Understanding Generational Differences & How To Manage Them At Your Firm

“Generational differences” will continue to be fodder for discussion, now until forever.

Because it’s difficult for people to image a time when mothers, daughters, and granddaughters will actually agree about skirt length and hosiery; or when fathers, sons, and grandsons inheriting a family business won’t stray in both work ethic and management style.

Recently, the New York Post deemed the Generation Y “the worst generation,” in an article that one can only assume was written by a Generation X-er (certainly the last age to make use of the idiom “the pits”).

Within law, the economic recession has definitely divided generations of lawyers.

Young graduates, facing unemployment, become the boss of their own firm instead of joining corporate ranks. Or, associates forgo the partnership track in favor of alternative career options (and more free time).

Clearly, choices among older generations and newer ones vary in the workplace. The question for business decision-makers and law firm administrators is, how do you manage these differences?

Lauren Karasek, author at the Levo League, belongs to Generation Y. And she discusses the transformation of the employer-employee relationship across generations.

The unemployment rate within the age group of 16 to 19 is as high as 21.5 percent, and 13.5 percent for 20 to 25 year olds. Why, then, does this generation seem to shirk off jobs, quit at high rates, and seemingly champion the New York Post’s labels of entitled, oversensitive, and spoiled?

“I would counter those who would malign the work ethic of our generation thusly: Generation Y is growing up in a time that requires a certain type of mania in order to excel as a new entrant to the work force. My mother’s parents inculcated her with stories of a time when qualified people didn’t have jobs— if one among them was lucky enough to find a place of employment, it created a lifelong bond of loyalty. (This was my father’s attitude right up until he was laid off from General Motors.),” writes Karasek in her article “Stop Trying to Make the Flat Hierarchy Work: Why What Gen-Y Wants is Established Seniority.”

“But Generation Y has responded differently—instead of allowing the fear of unemployment pervade our decisions, we (especially women, many of whom have entered high education as a response to the volatile job market) are remaining vigilant for opportunities that meet our expectations of our abilities.”

Still, what concrete action item can managers take away from this opinion?

First, to retain Generation Y employees, employers must realize there exists a different system of incentives. Law firm administrators must treat younger associates differently than more senior ones in terms of salary negotiations, benefits, and performance reviews.

Second, despite the economic recession, law firms have no guarantee that its first-years will not quit unexpectedly. Rehiring and retraining employees takes time and costs money. Quite frankly, more money than is required to ask your youngest associates what they’re looking to accomplish at your firm, and simply create this opportunity.

Perhaps associates desire a hierarchical career path and title. Maybe it’s increased autonomy, flex scheduling, or mentorship.

However you decide to broach generational segregation at your firm, don’t assume what drives firm partners will drive senior attorneys or first-year associates.

Do your due diligence when it comes to employee motivation, realizing, that job satisfaction benefits all parties.

-WB

For more information about what it takes to build a winning team in business, listen to C4CM’s course, “Team Management: Building a Cohesive, Motivated, and Productive Team.”

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