Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
~Understanding the multi-generational legal staff~
"I see no hope for the
future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for
certainly all youth are reckless beyond words . . . and exceedingly impatient."
Regardless of your age, doesn't this sound like something you have thought of
the generation that has come after yours? Don't we all think that the next
generation does not work as hard as we did, is not willing to pay its dues and
do what it takes to get it done right? Well, the quote above was written by the
eighth-century Greek poet Hesiod, so it seems as though the idea that the next
generation is never as good as the current one is nothing new.
Recently I had to
conduct interviews for the position of web assistant. During the dreaded process
of looking for, interviewing, choosing and training the new employee, I came to
really understand that there truly is a new world order and that I had to either
figure out a way to work within it or miss out on the best the new generations
have to offer. I had to finally accept the fact that, in order to work with
these new generations, I was going to have to understand them and how they
differ from my own generation: Baby Boomers. [Note: Since this column is
read by practitioners from all generations, the purpose is to discuss the
differences of all the generations and how practitioners from each generation
need to understand all the others.]
For the first time in
history, the workplace will include four generations of workers. Although solos
and small firms have few (if any) employees, this workplace phenomenon and the
conflicts will still have a major impact on the future success of our practices.
The generations, and
their broad characteristics, that now comprise the workforce in many
organizations, including law firms, are:
born between 1900 and 1945, are very loyal and have seldom worked for more than
one employer. They are motivated by the recognition of a job well-done. They are
comfortable with a top-down management style.
Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, tend to be extremely competitive. They
are motivated by symbols of recognition, yet they are optimistic and idealistic.
They are driven and work long hours.
X, born between 1965 and 1980, have little trust in the system. They are not
usually considered team players and tend to work independently. They are more
interested in freedom. They are very concerned with balance in their work lives,
and they are much more willing to switch jobs frequently.
Y, born between 1981 and 1999, believe that their work has value and want to
make a difference. Unlike Gen Xers, they are more civic-minded and sociable.
[This was taken from a chart from the article "Managing a Multigenerational
These are clearly
generalizations, but they point out how difficult it can be when attempting to
manage a firm, deal with clients, and work with other attorneys or clients when
confronted by these real differences. I am firmly convinced that we must learn
to work with all generations if our practices are to prosper. We need to
understand how the different generations think (even if we do not agree with how
they think) so that we can communicate effectively.
differences are most evident when we need to hire someone, be it for a legal
staff position or an associate. It can even be an issue if we want to join
forces with another practitioner or firm for the ultimate purpose of retiring
from the practice. We need to understand how the different generations think and
why in order to make many of these transitions successful. That may mean giving
up on our widely-held belief that our generation (whichever it is) is the best
and hardest-working. I know how hard that can be, but it is absolutely critical.
According to the
Mediation Training Institute International, over 65 percent of performance
problems are a direct result of strained relationships between employees, not
from deficits in individual employees' skills or motivation. And many of the
causes of these strained relationships stem from generational differences. A
person's outlook on life and work depends on when he/she was born. (www.mediationworks.com)
Keep in mind that
multigenerational issues affect much more than just working relationships in the
firm. These differences can affect client relations, attracting new clients and
marketing efforts. It can also affect jury selection and trial outcomes.
What can you do to turn
these differences into advantages and opportunities? According to Mary E. Brady,
in an article entitled "Managing a Multigenerational Workforce" (www.womens
digest.net/departments/career/car0603a.html), there are commonalities:
wants to succeed and people want to feel valued. In most instances, people
do not like conflict, although this might not be completely true in the legal
profession. However, we do see some of this changing as more people look to
mediation for "win-win" situations.
arrows must be pointing in the same direction. There must be common goals
and people need to know what those goals are. We all need clear communication.
"Because I said so" does not work with the X and Y generations.
one wants to operate out of a sense of fear. You cannot bully people into
good work. Collaboration must be encouraged.
finally, the one that we often forget: Everyone likes to have fun. It is
possible and even preferable to have working relationships with others from
different generations. All generations can and must learn from others. Our
firms, our clients and our lives will be much better if we realize that each
generation has much to offer the others.
Much of the discussion
about multigenerational firms is about how the "older" generations need to
understand and learn from the "newer" generations, but I think that is
short-sighted. It is just as important that the learning and understanding move
in both directions – newer from older and older from newer. Each generation has
much to offer, and those practitioners who understand this will be much more
successful in handling the demands of running a practice.
In doing research for
this article, I found many informative articles, which are listed here:
the Generation Gap," ABA Law Practice Management Section. Law Practice
(June 2006; www.lawpractice.org).
a Multigenerational Workforce," The Diversity Manager's Toolkit (2004;
Tips for Multigenerational Inclusion" (www.workforce developmentgroup.com/news_twenty.html).
Future Law Office: The Changing Face of the Legal Industry" (www.futurelawoffice.com).
This is a report and paper done by Robert Half and Associates regarding the
changes that are taking place in the legal industry. While they talk about
larger firms, these issues will affect the legal profession as a whole,
including solo and small firm practitioners.