Just over a year ago at the Inside Counsel Superconference two well respected attorneys by the names of Scott Greenfield and Dan Hull lambasted Generation Y for their lack of work ethic, inability to sacrifice for clients and general sense of entitlement. There was push-back and considerable blog outrage on both sides as you can see in the comments of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Â But in the end the Boomers claimed victory over Generation Y as reported in Jordan Furlong’s article The legacy of work-life balance. Â The economy was just too tough for Generation Y to keep up the fight. Â Nothing more to see here folks, go on home. Â Fast forward a year- and we are hearing a different tune. Â Yesterday the Gen-Y panel was revisited at Superconference.
“One of our young attorneys approached us and said,
‘I’d like to take a year off to live in New Zealand. Â Can you hold the for job for me until I get back?’
“We went back and forth on it, but in the end we decided to grant his request and to hold his position for him. Â It came down to the fact that he was a very talented attorney, and we didn’t want to lose him.”
-Joseph Perkins, Senior Counsel of Cummings Inc. at the 2010 Superconference in Chicago.
Another Baby Boomer audience member explained:
“We wanted the same things as Generation Y, we just didn’t dare to ask.” (Very true, I’m sure everybody agrees that spending a year in New Zealand sounds like a lot of fun.)
To simplify the multiple threads, comments and discussions running from yesterday’s event I’m going to narrow it down to three complaints the Baby Boomers have of Generation Y- and how the panelists and audience members felt they could be handled.
Complaint 1: Â Generation Y doesn’t want to work long hours.
“Generation Y aren’t asking for less hours- just for a more flexible schedule in which to get the work done.” -Boomer audience member.
Members of Generation Y that have made it through the ranks of law school to work at the big firms know that they are expected to work very hard long hours. Â They just want a little flexibility. Â After 8pm at night they are far more comfortable doing legal research in their flannel pajamas on their couch with a laptop than they are sitting in a stuffy office late at night. Â Do younger attorneys need to earn this type of flexible work environment? Â I don’t think so. Â If it’s really about getting the best work for the client, it makes sense to have focused attorneys working where they are comfortable and motivated.
“Generation Y are always plugged into their Blackberry’s- we never stop working.” -Generation Y audience member
Is it possible to get more out of Generation Y than previous generations? Â Definitely, but it won’t work with the traditional office model. Â To lead Generation Y it requires a little more creativity.
Complaint 2: Generation Y want the big paycheck, but aren’t willing to work for it.
“Most Gen Y-ers would prefer a 15% cut in salary and a better teaching environment in their 1st year as associates.” -Panelist Arin Reeves, JD., Ph.D.
In my last year of law school I had two offers that I seriously considered. Â One was at a big city firm with hourly requirements in the 2100 hours-per-year range, and the other was in a local mid-size firm working from 1500-1800. Â Even though the second offer was just over half as much money- it wasn’t a hard decision. Â I had a wife and new child at home to care about- working 8 in the morning until 9 at night just wasn’t attractive to me. Â I wanted to see my son grow up while it was still light outside.
Even large firms are starting to give reduced hour requirements as flex-time options. Â Dorsey & Whitney for example will on a case-by-case basis allow attorneys to bill 75% of full time and receive a 25% cut in pay. Â What an idea, huh?
For Gen Y the money isn’t as important as the flexibility. Â What good is a huge salary if you only have two weeks of vacation per year to enjoy it?
Complaint 3: Generation Y demands explanations for everything ad naseum.
“Generation Y grew up extremely compartmentalized- from soccer practice to day-care groups. Â There was always such a tight schedule that Generation Y is used to having clearly outlined expectations because that is how they are wired. Â That is how Baby Boomers have raised them. Â You have to accept that this younger generation won’t ever be Baby Boomers-their experience is far too different.” -Panelist Arin Reeves, JD., Ph.D.
“Generation Y is full of perfectionists. Â Just set clear expectations for them and they will blow you away.” -Generation X audience member.
Is it worth it? Â Is it really worth if for Baby Boomers to compromise- to adjust the way they are managing Gen Y? Â Does Gen Y have something truly unique to offer, or is the best hope to transform them into Baby Boomer doppelgangers?
“How do you remember September 11th?” Arin Reeves asked the audience. Â “For Generation Y they were teenagers when the towers collapsed. Â They have grown up in a world where they aren’t sure if there will be a tomorrow- so they want the most out of life today.” Â Nothing is permanent in the minds of Generation Y. Â Life can end suddenly, they saw parents who lost jobs or marriages suddenly. Â They want to make the most of their life, and employers that understand this will get the most out of them.
“Generation Y are going to make great leaders, because they see the world in such a different way.” -Arin Reeves
In a couple years Generation Y will outnumber Baby Boomers. Â The firms and companies that get the very best out of Generation Y going forward will know how to motivate them.