Work-life balance is often an accurate barometer for both physical and emotional health. Gone are the punchcard days of the first half of the 20th century and the strict 9-to-5 office regimen of the early baby boomer generation.
The internet has guided the transition to a heavier emphasis on the “life” aspect of work-life balance. Internet self-service products like Zoom have replaced in-person meetings, which are surprisingly inefficient. Communication apps like Slack have made person-to-person and group chats trivial. And project-management tools such as Trello or Asana manage workflows digitally and effectively.
Naturally, with all their distinct preferences and technological savvy, millennials and Gen Z would appear to be on the receiving end of the early transition to improved work-life balance, right?
Ironically, as millennials and Gen Z encompass more of the workforce, it appears that work from home (WFH) and better work-life balance is in the Boomers’s favor.
Boomers, verging on retirement, are the primary recipient of companies’s more flexible work-life terms. Technological advances made better work-life balances possible, and the flexible preferences of younger workforce participants have translated to benefits for people over 50.
The Digital Revolution and Working From Home
The notion that the internet opens the opportunity for a better work-life balance is very straightforward. As we currently realize with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those in-person meetings that drone on for hours could be avoided, summarized in an email or performed over Zoom. When most tasks in modern companies, especially the digital services sector, are automated and rely on software products, the need for physical office spaces is reduced.
Commerce is trending away from brick-and-mortar retail and into the lucrative world of e-commerce. Data-analysis services from industries ranging from online travel insights to AI modeling for big data are infiltrating healthcare, finance, commercial branding and more.
The Internet naturally confers flexibility to professionals, improving their options for work-life balance — a trend companies are meeting. In particular, WFH enables people to go about their day without bosses looking over their shoulder or requiring them to sit at an uncomfortable desk for nine straight hours. And while WFH is a distinct preference of younger generations, they’re not experiencing the opportunity at the levels of Boomers, who like WFH just as much as younger generations.
For example, a two-year study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom of boomers WFH indicated significant improvements in both satisfaction and productivity, in spite of the fact that boomers harbor a much more positive sentiment towards traditional work settings than millennials. But do boomers prefer WFH at higher rates than younger generations? Yes, they do.
According to a NextGen study by PwC, 66 percent of Gen X and baby boomer respondents — the older tier surveyed — indicated a preference for WFH. Millennials came in slightly under at 64 percent. A notable caveat is that millennials, by a significant margin, believe they would be more productive WFH.
The results make sense to a certain degree. Millennials are more ambitious, more apt to make sacrifices to earn raises and are more socially active in the modern cultural landscape. Boomers have myriad experiences with different companies, economic situations and have crafted “soft skills” over long careers. They’ve put in the work and are likely ready to spend more time away from the office.
The ability of boomers to enter more flexible roles from homes they actually own is not lost on them either. With duties often overlooked in analyses, such as raising kids or grandkids and taking care of elderly family members, it makes sense for boomers to prefer WFH.
What’s clear is that, although millennials may demand WFH and flexible work-life balances, they’re pulling the standard up throughout the workforce along with them. Younger workforce participants are naturally more ambitious, which typically entails more working hours. On the contrary, boomers are staring down retirement, are likely tired of meetings and have been opening up to the more flexible working conditions that companies are instituting.
The Best of All Worlds
Towards the end of their careers, boomers can take better advantage of WFH and working less, especially since they control most of the country’s wealth in their pension funds. Millennials are crammed into expensive apartments in big cities with lower salaries and a long career ahead of them, and most believe that they will have to work longer than their parents.
So, next time you think millennial — with their demands for better working stipulations — have it better off than boomers, remember that boomers have already put in the work, have more wealth and are gladly on the receiving end of changes influenced by millennials in work-life balance.
While Boomers were promised pension funds and comfortable retirements, now they have the opportunity to WFH in the twilight of their careers thanks to the internet and stark preferences of their office replacements. That’s why boomers, not millennials, may have a better work-life balance nowadays.
This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.