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A CEO signing a contract.

DAGMAR HEYMANS

Seriously, I get that this is not a good time in economic history to talk about touchy-feely, human-resource type issues. In fact, even for people who work in human resources, this is a good time to emphasize what you do for the bottom line, not put forth a bunch of initiatives related to lifestyle. After all, the next quarter is coming and those results had better show that the earnings look nice and everyone is productive, productive, productive.

Even so, I think we all have to pay some attention when men, as well as women, are starting to ask for something approaching work-life balance when it comes to their careers.

The Harvard Business Review Blog Network sums up some of the recent issues on not-working-every-working-hour in an article called "Meet the New Face of Diversity: The 'Slacker' Millennial Guy". The "slacker" tag may be kind of harsh. Still, the fact is that any guy who is willing to admit that he wants to work a little less is going to be tagged a slacker in a lot of workplaces.

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Millennials, in case you've missed it, are the generation born starting around 1980, at a time when the kid-culture was really taking hold. Mostly we hear (fairly or unfairly) about how coddled and immature millennials are, and about how they lack focus in the workplace. Still, the oldest of this group are now thirtysomethings, which is to say entering the years when they will set the tone in the workplace. So listening to what they are saying is pretty instructive.

Actually, they have been saying the same thing for a while, but during the worst of the recession years they were kind of whispering it: They want to work hard but also have time to have a "life," which is something they sort of think their boomer bosses have missed.

The Harvard piece summarizes different studies, including one by researchers at Kellogg University of surgical residents at four Boston hospitals. Surgeons – male and female – were asked to evaluate a plan to limit rotations to a measly 80 hours a week, down from a previous 120. Women supported the plan, but so did many men who cited a desire to see family or maybe just spend more time listening to patients, which they also considered an important part of being doctors.

Eighty hours probably sounds like a lot to many of us anyway. But other studies show lawyers throwing in the towel because of long working hours, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) refusing overtime to spend time with their families. Losers? Off the fast-track? Maybe. Or maybe not. The fact that a critical mass of people – male and female – are even questioning working hours in a weak U.S. economy could be a wake-up call that something is afoot.

Or maybe not. A lot of time when some minds are opened up about changing work practices, those nasty quarterly results shut things down again. So any changes will happen in fits and starts.

But keep an eye on the millennials. As the boomers retire, they may hopscotch over Generation X and set up in the corner office themselves. The decisions they make there could well be interesting for everyone.

Linda Nazareth is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Her book Economorphics: The Trends Changing Today into Tomorrow will be published by Relentless Press in January, 2014. www.economorphics.com

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