Let's look at some pieces of this debate involving Gen Y, a.k.a. millennials, those lawyers in the workplace who are under 30. The controversy between them and baby boomers is often very heated. The matters of disagreement seem to center on work-life balance and client service. (Let me add that this disagreement is occurring not only in the legal profession; I hear about it in many professions and industries, including the medical profession.)
Bruce Tulgan has called the millennials "high maintenance." (E.g, here.) They take extra time and energy to manage. They need more attention. My first question: Why take the extra resources to get them to do a good job? That is not a rhetorical question. I'm asking for your response. I know how authors of the books on this cohort respond but what do YOU say? (In fact, I am asking for your opinions on all four of my questions.)
Another piece of the puzzle. Some of them may be narcissists.
According to psychological researcher and professor Dr. Jean Twenge, nearly one in ten 20-somethings are narcissists, compared with 3% of people over 65. In fact, she believes that the number of narcissists in our culture equals what she calls an "epidemic." Read more in "Narcissism Epidemic: Why There Are So Many Narcissists Now" (US News & World Report).
Of course, there are boomer narcissists in law firms. But they typically have a strong belief in client service; it is almost as if the client becomes a part of their narcissism, which can be in the client's best interest. My next question: What do young narcissists bring to a firm and its clients if their focus on work-life balance does not include an equally strong focus on client service?
I continue to ask myself where the client service focus is in this generational wrangling. In fact, that is what I listen for when I hear the discussions. How much is it mentioned? If at all?
My friend Susan Cartier Liebel posted an article from Forbes.com "A Job Suffused With Meaning? Bring It On!" about the generational differences and commonalities. And then she posted this comment which I
include here with her permission:
There's a ridiculous term floating around 'Slackoisie' to describe Gen Y. It offended me because it implies wanting something 'different' then the same work model meant you were in your parent's basement, eating potato chips in your pajamas playing on the internet waiting for your million dollar idea without working for it. I'm a tail-end baby boomer and I totally relate to this article. I want to fall down in a stupor when I hear that those who want to change the model are slackers (ergo the term 'slackoisie'). If someone can build a better mouse trap, bring it on!
What these 'elders' are really offended by is something noted in this article, a lack of respect and skepticism for those over 30, that somehow those under 30 know more, are better qualified to do anything and resent those over 30 for the world we live in which isn't to their current liking. But that's a very different reason for 'over 30's' disdain of Gen Y. It has nothing to do with their work ethic. It has to do with Gen Y's lack of 'respect' and maybe even gratitude for those who are older.
And maybe this is simply nothing knew...except the terminology.
To Susan I say that I am very concerned about what I hear many of these Gen Ys saying, but my concern is not about change—or respect or skepticism. I know that change is a constant and that the world—even the legal profession—is certainly not static. As I said above, one thing that troubles me deeply in this ongoing discussion about the generations is the important matter of client service. In the millennial cries for work-life balance, I seldom hear the client mentioned. (I have posted about this absence before.) Third question: Has there been a shift in what is considered the lawyer's responsibility for client service?
Work-life balance (could someone come up with another phrase? this one's getting very old) and client service are not either/or. Both can, often do, and most often should co-exist. Both are important. But both do not seem to hold the same weight in the hearts of at least some millennials. Last question: Why then did they become members of a service profession?
Another note: The millennials have been known to label the boomers as workaholics. Here's a link to an earlier post at idealawg: Hot, cool and cold worms: A contrarian look at work-life balance and so-called "workaholism". There you can find my article "What we can learn from hot worms, or why it's okay to be a 'workaholic'" (TRIAL).
Other blog posts on this topic:
- Are Generation Y Lawyers a Bunch of Slackers? (Legal Blog Watch)
- Does The Word "Slackoisie" Offend You? Good (Simple Justice)
- Work/Life Balance & Law: Are they mutually exclusive (Law And More)
- Old People Attack Gen Y's Work Ethic, Again. (Above the Law)
- A better way of looking at work-life balance, don't you think? (idealawg)
Image credit: Kevin Steele.