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  Time off from work gains in importance
Time off from work gains in importance
Of course, most of the 4,600 respondents are still opting for the bigger paycheck, but the desire for time off is up almost 20% from just three years ago when Salary.com conducted a similar poll.
 

American workers are saying they need a break. As their number of hours clocked on the job has crept higher, more time off has become a bigger priority. In the past few years, human resources experts say time off has consistently placed among the top three employee concerns (along with compensation and staffing levels), whereas it used to be farther down the list. In a Salary.com poll taken online in November 2004, 39% of workers said if given the choice, they would choose time off over the equivalent in additional base salary. Of course, most of the 4,600 respondents are still opting for the bigger paycheck, but the desire for time off is up almost 20% from just three years ago when Salary.com conducted a similar poll.



The reasons for this shift are many and varied. Some have to do with the way a new generation is thinking about work, while others are driven by how companies are responding to recent economic pressures.

A new generation
The results may in part represent the needs of a new breed of workers. The average American is working one month (160 hours) more each year than a generation ago. According to recruiting and human capital management expert John Sumser, younger workers "work for meaning first and money second." He goes on to warn employers that "these are the people who are the foundation for the next workforce and they may not buy the existing 'paradigm'". A study released in late 2004 by the New York-based Families and Work Institute concludes that the new brand of young workers is rejecting the work-centric style of their parents' generation. The study, which examines changes in the workforce over the past 25 years, found that younger workers are more likely to be "family-centric" or "dual-centric" (with equal priorities on both career and family) rather than "work-centric" when compared to members of the Boomer generation.

September 11th and the end of the roaring nineties

The impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11th cut across all age groups of the workforce. We collectively entered a new era, reevaluating life's priorities and making changes in our attitude toward time spent at work versus hobbies and family. "I started looking at things completely differently. I've been far less willing to put in the 14-hour days necessary to get noticed and climb the corporate ladder," said Tony Jackson, a 43-year old employee of a New York City-based financial services company. "Frankly, I can't see that changing."

Even before September 11th, some experts say the slow shift in worker attitudes was already underway due to the end of the roaring 1990's when hours were long and significant personal wealth was created. For those who fared well financially, some opted for careers of contract work where they could call more of the shots pertaining to time off, or new occupations with greater personal rewards. For others, even if their bank accounts were not spilling over from America's economic heyday, their own energy had been depleted due to unrelenting years of grueling work hours and high stress. They were ready for something less taxing.

Families and Work Institute President and co-founder Ellen Galinsky agrees. She says the Salary.com poll numbers show evidence of an increase in need for time off and a societal shift in thinking due to the fact that workers have been pushed to their limit in recent years. "This new generation of workers is at the edge of how long they can work. It just feels like too much. They are not slackers, they just don't want more," says Galinsky.

Monetary needs less intense due to dual
income households

"We've decided we prefer to have more time to ourselves," says Carol Kornhaber, a New England software programmer in her late twenties. Kornhaber and her husband are both working but have sought out jobs where they are not pressed to put in long hours. Instead, they have insisted upon eight-hour days and having enough vacation time to travel, a major interest they share. Financial pressures are eased by both of them working and keeping a careful watch on their expenses when they're not on the road. "We are lucky in a lot of ways to have found bosses who understand our needs."

Burnout
Trying to squeeze more productivity out of workers may be nothing new, but it has become particularly acute in recent years. This has been due in large measure to recession-induced layoffs and other trends such as the rising cost of healthcare benefits. After a layoff, workers who remain behind are often asked to pick up most or even all the load of the people who were let go, requiring more and more hours at the office. As new corporate initiatives are planned, the inverse is also true. As Sumser observes, "the additional workload, which runs across the economy from the office worker to the manufacturing line, seems to be a function of the cost of benefits. The regulations make it cheaper to add workload for existing employees than to hire new players." The Families and Work Institute reports that nearly one third of U.S. employees often or very often feel overworked or overwhelmed by how much work they have to do. Nearly three out of four report that they frequently dream about doing something different from their current job.

Show me the money
Overworked or not, the majority in the Salary.com poll still chose to fatten their paycheck if given the choice. For many, it was a practical matter. Says Peggy Jones, an accountant in a Boston area business services company, "I already get three weeks a year that I can't use up because I'm so busy. I'd definitely go for the extra money to pay some bills or make a big purchase I've been holding off on." For Jones, the realities of running a household and saving up for college for her children simply need to take precedence over extra free time.

Companies are already responding
Don't expect a thirty-hour workweek any time soon. Employers, however, are anticipating not only the change in people's thinking about work but also the change in supply and demand of workers, and those influences together will shape their practices when it comes to building a high-retention workplace. To many human resources experts it is inevitable that, given the growing health of the economy and the upcoming population-driven labor shortages as the Boomer generation moves into retirement, the pendulum of control in the employee-employer relationship will swing back to the employee side. That is expected to begin in just a few years. According to human resources expert, Larry Schumer, at Salary.com, "since most companies succeed based on a motivated and capable workforce, they have offered and will continue to offer more paid flexibility, whether it be through tried and tested time-off programs or the next great idea." Where will that new balance of employer versus employee needs lie? Time, or perhaps time-off, surely will tell.

-By Tim Driver, SVP & GM, Consumer Products, Salary.com

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