Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on screens in front of me at CBS TV the day I started my first college internship in 2008. The scripts I was copying were ripped up that morning — and so was my concept of work.
That instability set the tone for how many in my generation began our careers. All bets were off — take whatever job you’re offered, deal with an inconvenient commute, work nights or odd hours, do temp work or substitute teach, be underemployed until a job comes along, apply to grad school as a backup.
It was a bit traumatic, but we fought through it. And today more than 1 in 3 U.S. workers are millennials, surpassing Gen X in 2015 as the largest share of the U.S. workforce, according to the Census Bureau.
But it’s becoming clear that as a generation we emerged as a different workforce — in when, where and how we work.
I’ve been in the workforce six years, and I’ve yet work a 9-to-5 schedule. In my first job, I worked from home, and I was basically on call 24 hours a day. Stressful, but I loved squeezing in some midday volunteering at church. In my second job, I worked Sunday to Thursday, Sundays from home and the rest from a Manhattan office. I later became a morning homepage editor and worked 4 a.m. to 2 p.m., all from home.
Now, at Newsday, I’ve worked 10 a.m. to whenever we’re done and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a newsletter Opinion launched.
I’m fairly convinced that I may never work “normal” hours. But here’s the thing: I absolutely do not want to.
Many other millennials apparently agree: 45 percent of my generation would choose workplace flexibility over a higher salary, according to a Millennial Branding survey.
But really, the 9-to-5 office job has become a bit of myth. Journalists always had irregular hours, and in the digital era most news operations are 24-hour shops. From white collar to blue collar to no collar, the work hours of so many professions have always included early mornings, nights and weekends.
What technology did was make it possible for these atypical schedules to become prevalent in more fields, through email, remote access and teleconferencing. This allows us to not only break from the 9-to-5 schedule, but also to work from anywhere.
This is even happening on Long Island — long notorious for being late to adapt to trends. New co-working companies like Bridgeworks in Long Beach are renting workspace on flexible terms to the growing number of entrepreneurs, those self-employed or employees wanting to avoid long commutes to city offices.
Another difference today is what our workdays look like. Offices and cubicles are coming down for congenial open spaces. Meetings are in the form of email threads or chat convos. Lunch breaks are spent grading, charting or in front of our computers. Or at the gym or running errands, both of which allow us to work later or come in earlier.
We are starting to see how these shifts are playing out in our society. Primetime TV programming was in part created on the assumption that most were off from work by 8 p.m. Now many of us prefer the “on demand,” binge-watching approach to entertainment consumption that can cater to our schedules. The trend could impact the debate over paid family leave because there might be less need for it if more of us work hours and in places more conducive to care giving.
The beating from the economic crisis left us with some bruises. Some scars are character building, like adapting to working whenever and wherever. But other scars are ugly, like the fact that we trust institution, such as business, less (91 percent of millennials plan to spend less than three years at a company, according to Forbes).
Hopefully we won’t be scarred for life.
Amanda Fiscina is a online producer for Newsday Opinion.