“My family comes before my job.”
“ I’d rather have an interesting life than make a lot of money.”
“I owe it all to yoga.”
We’re used to hearing these kinds of declarations from women, who often resolve work/life dilemmas by “opting out” to rear kids or taking a career break to eat, pray and love their way around the world. But increasingly such comments are coming from men—specifically young men, the Gen Y guys, the millennial males.
“I’ve been seeing this in the classroom at Harvard Business School,” says Bill George, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and the author of four best-selling books on leadership. Younger men, he says, are turned off by the soul-killing exhaustion that comes with high-pressure jobs, two-career marriages and workweeks that leave “no time for anything but work.”
“Men,” says George, “want an integrated life.” Millennials—that is, people born from the 1980s to 2000—as well as their predecessors in Gen X, “are committed to having life the way they want it,” he adds. Smart companies are creating ways to accommodate them, whether it’s offering sabbaticals or the flexibility to work from home in their pj’s.
But some Gen Y guys aren’t waiting for corporate culture to meet them halfway. They’re living life on their own terms—and finding ways to monetize it.
Thirty-year-old Ari Meisel has a simple formula for prioritizing his day. “Every decision I make, I calculate: How much time will it take away from time with my kids?”
A married father of three young sons in Bridgehampton, New York, Meisel is a builder of green buildings/ a developer/consultant/author/productivity coach/wellness guru, etc. The et ceteras could go on seemingly forever, but in his passion for paring down Meisel just calls himself an “achievement architect,” adding, “I love building things. And I love helping people.”
One publication dubbed him “the most efficient man alive.” That title speaks to his determination to do only the things he finds meaningful—and using technology to clear away the time-wasters. He conducts most of his business by iPhone, for instance—and loves to see people’s eyes pop when he tells them he keeps no more than 10 emails in his inbox at any time.
His tips for the minimalist inbox and other advice can be found on his blog, The Art of Less Doing (tagline: “Optimize. Automate. Outsource.”) and he has a book of the same name coming later this year. A frequent lecturer and TED talks alum, he’s a hands-on dad who says, “I estimate I have changed more than 1,500 diapers.” So, cloth or disposables? “Cloth diapers,” he says, “would not be efficient.”
Meisel was always a systems guy, but he found out how precious time really is back in 2006, when he was diagnosed with Chron’s Disease, a painful and debilitating digestive disease that turned him from an athlete into a near-invalid. He got little relief from the myriad medicines he was prescribed—and instead powered his way into remission by developing his own diet and exercise regimen and by de-stressing with, yes, yoga.
Eliminating stress is one key to a fulfilled and healthy life, says Meisel. Which is why, despite getting a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he never wants to work in the corporate world. “I absolutely detest the investment banking industry,” he says. “Their sense of priorities is totally warped.”
And so while they have plenty of success in the corporate system, many young men are seeking to build careers outside the traditional workplace. Kevin Conroy Smith, 28, a Chicago insurance agent who’s turned a knack for making contacts who help him squeeze the most from every occasion—“When I go to Lollapalooza, I’m always backstage. At restaurants I get the owner’s table.”—into a burgeoning business.
While insurance pays the bills, Smith is seeking to build “the largest and most meaningful personal network in the world. ” He hosts monthly dinner parties at his apartment that bring in influencers ranging from artists to entrepreneurs. There’s usually a musician or two performing, a name chef prepping the meal and a famous mixologist stirring the drinks. It’s all very low-key, and non-business-y. The purpose of the evenings, he says, is to create “unique, memorable experiences…and not having to Tweet about it.” In 2010 Smith started his Chi-Ami events, weekend-long club-hopping fetes that bring South Beach DJ’s and pretty people to mix it up with Chicagoans. The parties have been so successful—with tickets going for more than $100 each—that Smith plans to host them in other cities, including New York.
This anti-corporate, entrepreneurial mindset is typical of many in Smith and Meisel’s generation. And that’s no surprise. “A lot of companies operate as if it’s still the 1950’s,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Boston-based Gen Y research and consulting firm. A Y guy himself, born in 1983, Schawbel is the author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.
One hallmark of his generation—one that makes them prioritize child rearing—is that they are very close to their own parents, says Schawbel. He notes that millennials have been known to bring their parents on job interviews, and that Google holds “Take Your Parents to Work” Days.
So what do young men want in the workplace? Flexible hours, says Schawbel. More feedback from supervisors. Collaboration. “Millennials want to sit at the table and make their voices heard.”
Some companies are listening. The Wall Street Journal reported last year about a textbook rental service, Chegg Inc., that stemmed rapid defection among its millennial employees by eliminating some middle-management positions so that younger people could participate in more projects and by instituting unlimited paid vacation. According to the Journal, the Gen Y turnover rate at Chegg dropped by 50 percent each year over two years.
Younger workers also have a need to feel connected to others. “One of the symptoms of our 24/7 world is, the more we are connected (by technology), the more we are isolated,” says Janice Marturano, executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of Finding the Space to Lead, due out in January. Marturano’s case in point: Employees often will text the person sitting next to them rather than engage in conversation.
The desire for connection, she says, extends to a need to improve the larger world. Employees “are asking, what do I need to feel a part of something bigger than myself,” says Marturano. “It’s not all about me.” Companies that find a way to fill this need “do good for the organization and the community.”
That giving-back spirit certainly infects Smith and Meisel. Smith is chair of Habitat for Humanity’s International Young Professionals Board. Meisel is an EMT, an environmentalist, and an urban revivalist. But he sees his larger purpose as helping people “reclaim themselves. My whole system is about freeing up time to free your mind so you can do what you really want to do.”