The Generation Gap: Why millennials are leaving the office on time, yet leaders still feel the need to work late

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The generation gap is becoming a minefield for so many leaders. 

Leaders are trying to understand the importance of the requests for a work/life balance, while employees are asking for boundaries to be set and will not work past their contractor hours; this scenario is alien for so many leaders.

There is a totally new belief system that leaders are now managing.


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We have gone from: "You need to work all hours to get ahead" to "I’ve been here for two years - I’m due a promotion".

From "Work comes first if you want to succeed" to "life comes first, and work fits in accordingly".

From "I need to show my commitment by working late" to "my commitment to my life and interests outside of work are just as important, and I need balance".

I don’t think this applies to all members of staff. I do see a lot of millennials working very late. They are, however, very unhappy and feel put upon, whereas 10 years ago back in the day working late was part of what you did to move forward.

Still burning the midnight oil

I have spoken to many leaders about this, and the common feedback is that the leaders are so ingrained in the habits of working late and the beliefs that are installed in them of what they have made working late mean.

They do look at the millennials and see that actually they may be onto something and that not having work dictate your life is an attractive proposition. They recognise that to be able to put family before work is actually a good thing, however, they do not seem to be able to change their behaviours.

It’s like cleaning your teeth in the morning and then being asked to totally change behaviour and clean your teeth at lunch time because it’s now better for you, it is something that just feels too different to be right.

Clash of expectations

The leaders' expectations of their team are becoming further away from what the team believes is or should be expected from them.

A lot of leaders still have the installed pattern of saying yes to the customer and delivering whatever is needed in whatever time and budget, whereas millennials expect a ‘no’ to be given if the team is over capacity or the request is unrealistic.

They have a different criterion of decision making. This is actually causing some millennials to not respect their leaders and goes against what the millennials expect from a people first culture versus a profit driven culture that is still very present- which is one of the causes of leaders feeling they had to work late to meet their numbers in the first place.

I am seeing great people leave their companies due to the fact they have been given a workload over what they believe is the capacity they can healthily work at. 

The language that is being shared is ‘this is not aligned to my values’.  Millennials are values-driven and many leaders have worked in organisations for years where values were seen as the fluffy stuff or just on a PowerPoint deck and not lived in the organisation.

So, leaders were just expected to do what was asked of them whereas millennials expect to be treated in a way which is aligned to their own and the company's values, which is why it is so important when hiring you have a values match.

Companies without values that are being lived throughout the organisation are losing their employees very quickly.

Closing the gap requires empathy, listening, understanding, and starting to see things from different perspectives

There is no wrong or right answer, both are coming from good intentions. Finding the common ground to enable a win win for all is what matters and ultimately making sure the leaders and teams feel like they matter and can perform at their best in a supportive and open environment will see values align and a workplace that caters for the 'old school leader' and millennial alike

Joanna Howes is a performance and leadership coach and author