Last week, the famous founder of Sweaty Betty PR, Roxy Jacenko, hit the news again by calling Australians – especially millennial workers – “lazy” for not being willing to work all hours of the day.
Referring to an interview she gave to Chinese magazine ‘Business Circle’ to promote her new business targeting Chinese consumers, Jacenko told Daily Mail that her interviewer commented on her “strong” work ethic, defined as going beyond a “nine-to-five” mentality.
“The journalist told me she has interviewed several Aussies, and that so many of us have a nine-to-five mentality,’ Jacenko said in the article.
“In China, they tend not to have that mentality. My emails to Chinese partners are answered instantly at all hours of the day. That’s how it should be.”
Jacenko also reportedly said that work-life balance was “wonderful but unrealistic”, and that she was proud of working seven days a week.
“Good enough is not good enough for me,” she proclaimed.
There are a few issues here, and as a former employee and current owner – and co-founder – myself, I can understand both sides of the story.
Jacenko has never hidden the fact that she works hard, and as a co-founder and CEO myself, I can understand the mentality and drive to succeed, especially when it’s your own skin in the game.
But I believe that expecting your employees to work the same way as you do (and the same amount), can lead to resentment, low quality work and a high-turnover of staff – not better results.
As every business owner will attest, starting a business is very, very hard. You have to work 12 to 15-hour days just to get it off the ground – and then continue at that pace to actually start making a profit.
As a result, the pay off is much greater – as it should be.
WORK180, the business I started with Valeria Ignatieva, is now four years old and growing. Valeria still works the same hours as we did when we launched. And, until recently, I did too. Falling pregnant changed that. Now, seven months in, I’ve had to slow down for not only my own sake, but for the sake of my baby.
Taking the time to rest, to slow down, has not been easy for me. But only now, in hindsight, can I see that I was — like so many of my generation — approaching burnout (if I wasn’t already there).
Millennial burnout is now so common that entire fields of research are being devoted to its causes and prevention. And while a stressful work environment is not the only culprit, it certainty plays a big enough part to make bosses all over the world sit up and actually listen to what their workers are saying.
For Gen Y – and Gen Z — factors leading to burnout start in school, where daily interactions with social media and the use of technology are not only exhausting, but expose children to the same stressors that we know can negatively affect people in the workplace.
Burnout is defined as a response to prolonged stress, and presents as emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment and feeling ineffective.
The primary risk factors include having an overwhelming workload, unrewarding work, work that conflicts with your values, limited control, unfair work requirements and a lack of community within the workplace.
It can lead to a reduced work performance and life satisfaction, and even depression.
All business owners need to be aware of these facts, and all should to, within reason, to minimise the incidents of burnout within their own companies.
Ignoring this reality does not make you a fair-but-tough boss – it makes you irresponsible, and in the long run, will cost you more than caring for your employees in the first place.
For instance, it takes us three months to train someone up to the role they’ve been hired for. If we had to constantly account for staff turnover, this would simply become financially unsustainable.
According to a 2018 millennial survey by Deloitte, 43 per cent of millennials expect to leave their jobs within two years, which rises to 61 per cent of Gen Z workers.
The survey also found that the majority of millennials are happy to leave companies they perceive to be fixated on profits.
So if you’re a business and you want your millennial workers to stick around, show them you’re about more than money (and a crazy workload): millennials like companies that are innovative (35 per cent) and have a focus towards societal improvement (31 per cent).
At WORK180 we’ve certainly found this to be the case. Most of our 30-plus staff believe in helping women find jobs that will support them.
Some may attribute to this desire to switch off and help to entitlement, but I think it’s the result of too high expectations with little satisfaction.
Generally, and being a millennial myself, I understand the tendency to want to work all the time and to engage in the never-ending pursuit of self-optimisation.
But if you’re the boss, you can’t just expect that of your employees – and you can’t expect that they will all work the same way, and be motivated by the same things.
Being a manager is about supporting your employees, and finding a balance between empathy and objectivity.
As women and first-time business owners, Valeria and I have a tendency to be over-empathetic, which has resulted in difficult situations going on for too long. We are the first to admit we’ve made mistakes.
But we’ve learnt from those mistakes, and have realised that, fundamentally, we can’t treat our employees as robots—and expect them to work like we do — if we want to lead a happy and productive workforce.