Helping Millennial Men Prioritize Family vs. Work

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Working hard has its benefits. At the same time, earning money costs you. Time. Emotional energy. Freedom. We all must choose what we value most.

The Harvard Business Review just published a piece about young males and work. It may not come as a shock to you—but these guys seemed to have learned a lesson from their Boomer parents who might have been workoholics: work should be a “guide” to your identity but not a god. Here is the summary:

For males, working more than 50 hours a week — let’s call it overwork — is often rewarded with higher salaries and prestige. Executives can work more than 90 hours a week. Surgeons, more than 100 hours. It’s also considered a badge of honor in some industries — a sign of ambition. But white-collar millennial males aren’t subscribing to the iron-man ethos of previous generations. Many are avoiding the rat race and seeking more work-life flexibility. And if their companies don’t give them what they want, they leave. Family is king — without exception.

Two Big Ideas We Must Practice with Young Leaders:

1. We must affirm this priority and find ways to reward it.

Years ago, my friend David took a job at Chick Fil A headquarters. He was young and willing to work hard to get ahead in his career. So—he worked long hours. After a while, he began to move up the flow chart. Eventually, David was called into Truett Cathy’s office, where the executives told him they wanted to promote him to vice president. They said they believed he had what it took to be a VP at the company—but they requested he make one change before they promoted him.

He told them he’d do anything. Just name it.

That’s when they told him, “You’re spending too much time at the office.” Yep, you read that right. He couldn’t believe it. When he asked them to repeat what they’d said, they expounded: “If we promote you to a vice president position, more people will serve under your care and begin watching your example. And because family is one of our core values, you’ll have many moms and dads who feel they must follow your lead and stay late working, when they should be home with their families.”

They told David they wanted to see him begin going home at 5:00 p.m. Once he’d done this for several weeks, they could trust him to embody the values and lead the way for others.  David said it was the easiest change he’d ever made.

2. We must help them model this value while cultivating a healthy work ethic.

They may have gotten used to a lifestyle their parents gave them by over-working, but may not earn those same salaries or perks, without working long hours. So, we must help them learn to both work hard, but choose the trade-offs of experiencing family time instead of a newer car or a bigger home. In other words, putting family first is a noble value—but it may be a trade off. I believe it’s possible to both work hard and play hard. By this I mean, I can be fully present at work, but fully present with my kids once I arrive home. I am still “on” when I drive into the garage. I don’t turn into a zombie and veg in front of a huge TV, watching ESPN. I am OK with the decision of having fewer possessions, but more quality time with those I love and value most. Life is full of trade offs, and leaders must embrace them.

For many young employees, they may not see the ramifications of their choices. Working hard has its benefits. A good work ethic will earn you money. Money offers you options. Possessions. Perks. At the same time, earning money costs you. Time. Emotional energy. Freedom. We all must choose what we value most.

This is a never-ending challenge for many males—and females—in the U.S. Each of us must choose our values and live with the appropriate decisions.

How do you navigate this challenge?

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