When I was growing up my dad, a small-business owner, used to have an end-of-the-day ritual. He'd stretch out in his favorite chair, announce he was "taking off his boots"--he works in the construction industry--and then do just that (and, if truth be told, usually grab a beer as well). He might make calls or do administrative work at home in the evenings, but never, ever after he had "taken off his boots."

Me, I'm also self-employed, but I don't have any similar end-of-day ritual. Why? My day doesn't really have an end, at least not a hard and fast one. I never (metaphorically) take off my boots.

If this generational difference is something you can relate to, take heart. A new survey suggests you and I are not alone. It really is getting harder to juggle the responsibilities of work and home.

Yup, it is getting harder.

That's the conclusion of a new poll of 9,700 workers conducted in the U.S., Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India, and the U.K. commissioned by Ernst & Young. A full third of respondents said that it had gotten more difficult to achieve work-life balance in the last five years.

Why is it getting more and more tricky to find balance? You might blame technology, and constant availability certainly has a role to play in increasing stress levels, but the most commonly cited reasons had to do with fundamental work realities, not gadget-related trends. Static salaries, increasing responsibilities, longer hours at work, and that eternal work-life challenge, becoming a parent, most often got the blame. Whatever the exact mix of causes, these new numbers add to the case that we're living in a golden age of workplace stress.

My generation has it worse?

You might think that Boomers like my dad are struggling the most, often sandwiched as they are between barely launched kids and aging parents, but it's actually Millennials like me who are feeling the worst work-life squeeze, if Ernst & Young's research is to be believed.

"U.S. millennials are moving into management, while also becoming parents and working more hours, creating the 'perfect storm' for younger generations," the research release concludes. And America's shamefully paltry benefits for new parents aren't helping. "One striking finding, likely compounded by the lack of a U.S. paid parental leave policy, is that 38 percent of Millennials said they would 'move to another country with better parental leave benefits,'" it also says. (If you're recruiting, take note: If this generation is willing to cross oceans to get better benefits for parents, certainly they'd be willing to change jobs, right?)

These findings gel with other research that shows a significant dip in career satisfaction as people enter their 30s (the oldest of the Millennials are 35 this year). But while the age range for the work-life squeeze is the same in the two studies, this earlier research also pointed the finger at ramped-up professional competition and less help from colleagues as people climb into management positions.

Do you think 30-somethings today have it worst when it comes to finding work-life balance?

Published on: May 13, 2015