Gen Y MBAs: Saying No to the 80-Hour Workweek

Gen Y MBAs: Saying No to the 80-Hour Workweek
Work-life balance is a priority for MBAs who are members of the millennial generation, so it's becoming a priority for companies that want to hire them (Photograph by Chad Springer/Gallery Stock)
Photograph by Chad Springer/Gallery Stock

Halfway through the MBA program at University of Illinois-Chicago Liautaud Graduate School of Business, Elizabeth Barry gave birth to her daughter. Caring for her while juggling school and a freelance career wasn’t easy, but she managed to graduate in 2009 and go to work for an ad agency in Chicago.

When Barry and her husband decided to move to Denver and go for baby No. 2, a friend suggested she quit interviewing for the typical post-MBA jobs, which all seem to entail a never-ending workweek. So she applied for a position at an independent day school despite her concerns that it wasn’t the right fit. She was wrong, she writes in an e-mail. “As a nonprofit, it wasn’t able to financially compensate me according to my experience and education, but it had something other employers didn’t: flexibility,” she adds. “We were able to negotiate a four-day workweek and school holidays off.”

People like Barry, who are from the millennial generation, born roughly between 1980 and 1995, are earning MBA degrees and insisting on some semblance of work-life balance, making it a priority for employers. PricewaterhouseCoopers, University of Southern California, and London Business School collected data on the PwC workforce in 2011 and 2012 and found that younger employees were not satisfied with the long hours and chained-to-the-desk attitude that were once considered part of the MBA package.

In fact, 71 percent of millennial employees say work interferes with their personal lives. And 64 percent want to occasionally work from home, while 66 percent want to shift their work hours. “Work-life balance is one of the most significant drivers of employee retention and a primary reason this generation of employees may choose a nontraditional professional career track,” according to the report on the study.

PwC, which recruits hundreds of MBAs annually, is encouraging teams to devise ways for members to be more flexible, says Miranda Kalinowski, a U.S. sourcing leader for PwC in New York. For instance, some teams have organized one day of the week when they all can leave early to tend to whatever it is they need to do, while another allows people to telecommute part of the week. The company as a whole also offers flexible summer schedules, and will soon hire seasonal help for busier times, such as tax season, to help take the load off regular employees, says Kalinowski.

Like Barry, recent MBA alumni are willing to take matters into their own hands to maximize their personal time. Andres Zapata, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School in 2005, opted for a job at a small consultancy so he could spend more time with his family and play sports. He was so happy with the results, he says, that when he had the chance to run the agency, he formalized its work-life balance policy, which now includes flexible hours, flexible leave, and a strict policy of not interrupting employees while they’re on vacation.

“We now have a highly effective and focused work culture chock full of smart, productive people. But walk through the office any day at 5:30 and the only thing you will see is me turning the lights off and locking up,” writes Zapata, who is now the executive vice president of strategy at idfive, a marketing and communications firm in Baltimore.

For some, work-life balance isn’t about long hours, but doing what excites them and not taking work home. Chris Brusznicki, a 2008 graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, traded in working 80-plus hours per week at Goldman Sachs for working 80-plus hours for his own real estate ventures, including, which connects sports fans with rental properties near sports stadiums. Despite the hectic schedule, he says, he has chosen to make the most of his time with his wife and children.

“When I am home, I try to be in the moment,” Brusznicki adds. “No iPhone, no work, no nothing. I used to bring work with me everywhere, and I have stopped that.”

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