With Midsummer right behind the corner, Sweden is officially entering into summer mode. This also means that the blog will make a brief hiatus to grant the author some long-anticipated vacation, and we will be back on track again in August. Before we all go kicking back in the nearest hammock, however, I thought we would end with a closer look at a trend that has a clear relationship with vacation: Namely, the increasing importance of leisure values in working life.
People are often talking about differences between generations in the workplace, not least with reference to the Millennials. Readers with good memory might remember from earlier blog posts that differences are not all that overwhelming. But there is one trend that really stands out as clear, and that is the increasing importance placed on leisure values – i.e., the extent to which you desire free time, vacation, and the possibility to combine work with other life domains.
This craving did not arrive with the Millennials, though. If you look at the well-made, longitudinal research studies that exist, you are struck by how the importance of leisure time has steadily increased since the 1950s. Over consecutive generations, people are placing ever more focus on vacation, the ability to take time for family and hobbies, as well as flexible working arrangements (e.g. Smola & Sutton, 2002; Twenge et al., 2010; Wray-Lake et al., 2011). And this begins long before people have children, implying that it is not just about work-family balance. We seem to be dealing with an expression of a very broad mega-trend in society, and the prime suspect is individualization (Lyons & Kuron, 2014): Our increased focus on self-actualization and self-development.
As I have argued before, companies that are stressed about not adapting quickly enough to “the new generation” should be less concerned about Millennials being vastly different than older cohorts (they are not), and more focused on the long-term trends in what we really want from work. And leisure values stand out as one of the clearest. Really, you can think of this trend as taking at least three different expressions, all of which companies will need to consider:
- A desire to have time for a life outside of work. People increasingly want their jobs to accommodate their private lives. For instance, with every generation, there is a lower willingness to work overtime, a higher demand for vacation, and an increased focus on hobbies and personal interests. For quite some time, we have seen companies accommodating this by allowing flexible work hours and to a lower extent telecommuting. A current example of how powerful this can be as an employer branding strategy is Spotify’s export of Swedish parental leave.
- Wanting work to be fun. Leisure values are not only about hobbies and family time; they have also started to taint the way we view work itself. Put simply, we increasingly want work to be fun (Schullery, 2013). This can entail having access to non-work activities on company premises, such as sports facilities and nice cafeterias. But it can also be about creating an informal and open atmosphere where people feel at ease trying out new ideas – for instance, world-renowned design agency Ideo is famous for encouraging teams to make work as play-like as possible, in order to get creative ideas going.
- An expectation not having to separate the two spheres. There is a lot of debate going on right now about whether the break-up of boundaries between work and outside life really is healthy. One thing we can say for sure, however, is that people increasingly ask for the possibility to flexibly go back and forth between the two (Twenge et al., 2010). For instance, having to ask permission to go to the hairdresser or the dentist during work hours is increasingly perceived as old-fashioned, at least in conventional office jobs. Another example is the possibility to take a course out of personal interest, which may or may not become relevant to your work later on.
As stated above, the trend of increasing leisure values is pervasive and shows no sign of plateauing. Hence, it is a good idea to put the question of how to cater for it on your organization’s talent management agenda. After our own leisure values have materialized in the shape of some well-deserved vacation, that is.
Have a great summer!
PS. Do you have ideas or requests for what you would like to read about in the fall? Please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – all input is warmly welcomed!