Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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Blurring And Integrating Learning, Work And Socializing

Here are two trends that suggest that the work-life “balance” that most people say they desire, rather than separating the two spheres, is likely to become more a matter of integrating work and life flexibly in search of “doing it all” and greater sense of community.


The working date has surfaced as a trend – and it seems to be a phenomenon spanning the generations. Sue Shellenbarger wrote about it in her Wall Street Journal column Work & Family (“Dinner and a PowerPoint?” – June 28, 2007).

This blend of work and romance in order to have some semblance of a social life sounds like an extension of the “study date” in college. But it's not just the 20-somethings that are partaking.

People interviewed by Shellenbarger span the generations from Generation Y to Baby Boomers, suggesting that this phenomenon has been observed despite Gen Y's outspoken attitude regarding their commitment to work/life balance and refusal to be consumed by work. The working daters also represent a variety of occupations. This reminds us that it's not just the lawyers, investment bankers and management consultants that are working horrendous hours.

So it seems that pride in workaholism has not gone out of style, whether it's the individual's desire to “live to work” or the feeling of extreme external pressure to perform.


Work and socialization - or integrating work/life is getting increased emphasis on the college level. The “Education Life” special section of the New York Times on July 29, 2007 featured an extensive look at the new-wave residential college or house movement at several well-known universities. (Disclosure: The article spotlighted my alma mater, Cornell University. As an active alum I have been following this development and have visited the first two of these houses to open on campus.)

The residential college system intends to gather under one roof both social and academic elements of campus life and blur or eliminate the borders between them. The concept is that there is a better learning atmosphere created if students feel a sense of belonging to campus life and closer to the faculty. At Cornell's “houses,” there are weekly discussions with experts, live in professors and graduate student mentors, visits from University administrators, including the President, competitive games around substantive learning, and dinners with “celebrities” such as legendary White House reporter, Helen Thomas.

With these types of experiences offered, it is not surprising that students get used to "access" and that carries over when they enter the workplace. It is reflected in their frequent questioning and expectations of attention.

To quote Frank Wcislo, a Vanderbilt University history professor, from the New York Times article, “We're very much aware that in taking on the project of undergraduate education, we're not simply influencing students. We're going to begin to affect the way our faculty teaches and the way our faculty learns. As the students become qualitatively different, they then begin to make different demands on the part of the university. So the undergraduates become agents.”

The students become agents of change, which can be hard on the faculty, even if they buy into the purpose. Can you translate this to what happens in your workplace?

It seems to me that what came before had been reflected in the workplace too, William H. Williams and Thomas H. Naylor, authors of “The Abandoned Generations: Rethinking Higher Education” argued in that 1995 book that the kind of students arriving at colleges in the mid-1970s, 1980s and early1990s decades were different than those before them owing to lax parenting and increased social permissiveness, and they were inadequately prepared for college. Faculties typically were focused more on research and publishing than teaching. The result for students was more partying and emphasis on “careerism” rather than learning. That was the environment in which many of the younger Baby Boomers and Generation X were educated.

The residential college philosophy is an attempt to respond to those observations and to keep students more academically engaged. If they are educated in that environment, with all the attention, access and stimulation, one can imagine it might be an unwelcome jolt to enter a typical firm or corporation and be expected to be happy with the system and treatment they find.

The purpose of my discussion above is to remind us about some of the "formative influences" and experiences that color the mentality of Generation Y and the younger Gen X employees. It is no wonder that there is a clear disconnect with the older generations and typical workplace structures and expectations that goes way beyond comfort level with technology. The challenge is to make new connections that capture the creativity and desire for intellectual stimulation while enabling managers to get their work done. That's where we need to put our heads together to create new approaches.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2007. All rights reserved