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Talkin' 'bout my generation…….

What's your generation? Baby Boomer 1946 - 1964; Generation X 1965 - 1980; or millennial, born from around 1981 - 2000. And how do you bridge the generation gap at work?

Of course, this topic — and the setting of one generalised group against the other — has been a media staple of late, but the fact remains that the millennials among us (in fact, the more senior ones are pushing 40), are the up-and-coming generation of lawyers and clients.

So do we really understand them, and how can we truly enable them to develop the profession of the future?

The vast majority of graduates applying for traineeships was born between 1981 and 2000.

With that comes a set of expectations, different from those of Generation X or Baby Boomers.

First it might be useful to think what ‘expectations’ really means: we talk about setting expectations and making these clear, but how? Expectation can be defined as ‘a belief that someone should behave in a certain way.’

But what if your expectations and their behaviours are way out of whack?

For example, from mantras such as ‘be anything you want to be’, ‘march to the beat of your own drum’ and ‘chart your own course,” millennials have been exposed to a regime that embeds beliefs and values that support an expectation very often misaligned with the current workplace, where the bosses are most likely from another generation, for the time being anyway.

These millennial v. older generation differences are sometimes expressed as —

  • Entitlement v. duty
  • Equality v. hierarchy
  • Explanation v. action
  • Partnership v. ownership

If employers are perceived as falling short, and these beliefs and values aren’t met or are challenged, the uber confidence that went with them wanes, and we are left having to manage or indeed re-engineer expectations while millennials feel lost in the alien workplace.

But should we be doing this?

What if we embrace their expectations?

Perhaps we demonstrate what they have to invest along the way to be entitled to each rung on the ladder, then they might feel a duty to themselves to achieve, and we benefit.

But maybe rungs on the ladder are not helpful anymore?

Perhaps the idea is to encourage growth by listening and embracing different ideas?

After all, this is the generation used to — and encouraged to — have a voice and use it: just look at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for example.

They offer utter transparency to the rest of the world. With increasing technology this is an inevitability. We can learn from their sense of the world around them.

This is where having something explained and contextualised comes into play. If we have transparency via discussion and collaboration, and understanding, then action can follow. They are not averse to action, they simply need to understand it and see their role in it. Get back the confidence in themselves and offer value.

In this type of partnership, they can learn to take ownership.

It's unlikely blue chip multinationals were going to approach Mark Zuckerberg in his hoodie and ask him to be their CEO. He achieved phenomenal success just by doing his own thing.

If we want to attract and retain talented people to build a future-proof profession and business, we need to build frameworks where the route is clear, but the steps can be on the basis of negotiation and collaboration; where risk and possible failure is valued as a means of mutual learning and growth.

We have the future amongst us: we need to nurture and embrace that, not break it to fit into outmoded expectations.

Transparency, listening, collaboration and value are key.

No generation is better, or worse; just thankfully different. And maybe, after all, we have much in common too.

Oh, and did I mention post-millennial Generation Z is coming of age?

Nan McPherson

Now a member of the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development), Nan has a breadth of experience in the firm, its development, and its recruitment.

Posted, 22 February 2018 by Nan McPherson
Categories: HR