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Instead of generational conflict, focus on common goals
If you want to get people riled up, write about a particular generation of workers, then wait a few hours. Based on a recent column I wrote about millennials, this formula is sure to result in some fireworks - photo by Greg Kratz
If you want to get people riled up, write about a particular generation of workers, then wait a few hours.

Based on a recent column I wrote about millennials, this formula is sure to result in some fireworks.

In that piece, I talked about a survey from FlexJobs, an online service for professionals seeking telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time and freelance jobs. When 211 people under age 35 who wanted part-time work were asked what their ideal employment situation would look like, 40 percent said they wanted to work part-time for one employer, and 35 percent wanted part-time work with freelancing on the side.

I commented at the time that making such an arrangement work financially could be difficult, but the FlexJobs survey indicated that 49 percent of respondents said a spouse's income would allow them to pursue part-time work. Another 32 percent said a part-time job would cover all of their bills.

I didn't intend for that column to cast aspersions on an entire generation. As I wrote at the time, I would love to be able to support my family on a part-time job, because that would let me spend more time with them and less at the office.

However, for me and many others, such an arrangement isn't possible. And that's OK. Each person needs to find his or her own path when seeking work-life balance. Mine includes a full-time job.

Because my intent was to simply share information, I was a bit surprised at the debate that erupted in the online comments posted to that column. From them, it would seem that the conflict between generations of workers today is more heated than I imagined, at least for some people.

For example, one reader commented that millennials "have been so coddled and entitled that they have an incredibly unrealistic view of life. It's actually very scary. They don't really want to work, but want all the benefits of having a job."

Another reader posted a comment describing millennials as "a funny bunch."

"They truly want to do the minimum required to get by," this reader wrote. "But then the problem arises: When the next Apple product comes out, how do I pay for it? Guess I'll just finance it after all, compared to my student loan payment it's not much debt. Millennials, reality just called it's ready for you to join up."

While I know these readers were trying to make a point about having a good work ethic and paying your dues, I didn't like the way some of them made broad generalizations about an entire generation. No group of workers is populated entirely by lazy or hard-working people. Sure, you can see some trends based on generations, but we have to be careful when implying that everyone of a certain age acts a particular way.

Along those lines, one reader's comment was more measured in tone.

"I am pretty sure that every generation has had this problem when they were young," this reader wrote. "What person would not like to work less and have fun more during the week? There is no doubt that this generation may be more willing to actually try to work part time and have more free time, but with age they may change."

Some other comments made excellent points regarding why millennials may be seeking part-time work, and how they can survive financially while doing so.

For example, one reader asked what was wrong with being willing to cut down on consumption to gain more free time.

"That's what some of these people are talking about," the reader wrote. "I know plenty of Gen X people who need every brand new tech device or are in debt up to their eyeballs. Growing up seeing that, is it any surprise that many people in my generation think, 'You know, if I didn't buy that stuff I could get by on 20-30 hours of work and have time to actually live my life.'

"Many of those who wanted to reduce their time said they had a spouse's income as well. Isn't that the ideal of many folks on this forum? To have one parent working and one at home with the family? Perhaps rather than fostering a silly generational rant session we should ask WHY they are thinking this way?"

Fair points there, and that is an excellent question to ask.

Another commenter indicated that he worked full-time and liked his job, but he did it because he had to.

"That's why most people I know work full-time jobs," this person wrote. "Who in their right mind would want to spend half of their waking hours just paying the bills? If someone were to ask me if I'd rather work part time or full time, I would definitely choose part time. (I would choose not at all, if that were an option; I'd rather live my life and enjoy the company of my loved ones).

"Nowhere in the article did it indicate that the millennials in question are unaware of the importance of money or fiscal responsibility. It just states a preference. Remember, your elders once thought you were lazy and irresponsible, too."

Isn't that the truth? It's tempting, as one gets older, to look at the younger generations and think that, because they're doing things differently, they're doing things wrong.

After reading the comments on this story, I've decided to make a real effort to avoid falling into that trap.

I look at my own children and others of their generation, and I marvel at how hard they work in school and in jobs. My oldest daughter, who just finished her junior year of high school, has accomplished more at age 17 than I had even dreamed of doing by that age.

Not every 17-year-old is like her, of course. But many of them are. The key is to understand that every group is made up of many individuals who are bound to think and act differently from each other and from people in other generations.

What we seem to have in common is a desire to build and support our families as best we can, even if some definitions of what that means change over the years. I'm going to try to focus on that truth as I continue my own quest for balance.
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