Can You Say “Millennial”? Law Firm Employees Learn to All Get Along

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01Dec2011

Can You Say “Millennial”? Law Firm Employees Learn to All Get Along

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By Chere Estrin, The Estrin Report

At a dinner the other night, I realized (possibly for the first time) that generational differences in communication absolutely existed.  It started when a group of Millennials at the far end of the table were discussing Kardashian’s spilt from her husband of 72 days, the reported $17 million earned working up towards the $10 million wedding (netting an assumed profit of $7 mil to get dressed up and have a little fun) and whether the whole thing was fake or real.

In the meantime, at the other end of the table, a group of  Baby Boomer friends began to chat about issues of the day that were important to them:  Zantac, Phazyme and Breathe Right Strips.

What brought my sudden awareness about was a book I was asked to review by Jim Finkelstein, called “Fuse,” that talks about the differences between employees fresh out of school and their more seasoned counterparts.  Until dinner of the other night, I had pretty much been ignoring the mashup that fuses the experience and command of Boomers with the techno-smart and boundary-less thought of Millennials.

“Know thyself,” the sages advise.  And they also like its corollary, “Know thy neighbor.” Excellent advice if you are a paralegal working in a law firm that brings on both Boomers and Millennials – a sure thing if the firm recruits first years. Here is one place where the more you know, the more effective you become.

If you are going to exist in today’s legal field, you’re going to have to work with both Boomers and Millennials.  The differences in learning experiences result in differences in characteristics in the workplace. Boomers methodically learned the facts they would need to pass the test.  Millennials learned  through constant connection, multitasking, co-creation and shared experiences.  They use experiential trial and error, constantly check their network feedback, and actively create the learning experience.

Finkelstein offers some tips on how to work together.  After listening to the folks at dinner, I decided that I had better pay attention. So, with an extra Zantac and the expectation that my Breathe Right Strip is waiting patiently for me on my night table, I share these valuable tips for working with Millennials in your firm:

  1. Don’t expect everyone in your firm to immediately embrace Millennial attitudes.  As Beck and Wade, authors of Got Game, say, “Reality changed much faster than our attitudes.” Make sure you and your firm’s attitudes are up-to-date.
  2. 80% of Millennials dislike their jobs. The average Millennial will have 8.6 jobs between the ages of 18 – 31.  Revamp your employee reward and recognition programs. Rewards that please Millennials will probably cost less but mean more:  time off, flextime, pro bono work, networking opportunities, and concert tickets are great motivators.
  3. Embrace some failure.  It is a sure sign that Millennials are learning. Millennials also want EQ (Emotional IQ) – an emotional connection to their employers, work, and colleagues. Millennial-friendly firms are empathetic.
  4. Smart firms assign Millennial employees to make their presence known in the social media sphere.  They constantly update social networking sites with what’s hot in the organization and what socially responsible issues the firm cares about.
  5. The average Millennial works just six hours per day. You can set minimum billable hours of 1800 per year but getting them may pose a problem.
  6. Provide simple pleasures. Invest in a Wii or a Ping Pong table. Watch your employee satisfaction scores climb. Instant gratification keeps on giving. Stock up on movie tickets, Peet’s Coffee gift cards, and other small tokens of appreciation. Give them out the minute you see Millennials doing something noteworthy.
  7. Pay for performance is the compensation system the Boomers typically use to set and increase pay. It doesn’t work for Millennials. Paying for potential (an entirely different post) is the way to motivate Millennials.
  8. Millennials speak bluntly, question everything, and are not obsequious. For Boomers, this can be frustrating. If you want to learn more about how Millennials communicate and think, access the same media they do. Read Wired, The Onion, www.io9.com.  Watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report. Listen to top playlists on Apple’s iTunes and BlogTalkRadio. Browse through YouTube. Read HuffPo or Perez Hilton.  And for heaven’s sake, sign up for Twitter.
  9. Get on Facebook.  Millennials see the world, get their news, connect with peers, shop, play games, and share their lives here.
  10. Appreciate the differences. If you are a Millennial, learn the language of the Boomers. Millennials are not afraid to jump ship.  Woo the ones you want to stay but avoid employee relations reruns.  The workplace is not a democracy.

Originally appeared on The Estrin Report blog.

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