This Silicon Valley Executive Says Millennials Can Do More By Working Less


Wes Gay

October 21, 2016

Millennials are often thought to be a lazy generation, and even Martha Stewart jumped on that bandwagon in an interview earlier this year.

Yet, workplace data shows millennials tend to be workaholics. A recent survey from Project:TimeOff says 43% of millennials identify themselves as work martyrs, compared to 29% of all who responded. What is a work martyr? It’s someone who will agree with these four statements:

  • “No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.”
  • “I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.”
  • “I don’t want others to think I am replaceable.”
  • “I feel guilty for using my paid time off.”

Of all generations surveyed in that same study, millennials were most likely (24%) to forfeit unused vacation days, compared to 19% of Gen Xers and 17% of Baby Boomers. And according to the Harvard Business Review, millennials are most likely to obsess over their work.

A trend in the other direction

Despite the millennial tendency to obsess over work, there’s a growing trend by companies to reduce the number of required work hours. Amazon, for example, recently made headlines by introducing a 30-hour workweek for its team. One company leading the way in this movement is Basecamp, the company behind the popular project management tool of the same name. 

“Jason and David (the founders of Basecamp) have been very loud that nights and weekends don’t belong to Basecamp,” says Mercedes De Luca, the COO of Basecamp. This mindset led them to add a new feature in their latest release of Basecamp entitled “Work Can Wait.”

This feature is simple: the user sets the hours they work (like 8 AM – 6 PM, for example). If someone contacts them outside of those hours, Basecamp actually withholds the notification until working hours begin again. 

Why time boundaries matter

But the concept of “Work Can Wait” is more than a feature for De Luca, a 20 year Silicon Valley vet; it’s her passion. “Unfortunately in Silicon Valley, there’s a real myth that if you aren’t working 100+ hours, you aren’t any good,” says De Luca. “People don’t want to admit they can get their work done in 40 hours.”

Her observations are not without supporting research. One study revealed managers could not tell a difference in the work done by those who actually worked 80 hours per work, versus those who just pretended to do so. Employees who log such long hours are actually hurting the bottom line, and their habits contribute to rising healthcare costs due to the physical toll of such work.

Having the discipline to perform work during defined hours boosts productivity. “Having clear boundaries allows me to have focus “project-based” work, and times in my schedule where my brain can be creative,” notes Adam McLaughlin, owner of a web design firm.

It also strengthens the ability to be fully present.“If I am always focusing on work, then I am never fully present with my family, friends, etc. I burn out and my creativity is decimated,” says Beau Coffron of

Rethink hustle

Hustle is one of the most used words in the millennial vocabulary. Some use it in the context of a side job to earn more money, but others may use it as an excuse to be a workaholic. “Hustle should be about what you accomplish versus working ALL THE TIME,” notes De Luca. “Just because you answer emails or sit in meetings all day, it doesn’t mean you’re getting meaningful work done.”

This idea is counter to the startup culture popular among millennials, as well as the entrepreneurial culture often touted by wealthy and influential entrepreneurs. Kenny Jahng, owner of an international marketing firm, says hustle is really about “empowering people to get off autopilot and be intentional about their career development. Take jobs where you can take pride in your output.”

According to New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff, Hustle is about focus, not frenzy. If millennials want to hustle in their jobs, then they need a laser-like focus on their work. Or, as De Luca asks, “Is all of this work moving your company forward? That’s the question you should ask as you ‘hustle’.” 

Why this matters to millennials

Those who assume millennials are lazy should review the college applications from their millennial colleagues. They’ll find many colleges require incoming students to have a great academic record, a history of extracurricular involvement, volunteer experience, and possibly a job. Millennials, then, are expected to do a lot in order to succeed. 

“We shouldn’t expect millennials to dial that back after college,” notes De Luca. That expectation, combined with the always connected feeling from technology, drives many millennials to focus obsessively on finding work success quickly. 

De Luca has advice for millennials looking for a new employer: “Find a company where the owner is enlightened and cares about your humanity. We think of a career as the be all end all.” Instead, she encourages people to think big picture: “What’s the measure of your life? How will you measure your life?” 


This article was written by Wes Gay from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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