Released On 20th Oct 2021
Maggie's blog: Is there a generational divide when it comes to the return to the office?
It was recently National Work-Life Week and like many employees around the UK, and indeed the world, I’m currently considering how to get the hybrid work-life balance right. It’s a hot topic of conversation amongst my colleagues and something that we probably discuss most days. What is particularly interesting to me is the variety of views that it has elicited amongst the different generations in my team.
To give some context my employer, one of the Big4, has been fantastic during the pandemic and given us both the latitude to work at home and the ability to come into the office as/when we need to. Our offices were largely open to staff throughout the pandemic (except for the time when we really couldn’t leave the house). This gave us the freedom to work from home but also provided a professional office space to escape to when it all got too much.
However, we are now one of the few companies who have publicly announced that employees need to be in the office or at a client site for a % of their time. A bold move in a buoyant job market and where the Great Resignation is very much a thing. I work 4 days per week so in practice this means being in the office 2 days per week (which is actually less than I did pre-pandemic).
So what’s the issue? Honestly I love being in the office one day per week with my team. We’ve chosen Mondays and as a result the trains and office are a bit quieter. It’s a day when I don’t schedule any calls and use it to catch up with my team in person. We go for lunch together and it’s great for networking and generating ideas. I see Mondays as when I talk about the work and the other days when I do the work. When I think of doing a second day in the office it makes me feel tired and a bit resentful of having to do the commute and the school pick up juggle again.
Whereas my millennial and Gen Z colleagues love being back in the office and want to do it a lot more. In fact one of them wants to be in 4 days per week. He sees it as absolutely vital for his career progression as he thinks in person networking and those casual conversations in the office are how he will succeed. He moved out of London during lockdown and now has a long commute but he thinks it’s worth the time and money for the social aspect that that office provides. He believes that the edict that we have to spend a set % of our time in the office is vital as it ensures that people will be in.
Part of me agrees with him and I think pre-kids I might have done the same. However, the pandemic has given me time to think and get a much clearer view of my priorities. Having stepped off the hamster wheel for 18 months I don’t really want to get back on it (and the incessantly delayed trains). I want to do a job I enjoy, with nice colleagues but I also want to eat dinner every night with my family.
In the past working parents may have felt disadvantaged as they had to leave work to collect children from nursery, school etc. and couldn’t go to the after work socials. This takes on a whole new meaning when it applies to days in the office. My colleague thinks that virtual workers will be forgotten about and overlooked for promotions. I disagree and think that personal reputation and referrals will become increasingly important.
I think it’s fair to say that in the hybrid world both models will have to co-exist. However, overall it’s probably not a generational divide but related more closely to life stage and caring responsibilities. And that’s something that hasn’t changed since lockdown. It will be interesting to see in due course who is in the office and how often!
Maggie is mother to 3 children aged 12 and 7 and wife to a fantastic husband who works full time and shares the parenting responsibilities equally. She works 4 days per week in marketing for a large firm in central London.