Youngest workers struggle more to find work-life balance

Survey finds Gen Z workers have the hardest time managing pressures of work and life.
Feature Generational Work Life Balance Panel

Maintaining proper work-life balance has become increasingly important, even more in the wake of a pandemic that has left many workplaces understaffed and employees overworked. While some may have found the right approach to well-balanced work life, others are still struggling to manage it.

CommercialCafe recently surveyed 2,006 employees from four different generations to gauge how they perceived their work-life balance, as well as other work and lifestyle details.

Key findings from the survey:

  • While 77% of baby boomer respondents and around 60% of millennials and Gen Xers are satisfied with their current work-life balance, only 50% of Gen Zers could say the same.
  • Along the same lines, 41% of Gen Z respondents said their work-life balance has gotten worse since the pandemic started. Around 40% of millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers said it has gotten better.
  • Around 70% of Gen Xers and millennials perceived the ability to work from home as beneficial to the balance between their professional and personal lives.
  • Millennials (45%) — the generation which is more likely to have children — would take lower pay for more flexible hours. 70% of Gen Zers, who are at the beginning of their careers, would not.
  • Although 63% of Gen Z respondents get at least seven hours of sleep per night, 52% still feel tired.

As an earlier work-life balance survey outlined, the pandemic had a considerable effect on transforming how we work. Notably, more than two years since the pandemic was first declared, 46% of respondents are still working from home, with Gen Xers being most likely to telecommute (49%), and Gen Zers being the least likely (41%), according to CommercialCafe writer Lucian Alixandrescu. Hybrid work models were also represented, with approximately 17% of respondents alternating between working remotely and on-site.

On the other hand, as many as 45% of Gen Zers said they worked from the office — a considerably larger percentage than any other cohort. Then again, Gen Zers are also more likely to hold entry-level jobs that require either more hands-on training or physical presence.

Interestingly, as the adoption of remote and hybrid models transforms work, the balance between our professional and personal lives is also undergoing changes.

For instance, when asked how their work-life balance had changed since the pandemic began, 41% of Gen Zers said that it had gotten worse, while 35% said it had gotten better, and the rest reported no change at all. Of course, a significant number of “zoomers” just got their first job in the past few years, which may have influenced their perception of the recent changes to their work-life balance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 17% of baby boomers felt that the pandemic and the subsequent changes it brought negatively affected their work-life balance, while 46% of the cohort felt an improvement in that regard. The remainder perceived no changes.

Finally, the age groups situated in the middle were split when it came to the recent evolution of their work-life balance: While only 22% of millennials surveyed last year felt as though their work-life balance had deteriorated during the pandemic, that figure climbed to 34% this year. Similarly, the proportion of Gen Xers who were negatively affected grew from 24% in 2021 to 31% in 2022 — indicating that the pandemic may have negatively affected the lives of middle-aged workers in other ways.

While opinions were split on the overall effect of the pandemic on the balance between work and play, one aspect that all cohorts agreed on was the benefit of remote work. Of those we surveyed, 77% of Gen Xers and 72% of millennials said that the ability to telecommute helped their work-life balance at least to some degree. Meanwhile, 11% of Gen Zers and 13% of baby boomers reported that remote work had not helped their work-life balance in any way.

Trading salary for flexibility

Baby boomers and millennials are the most willing to trade pay for flexibility in terms of schedule, whereas Gen Zers — a generation currently making its way into the job market or working entry-level jobs — are the least willing to make that trade.

In fact, among respondents employed full-time, Gen Zers reported the second-highest number of work hours per week, on average (44.5 hours), following only baby boomers (44.8 hours). Millennials had the lowest average (43.9 hours). To that end, younger people trying to save money or older workers nearing retirement may be more focused on maximizing their earnings, while middle-aged workers may be more willing to make compromises in the workplace in exchange for more breathing room in their personal lives.

This year’s survey also revealed that workplace stress tends to affect the younger generations to a greater extent. For example, 19% of zoomers, 14% of millennials, and 13% of Gen Xers said their workplace stressed them a lot, whereas only 9% of baby boomers answered the same.

However, stress levels were perceived as higher across the board, with 41% of all respondents reporting “some” workplace stress, compared to approximately 36% of last year’s respondents. Conversely, only 10% of this year’s survey respondents said that stress from their profession does not affect their personal life in any way, versus 13% of respondents last year.

What’s more, the hustle and bustle of modern life that leads to chronic stress is also evidenced by the amount of time that Americans dedicate to lunch: Less than one-third of respondents said they take between 30 and 60 minutes for lunch, while almost half said they have 15 to 30 minutes for their lunch break and 17% reported having less than 15 minutes to eat their lunch.

“In general, younger workers tend to experience more stress because they are still getting established in their careers, trying to pay off student loans, find housing, establish new personal and professional relationships — all of which was made much more difficult because of COVID and in general either having to go to work in less safe conditions or working from isolation in a small residence,” notes Diane Gayeski, Ph.D., a leading researcher in organizational performance, generational differences, and workplace communication and professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College. “On the other hand, boomers likely had comfortable places to live and work and the remote work removed the stress of commuting and interruptions in the office.

“For Gen Z, working from home meant not having the opportunity to informally observe others at work, build social and mentoring relationships, understand the culture, and get out of a little apartment,” continues Gayeski. “For them, getting ‘face time’ with others helps in their promotability. Older workers are already established and may not require as much socialization at work, as they likely already have a family and spouse or other friends, and they might have been happy to be able enjoy more time in their homes.”

Notably, one of the reasons younger generations may feel like their work-life balance is suffering is due to a lack of quality sleep: Just more than half of Gen Xers surveyed said they got seven or more hours of sleep per night — the amount recommended by doctors for a balanced life. They were joined by 58% of millennials and 63% of Gen Zers. Even so, around 40% of millennials and Gen Xers, as well as more than half of Gen Zers, said they still felt tired when they woke up.

Not getting enough sleep is one of the main enablers of workplace stress and can negatively affect energy levels and moods in the long term.

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.