Tuesday, December 19, 2017

MENTORING IN THE AGE OF THE MILLENNIAL

By David Johnson

"We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help make us grow." – H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

In May 2013, Time Magazine ran a cover story entitled "Millennials – The Me Me Me Generation."  The article outlined the common perceptions (and misperceptions) about this next generation and pointed out that, whether people liked it or not, the Millennial generation had arrived and was approaching the world with a much different mindset than preceding generations.  While the Time Magazine article spent significant time discussing the generalized psychology of the individual Millennial, numerous other studies and articles over the past few years have attempted to predict how this shift in the mental make-up of this generation will impact U.S. business and industry as these individuals assimilate into the workforce.

Who Are the Millennials?

So, what is the Millennial generation?  While the definition varies based upon the source, in general, “Millennials” are defined as those individuals who were born in the years 1980 through the mid- to late-1990’s.  In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 75 million Millennials living the United States, and this generation had eclipsed the “Baby Boomers” as the largest living generation in U.S. history.  According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials surpassed Generation-Xers in 2015 as the majority of workers participating in the U.S. workforce.  And, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that Millennials will make up approximately 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2030.  Therefore, needless to say, the generation of Millennial workers has arrived, and within a few years this generation will dominate U.S. business and industry.

Millennials in Law

As this influx of Millennials have made their way into the ranks of associates and junior partners at law firms, many firms have struggled in their efforts to locate, hire, and develop young lawyers ultimately in order to transition an associate into a partner in the firm.  At the core of this struggle appears to be a generational conflict, pitting the new ideas and expectations of Millennial lawyers against the conventional and long-held views of traditional law firms.  This has led to less “firm loyalty” and much more movement by younger attorneys throughout the legal industry.  While this generational conflict will never be completely eliminated, firms should constantly strive to adapt to this next generation to ensure that they are able to retain Millennial workers and promote them through the leadership of the firm.  

The Impact of Mentorship    

One of the best ways to bridge the generational gaps between older and younger attorneys is to ensure that Millennial attorneys have solid mentorship within the firm.  In 2016, in Deloitte’s yearly “Millennial Study,” the firm attempted to ascertain why there was increasing turnover and “lack of loyalty” by Millennial employees.  The study found that 44 percent of Millennials did not expect to remain with the company more than two years and 84 percent did not see themselves remaining in the company for more than ten years.  Further, the study noted that more than six in ten participants (63 percent) felt their “leadership skills are not being fully developed.”  

However, when surveying the effect of mentorship on individual employees, the study found that those intending to stay with the organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent).  Further, for those with someone acting as a mentor, more than nine in ten describe the quality of advice (94 percent) and level of interest shown in their development (91 percent) as “good.”  And among those with mentors, 83 percent were satisfied with this aspect of their working lives.  So, what is the most effective method of mentoring Millennials, given the understanding that there is a generational gap?  While obviously not an exact science (and with the acknowledgement that this encompasses many generalizations), below are ways to maximize the mentor-mentee relationship with this new generation of attorneys:
 

  • Make them an integral part of the team.  Numerous studies have found that Millennial employees do not want to feel like they are merely a “cog in the machine.”  They want to be given responsibility—real responsibility.  Everyone knows the story of the mega-firms that put their young associates in an office or library and have them spend day and night in their early years reviewing documents, researching case law, and writing memos/first drafts of motions.  While they may be “paying their dues” under this system, they are not developing as attorneys.  Instead, take them to client meetings.  Have them communicate directly with clients and opposing counsel.  If they write a motion, have them argue it (if possible).  Our experience has been that judges appreciate (and some actively encourage) young lawyers to argue matters in their courts.  Overall, the process should be one of collaboration, not solely commanding them on isolated tasks.  

 

  • Provide feedback.  In every article written about mentoring, the importance of providing feedback is always emphasized.  With Millennial employees, the importance of feedback is particularly important.  Through advances in technology, Millennials have spent their entire lives receiving instant feedback on almost every decision they make whether it is receiving “likes” on a photo posted on Instagram or having their tweet of a funny video retweeted by friends on Twitter.  The current education system, too, provides Millennials near-instant online access giving them the tools to track their studies in real time.  

 

  • Work should be no different.  Providing feedback is vitally important for letting them know when they are on the right or wrong track.  Being honest and constructive in assessment of them is also important as it establishes trust and lets them know that you care about developing them into better attorneys.  Lastly, providing positive feedback works as a boost of encouragement, which obviously improves the overall work environment.

 

  • Provide value to their work experience.  Most studies of Millennial employees emphasize that they seek more from their work experience than just doing the work and getting a paycheck.  While receiving competitive and comparable pay is important, for many Millennials, it is not the driving force in what they expect from their employment.  To that end, being flexible in work hours and expectations is vital.  Millennials are the first generation of employees who will spend their entire work life “plugged in.” With 24-hour access to the internet and the prevalence of WiFi hotspots, Millennials are able to work from just about everywhere (home, coffee shop, while traveling, etc.).  Therefore, in-person contact and communications are not as essential to the Millennial as they were to previous generations of employees. 

 

  • Further, keeping up to date with technological advances is vital to making the work environment more satisfying for Millennials.  Studies have shown that some of the most frustrating aspects of work for Millennials are the delays associated with completing tasks because of outdated technology.  Simply put, in this age of instant access, a smooth work flow that is not constricted by technological barriers is absolutely critical.  Lastly, while work is important, there must be an emphasis that the firm values the work/life balance (and doesn’t merely pay lip service to the concept).  Making accommodations to respect and encourage that balance goes a long way in creating a positive work environment.



 

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