that in 2-career families, the work week was 13 hours longer in 2000 than it had been in 1970. That’s a month of extra work each year. When Xers did achieve balance, they generally had to give up high-flying success.
Then came the Millennials. As futurist Rebecca Ryan documented in Live First, Work Second, Millennials have been intent on turning overwork on its head ever since they began contemplating careers. Increasingly Ms adopt gig careers and alternative work schedules, emphasizing lifestyle and meaningful work rather than the next promotion.
Millennials aren't the only ones questioning the value of long hours. Swedish companies report that a 6-hour workday is as productive as the traditional 8, and I’m beginning to see industries like construction talk about appealing to Millennials on the basis of balance, because work can't follow you home from the building site the way white-collar tasks do.
No wonder the Hyundai ad strikes a cord. The guy leaving work on time looks, well, happy. He’s redefining success, not as more money, not as job security, but as control over his time. Having a life is emerging as the new American Dream. And maybe happiness.
Generational expert and keynote speaker, Amy Lynch helps the generations understand each other. She has spoken to 100s of groups from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Contact Amy about your next event.