Law department leaders would be wise to remember the saying “the only thing constant is change” when it comes to embracing Millennials, who represent the changing face of their workforce.
Millennials are the fastest-growing segment of today’s workforce. According to reports, a generation of about 80 million, half of all Millennials — those born between 1980 and 1995 — are already working, with millions more joining the workforce every year. By 2025, Millennials will account for three out of every four workers globally.
Millennials Vs. Gen X & Boomers
Much has been written about the differences between Millennial employees and their Boomer or Gen X colleagues. While not every person shares all attributes of their generational peers, we know there are some common threads to each generation’s human experience that impact them in ways even they didn’t realize. Understanding some of those common attributes helps all generations relate well to each other. Getting the best from people starts by understanding them.
Law department leaders would be wise to embrace what makes Millennials unique rather than trying to convert them to dated styles of working, interacting and thinking about their careers.
Here are the top four ways to embrace Millennials and ultimately improve the overall performance of your in-house team:
1. Rethink training programs
A key difference between Millennial attorneys and prior generations is their lack of formal training before entering in-house legal departments. Millennial attorneys entered a very different legal market than those of prior generations. They did not necessarily have the opportunity to be mentored at a conventional firm or clerk for a judge. Because of this, Millennials need and expect training that is going to help them speed up the learning curve. They are eager to receive training and will expect employers to provide it. What I’ve found most effective is to allow Millennial attorneys to engage in peer-to-peer training, which is generally more well-received than a conventional top-down methodology. Contrast that to prior generations such as Gen X-ers for whom peer-to-peer mentorships would never have worked due to the intense competition factor for that generation.
2. Instructions and feedback are a must
As you coach the Millennials on your team, take the time to give them a clear scope of responsibility, instructions for their work and feedback as they go along. This is not the generation of attorneys to whom you can hand a dozen files and say, “go figure it out.” They don’t care about earning their stripes that way. According to the No Collar Workers study, 61 percent of Millennials say they need specific directions from their boss to do their best work — a level twice as high as observed among Boomers. Millennials were nurtured more than prior generations of children; in fact, the term “helicopter parents” is often used to describe their parents. They expect to receive a certain degree of attention from employers to ensure they are on the right track with their work. For Millennials, you can alleviate their frustration and yours by providing a clear scope of duties at the outset of their position along with direction along the way. Also, it’s best to avoid assumptions that your Millennial attorneys may want to branch into new and different areas. According to Millennials in the Workplace by Bentley University, despite their desire to serve as leaders at work, Millennials are often reluctant to take on the added stress and time commitment leadership roles require.
3. Get real about technology
Millennials’ love for technology is also well-documented — they grew up with technology. A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal found 77 percent of Millennials own a smartphone and, on average, spend 14.5 hours a week on it, texting, talking and using social media. For Millennials especially, you must ensure they have all of the technology you can reasonably make available. That means, at a minimum, a laptop, tablet, smartphone and remote (preferably cloud-based) access to your departmental files.
Millennials cannot and should not be held back from using technology just because they are “at work.” The boundaries between personal and work time are heavily blurred. Indeed, Millennials wake up to their Twitter feed, social pages, and online chat. To place limits on when, how and with whom they can communicate just because they are “at work” is both unrealistic and will not keep your workforce happy. Boundaries about what cannot be discussed on social media makes sense, but any Millennial who passed the Bar already knows they have to be mindful of the fences around confidential and privileged information. Legal departments will find that by allowing their Millennial attorneys to use technology in the way they are most comfortable will result in them being happier, more effective members of the team.
4. Adjust the career fast track
Millennials witnessed sacrifices their parents made for careers and worldly success. That’s why Millennials are not afraid to set limits about the degree to which they will sacrifice other parts of their life for work. PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study, conducted by PwC along with the University of Southern California and the London Business School, reported that 64 percent of Millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66 percent of Millennials would like to shift their work hours. How much do Millennials want flexible work schedules? So much that they’ll give up pay and promotions for it, with the survey finding 15 percent of male employees and 21 percent of female employees say they would give up some pay and slow the pace of promotion in exchange for working fewer hours. They are a generation wise enough to know that there are more important things in life than money and a high-flying career. Giving them health and wellness perks along with the freedom to work remotely and work less during off-peak periods will resonate far more with the Millennial members of your team.
Legal departments must adapt to the needs, priorities and work styles of Millennials, by revisiting training programs, providing unconventional opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, increased access to technology, and greater workplace flexibility. As legal departments adapt to suit their Millennial employees, they are likely to find that the changes they make will come as a welcome surprise to Boomers and Gen X’ers, too, creating a win-win for the multi-generational legal department.