Robert Burkhead

Robert Burkhead is a Dispatch-Argus guest columnist

When I was chosen as a guest columnist for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com, my goal was to help people in the community understand millennials and our role in a society we are slowly inheriting.

I have used my time to write about a multitude of things, but whenever I reflect on generational divide, I find myself circling back toward employment, money and the economy. How people earn and spend their money is paramount to how they live their lives.

Millennials often get derided for “job-hopping.”

While some people “live to work,” millennials tend to “work to live.” The job that is done from 9 to 5 provides the funds for a life that is lived from 5 to 9. There is more to do now than ever before, and young people were raised to go out and do it, no matter how busy they already are.

This has no bearing on whether millennials do or do not enjoy their professions. It has to do with maintaining a sense of identity separate from the workplace. If a job infringes upon that identity, it is replaceable. The job-hop commences.

But there is a twist.

Millennials do not actually want to change jobs; the system is set up in a way that makes it hard not to. Stagnant wages, low unemployment, and easily transferable 401K’s (if any retirement plan is available at all!) make job-hopping easy. That doesn’t mean we prefer it, though.

Can you imagine a millennial in his 50s still job-hopping? We crave a good-paying, stable job with friendly colleagues and fair supervision as much as our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did.

There is no generational divide here.

We also value our free time, often above all else, so that we can spend it with our family, our friends and ourselves.

There is a way for businesses and employees (of all ages) to balance this equation. The federal government needs to institute a mandatory minimum for paid leave and paid family leave. The United States has no federally mandated paid time off, while every country in the European Union mandates at least 20 days of paid leave.

The current system for paid leave tends to benefit the vested employee while the actual job market discourages employees from ever becoming vested. The result is a sluggish, uninspired workforce that actually hinders business growth.

Vacation time allows workers to refresh themselves both physically and mentally. A reinvigorated worker is worth 10 of his or her burned-out counterparts.

Laurel Schroeder, 29, of Moline, is a local teacher. Teachers are often under-appreciated and under-valued. They are also a perfect case study for why time off translates to better job performance.

“I feel ready to conquer the world coming off any break, especially summer,” says Schroeder. “I’ve struggled with finding a balance of being a young teacher and a new mom, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of taking time to renew yourself.”

According to a 2018 Gallup study, millennial job-hopping costs the U.S. economy over $30 billion a year in turnover rates. Businesses can hope to retain more young, college-educated employees if they allow them time to recharge away from work.

Stability, upward mobility and steady wage increases are all probably more important to millennials than paid vacation time. Those issues, however, are products of a fluctuating free market, for better and for worse.

An increase and a guarantee of paid leave is a national health-care issue. While there is a future monetary value for the employer, more paid time off means happier, healthier employees in the present.

“I think allowing workers more paid time off would show significant health benefits, mentally and physically, and improve the work environment,” says Schroeder. “I also don’t think people should be shamed or questioned (as to) how they choose to use that time.”

Indeed, while some people use their current vacation time to travel, others choose to stay home, doing as little as possible. There are a lot of similarities between a couch and a cruise ship if you are in the right state of mind. The important part is allowing all full-time workers everywhere the ample opportunity to achieve that state of mind.

I am purposefully avoiding the issues of economic disparity, race and gender that are essential to understanding the complexity of workers' rights. I have no qualifications to speak on behalf of anyone but myself, and I am lucky to have lived a fairly privileged life thus far.

I live a comfortable life now because of my job, not in spite of it. I like where I work and what I do. I also like that I define myself by neither of those two things. Generations prior to millennials often worked for only one employer during the course of their adult lives. Believe it or not, millennials would love to do the same.

Robert Burkhead, 29, of Moline, is a lifelong citizen of the Quad-Cities.


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