Carefree is the new stressed: Gen Y changing workplace etiquette

- January 22, 2014 3 MIN READ

When I first entered the workforce six years ago, acting stressed was fashionable. In fact, business etiquette silently dictated that we run around like headless chooks whenever we’re in the premises.

But I was a naïve teen who just completed her HSC, so all the stress that piled up throughout the year evacuated as soon as the exam supervisor said ‘Pens down!’ Also, I was a little clueless and didn’t realise acting carefree in the office was such a faux pas.

I was doing triple the work of my colleagues in one-third of the time, and for the rest of the day I would sit back and fill out crosswords. Complaints were made about my apparent ‘laziness’ and eventually I was fired.

I learned from my experience that the right way to behave is to act incredibly busy, even if you’ve finished your tasks and exceeded your goals – otherwise, you’re considered an incompetent slacker.

So, back in those days, acting stressed was a sure-fire way to prove you were a busy person; it was a way to establish your superiority.

Remember those conversations where someone would whine/brag about how busy they’ve been, and another person would respond, ‘You think you’re busy? I wish I was lucky enough to get one day off a week!”

Truth be told, these conversations still go on – particularly in the world of entrepreneurs. You’ll hear founders chatter about how busy they’ve been in the holiday period, and how anxious they are about launching their new startup. This is understandable – but it gets a bit crazy when founders compare how busy they’ve been with other founders.

‘My startup is better than your startup because I was working the day Santa climbed down our chimney’.

The more time you spend working, the greater your likelihood of success and the greater you deserve success. This is the formula people live by – whether or not consciously.

There’s something wrong with this formula; and Gen-Yers – the so called ‘lazy generation’ – have spotted the problem. It doesn’t actually work that way.

Among the newer generation of workers, a less whiny trend is becoming apparent. It’s the ‘My job is not my life!’ or the ‘My job is only one-third of my life!’ trend. Basically, this is the era of work/life balance.

Time management is a booming industry – in fact, there are heaps of apps, webinars and programmes around time management. People are wising up to the fact that being stressed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – it’s unhealthy and unproductive.

To Gen-Yers, a colleague whining/bragging about working overtime to meet goals is … well, pathetic. Gen Y are all about accomplishing more in less time. The emphasis is on ‘doing less, but doing it extraordinarily well’ – as was argued by successful bloggers like Leo Babauta (www.zenhabits.net) and Stephen Pavlina (www.stevepavlina.com).

In an article titled, 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job, Pavlina advises: “Realize that you earn income by providing value — not time – so find a way to provide your best value to others, and charge a fair price for it.  One of the simplest and most accessible ways is to start your own business.”

From a business standpoint, being less busy doesn’t sound productive, because getting things done requires being busy, right? And it’s hard to not associate the word ‘busy’ with ‘stressed’?

Not really. Being relaxed and confident is a really good mindset to have. Since when does stress help a situation? The time you spend stressing could be better spent doing what you’re stressing about. Some people think they thrive in high-stress environments. But it’s not really the stress that’s helping them; it’s the awareness that something needs be done within a particular timeframe. It’s about having goals with deadlines.

Those who’ve been conditioned to stress out about everything – perhaps, most of us – there’s one thing that can be done. Faking it.

This means entering the room slowly with poise, rather than bursting through the door muttering under your breath about how your last client or customer kept you. It also means stopping to answer questions with a smile, rather than stopping with a sigh and saying ‘make it quick’.

In today’s work environment, complaining about stress makes people sound incompetent – like they can’t handle their job. It also takes the focus off the quality of their work, and onto the quantity. They may have closed a major sale, but they’re bringing to attention the fact that they only made one sale.

In the years to come, as businesses moves away from a time-centric payment paradigm and towards a value-centric one, how many hours we work or how hard we try will matter less and less. In the future, it’ll be about the value of the work we’re creating, not how long it took us to do it.

Admittedly, there may be disadvantages to this – because on the flipside, if someone is assigned a task which is unattainable within a healthy timeframe, people would be working overtime…and then complaining about it. And again, we’re in a vicious cycle – that is, unless we’re smart about how we work.