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The Multigenerational Workforce

Managing and Motivating Multiple Generations in the Legal Workplace


Generation X

Generation X encompasses the 44 to 50 million Americans born between 1965 and 1980. This generation marks the period of birth decline after the baby boom and is significantly smaller than the previous and succeeding generations. Members of Generation X are largely in their 30’s and early 40’s and hold junior partner, senior associate, mid-level paralegal and mid-level support staff positions in law firms as well as middle-management positions in corporate legal departments.

After witnessing the burnout or layoff of their hardworking parents, Generation X entered the workplace with different work ethic and culture than previous generations. Unlike the Boomers, Generation X places a premium on family time and has a different attitude about work. They are ambitious and hardworking but value work/life balance.

In the legal workplace, Generation X dislikes rigid work requirements. They value the freedom to set their own hours. Flexible work schedules and work-from-home options (as long as billable quotas are met)may help to retain and motivate this generation.

Generation X has an entrepreneurial spirit. This generation thrives on diversity, challenge, responsibility and creative input. If their current law firm does not provide them with these opportunities, they will not hesitate to seek an employer who will.

A hands-off attitude often works best when supervising, mentoring or working with this generation. Members of Generation X value freedom and autonomy to achieve desired goals and often prefer to work alone rather than in teams. They dislike “meetings about meetings” and don’t want face time. Flexible hours and challenging assignments will motivate this generation.

Generation Y

Generation Y legal professionals are in their 20s and are just entering the workforce. With numbers estimated as high as 70 million, Generation Y (also known as the Millennials) is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. As law firms compete for available talent, employers cannot ignore the needs, desires and attitudes of this vast generation.

This new generation holds entry level associate, paralegal, law clerk and legal support positions in law firms, corporate legal departments, the government and other practice environments.

Generation Y is smart, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented and tech-savvy. This young generation seeks out creative challenges, personal growth and meaningful careers. They seek supervisors and mentors who are highly engaged in their professional development.

Generation Y are excellent multi-taskers and prefer communications through e-mail and text messaging over face-to-face interaction. Their attitude is “don’t waste my time making me come to your office.” They would rather send an e-mail so they can be drafting a brief, research a case and answering e-mail at the same time. Cybertraining and lectures through web-based delivery systems may be more effective than traditional lectures.

The legal industry is notorious for imposing long hours and billable hour quotas. As Generation Y demands work/life balance in the law firm, employers will need to accommodate them by creating a culture of flexibility. E-mail, laptops, Blackberrys, and other technology tools will help Generation Y work remotely and remain connected 24/7.

When working with or supervising Generation Y, it’s wise to impose structure and stability and cultivate a team-oriented environment. Immediate feedback and praise will help motivate and reassure this young generation. Frequent communication and reassurance will help keep members of Generation Y eager and involved.

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