Law Practice

Bridging this generation gap takes time, talking

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All people are different, but the millennial generation can sometimes seem like a whole different animal.

Millennials are as accustomed to texting as talking, and they rely on the Internet for research. They are less motivated by money than by keeping their personal time. And though they know technology, they shouldn't be confused with techies. To explore management issues with this demographic—usually defined by birthdates from about 1980 through the mid-'90s—we reached out to those from both sides of the generational divide, and they offered seven tips for keeping workplaces productive.

"There are distinctions among the generations of baby boomers, Generation X and millennials that employers ought to understand for better workplace integration," says Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a lawyer in Wayland, Massachusetts, and a parent of two millennials.

• Keep scheduling flexible. "Boomers tend toward thinking: 'Oh, once they get the mortgage, the millennials will be just like us,' but the data shows that millennials will give up money for time," says Rikleen, author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us and a member of the ABA Journal Board of Editors. "Work is about tasks to be completed, not hours to be spent."

Global data about millennials surveyed on their views of work and personal life integration shows that even though millennials graduate with great debt, that alone isn't an effective motivation to instill employer loyalty.

"We want work, but we want a family life, too," says millennial Kirsten Blume, who is president of the student bar association at Northeastern University School of Law. "Among my peers, ... we're questioning whether being workaholics can offer sustainable careers. We hear from graduates who appear to already be burned out when they've just started their careers."

• Use coaching to combat attrition. "An open learning environment where we can ask questions and have explanations about why things are done a certain way for a project is helpful," Blume says.

Revamp firm orientation as another guidance opportunity for minimizing millennial associates' attrition rates. "Helping associates understand the firm culture, as in explaining what it takes to succeed here, creates a better fit for moving forward," Rikleen says.

Instead of orientation being mostly a one- or two-day process to learn about the firm's computer system, use it as a long-term opportunity, she says.

• Use their tech skills. Millennials are comfortable with digesting data, "but don't make the mistake of turning them into tech support," Rikleen says.

Workplaces usually have varying levels of computer literacy across the worker generations. "If you have a nontechnology-oriented partner in the habit of always asking the millennial associate in the nearby office for help with a device or troubleshooting every little computer problem that comes up, that's a drain on their actual work time," Rikleen says.

Also emphasize these business basics:

• Clients come first. "The reality is that in a firm workplace, there's an imperative to bring in business. To make partner, it's not enough to be smart," says Marguerite Willis, co-chair of Nexsen Pruet's antitrust and unfair competition practice in Columbia, South Carolina. "Sometimes millennials have to learn clients are why we exist, and that involves millennials choosing to change their behaviors to serve them, if necessary."

• De-bias evaluations. Millennials perform better with feedback and structure. "Unconscious bias is a general workplace issue," Rikleen says. "It's a part of how assignments are given and how workers are evaluated. ... Once you understand the science of unconscious bias, you can implement measures to minimize its impact."

• Discuss issues; don't avoid them. "Millennials are used to adults having an interest in their lives," Rikleen says. They are used to problem-solving support from their elders, she says, which speaks to how quickly millennials may adjust to independent problem-solving work assignments.

"When employing millennials, bosses need to spend time getting to know their staff to know what motivates each of them," she says.

• Millennials understand pressure. "Among my peers, there's a pressure already on us to achieve," Blume says—the feeling of having to work harder and do things better, and that they should have success now. "Then there's an added layer of job market pressure. Some of my peers have a kind of doomsday mentality about the current job market, but I think we're resilient."

Should an employer experience a millennial behaving as though he's ready to be managing partner, evaluate whether he's showing entitled bravado or survivalist resiliency in trying to seize an opportunity in a job-scarce environment.
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