For the first time in the nation’s history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace. As attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals work beyond retirement age, many law firms and legal departments are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. Although there is no consensus of the exact birth dates that define each generation, they are generally broken into four distinct groups:
- The Traditionalists - Born between 1927 and 1945
- The Baby Boomers - Born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X – Born between 1965 and the early 1980s
- Generation Y – Born in 1980 or later
The diverse perspectives, motivations, attitudes and needs of these four generations have changed the dynamics of the legal workforce. A little insight into the differences among the generations can help you better understand the needs and expectations of your colleagues in an age-diverse workforce. By learning the motivations and generational footprint of each segment, you can leverage your talents and capitalize on the diversity of your legal teams.
Born between 1927 and 1945, Traditionalists (also known as the Silent Generation) in the legal workplace today are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. About 95% of Traditionalists are retired from the workforce. Those who are not retired are at or near retirement age and many are working reduced hours. Many Traditionalists in the legal workplace are aging partners, managers and “of counsel” to law firms.
On the job, Traditionalists are hardworking and loyal. Raised during the Depression, Traditionalists cherish their jobs and are hard workers. Many Traditionalists have worked for only one employer their entire work life and are extremely loyal to coworkers and employers. Traditionalists are great team players and get along well with others in the workplace.
Traditionalists differ from younger generations in how they process and respond to information. They are less tech-savvy than younger generations and prefer in-person interaction to e-mails and technological gadgets. Therefore, the best way to engage this generation is through face-to-face interaction.
Unlike younger generations, Traditionalists are comfortable sitting in long lectures and meetings are less inclined to incorporate video-conferencing and web-based technology into the workplace.
Born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomer generation is predominately in their 40s and 50s. They are well-established in their careers and hold positions of power and authority. This generational segment constitutes a large majority of today’s law firm leaders, corporate executives, senior paralegals and legal managers. In fact, nearly 70 percent of law firm partners are Baby Boomers.
Members of the Post-War War II generation, Baby Boomers are loyal, work-centric and cynical. This generation has lived through many changes in the legal industry and brings a different perspective to the workplace.
Baby Boomers often equate salaries, high billables and long hours with success and commitment to the workplace. They value face time in the office and may not welcome work flexibility or work/life balance trends. High levels of responsibility, perks, praise and challenges will motivate this generation.
(See next page for Generation X and Generation Y)