Withdrawing from career prospects isn't something that only women do as they start families -- men do it at a similar rate. In fact, once they reach their 30s, only a minority of men or women express a desire for greater job responsibilities.
That's the conclusion reached by Jordan Weissmann, writing in The Atlantic, who makes the point that men, too, are likely to start backing off from the go-go pace of careers once they start having families.
Weissmann cites oft-quoted data from the Families and Work Institute, released in 2008, which shows that just 37 percent of working women and 44 percent of working men said they wanted more responsibility at the office -- down from 50 percent and 59 percent, respectively, in 1992.
But upon further investigation into the Families and Work Institute data by age groups, another revelation becomes apparent. Interest in assuming more job responsibilities diminishes -- in both men and women -- every decade, from their 20s on. For example, among men 35-44, only 45 percent seek additional responsibilities, a sharp drop from 63 percent in the 25-34 age group. By 55-64, only 18 percent of men have that drive for more responsibilities.
Women's rates track closely to the men, and actually surpass men in the 65+ age group, 11 percent to six percent.
There's something more going on here than people simply slowing down or opting for more family time. As people progress in their careers, they start devoting more time and energy into activities that have more meaning to them. For many salaried employees, that doesn't mean doing more for employers.
For starters, however, it's important to note that in today's lean-and-mean era, working professionals are increasingly being asked to do more and more with little or no recognition -- whether they want to or not. The survey asks about their willingness to take on additional tasks, which runs counter to the realities of their ever-shifting job duties.
It's also worth mentioning that people of all ages are still willing to take on additional work in their lives if it means advancing themselves, their industries or their professions. Witness all the energy and activity devoted to open-source software groups, for example -- tens of thousands of IT professionals spending their own time writing operating system or database code. How many people are active in their professional associations or user groups, spending long hours planning events or preparing articles or building networks? Along these lines, there are a lot of employees who keep their hours at work, but then spend their time outside pursuing their own business ideas. In addition, many people are also devoting time outside work to continuing education and training -- a must in today's digital economy, since multiple careers are now the norm.
Surely all these people are just as busy -- or even busier -- than 20-somethings just starting up the career ladder.
The takeaway here is that employees' needs -- and the things they consider important in their lives -- change as their careers progress. Younger employees fresh out of school may be eager to take on new responsibilities, and presumably new experiences, with their employers, as part of the continued learning process to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of their industries and professions.
But more seasoned employees don't want to work harder, they want to work smarter. They likely have a jaded awareness that rewards for hard work -- those 12-hour days -- may not be forthcoming from many organizations. With age, they also are more likely to recognize that goals can be accomplished employing the know-how and experience they have accumulated -- such as "do it, ditch it, or delegate it" -- versus brute-force hard work.
Simple promises of promotions and raises don't turn on employees like they used to. The rewards that will motivate them need to be geared toward greater working flexibility, more training and education, greater contributions to profession and society, and more opportunities at entrepreneurial ventures.