Kristin Selvaggio works from December to April each year as a senior associate in the Flexible Talent Network at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Then, she switches to a full-time job as a freelance makeup artist. "They're two completely different career paths, and I love them both," she says. Selvaggio, a 29-year-old based in New York, calls the arrangement the perfect combination for her.
Selvaggio's desire for such workplace flexibility might be more closely associated with working moms than child-free 20-somethings, but her preferences reflect a wider trend among her generation. Perhaps because they watched their parents struggle to work full-time while raising a family, millennials often express the desire for work-life balance early on in their careers, long before they even become parents. PwC launched the Flexible Talent Network in response to that demand, and other companies are following suit.
"There's a desire to have a sense of fulfillment on both the work and the personal side. ... It's a desire to say, 'I want to experience the work environment, but I also want to experience life'," says Terri McClements, U.S. Human Capital Leader for PwC. "In today's environment of connectivity, everyone is desiring more flexibility." Last year, PwC released a study of 40,000 workers that found work-life balance to be one of the most important factors to millennials when it comes to keeping them happy at work.
McClements says that while employees of all generations embrace and benefit from flexible schedules, it was millennials who really pushed the company to create the Flexible Talent Network, which allows employees to work just a few months each year. "Millennials maybe pushed us there a little faster," she says. Regular full-time employees also take advantage of flexibility, she says, and teams are encouraged to figure out how to meet the various needs of different team members. A father might want to leave early for school pickup one day, and a young single person might want to attend a midday exercise class, for example.
Lisa Mainiero, professor of management at Fairfield University in Connecticut and co-author of "The Opt-Out Revolt: Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers," says she's noticed that millennials are often eager to build a more balanced life even at the very beginning of their careers. "I hear from my students that they don't want to go work for a big financial firm in New York City," she says. Instead, they want to build their own business or pursue a more nontraditional career path. They value balance and authenticity even as recent college graduates, she says.
[Read: The Real Cost of Women Opting Out.]
Mainiero also emphases that her research suggests it's both young men and young women that are seeking balance. "That's been a real shift in the data we've seen," she says, noting that her earlier research on older generations found that men were interested in work challenges early on and authenticity later, but not balance. Women at midlife were very interested in balance. Millennials of both genders, though, say, "I'm not going to go work for a company that doesn't give me balance and let me be my authentic self," she says.
Brigid Schulte, author of "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time," notes that new fathers are pushing more for longer paternity leaves and work schedules that allow them to handle day care pick-up and evening parenting responsibilities. "So many studies are showing men, especially younger men, beginning to feel more work-life conflict than mothers," she says.
Schulte also says the fact that younger workers of both genders embrace flexibility will help reduce the stigma of flexible schedules, making it easier for parents to juggle their caregiving responsibilities with work. "Previous generations have seen [flexibility] as a 'mommy issue.' These are not 'mommy issues,' these are human rights issues," she says.
Offering flexibility also makes sense from a business perspective, McClements says, and PwC's flexible policies have increased employee retention. "This is a talent strategy, too," she says. She expects the Flexible Talent Network, which now has 250 participants, to triple in size within the next year and a half. "We're finding that in allowing people choices and flexibility, our people are even more dedicated to us because we trust them," she says.
As for Selvaggio, she hopes to continue building her makeup artist business from April to December and then return to PwC to work in accounting. She notes that some of her co-workers in the program are parents who stay home the rest of the year and others run businesses like she does. "We all have different things we want to pursue," she says.
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