The future of law is changing. The future of work is changing. The future of legal careers are changing. Expectations of work and life are changing. The Millennial generation get blamed for a lot but it is not their fault though they are the generation that will see the greatest impact on the workforce and they are the generation pushing hard against the norms.
Before I hear you say oh here is just another article on Millennials, what I am writing about is my own experience and reflecting on what I witness and have seen before. Listening and observing friends and colleagues from all generations and you know they are really not that different, or I should say the criticism is mainly unfounded.
The Millennial generation is supposedly those born between 1980 and 1995 and as the 2017 Ipsos Mori report on busting some Millennial myths states that this generation is probably the most widely derided in history. I am going to share my own views on working with Millennials, mainly as an employer, business consultant and career advisor. As far as I can tell they are really no different from any other generation in their working patterns except that technology has enabled them to consume content wider and faster than any other generation before and with that comes an avalanche of choices in work and life.
I was listening recently to Simon Sinek being interviewed by Tom Bilyeu where Simon discussed the so-called Millennial generation and the fact that while many employers find that generation hard to manage as they can appear to be narcissistic, impatient, intolerant, and with a lack of focus and attention - not exactly very positive traits. He goes on to say how this is not their fault but a result of poor parenting, being told they can achieve anything and in short time, and also being the generation where technology and social media has impacted them more profoundly than any other generation before. Where business leaders have failed to understand them and rather than developing and managing their talent they have pandered unsuccessfully to their needs.
Simon goes further by saying that the detrimental effects of constant stimulation and instant gratification through social media causes a greater release of dopamine, which similar to the effects of alcohol, narcotics and gambling, is highly addictive. Now that is where I will leave Simon's much viewed and commented upon interview and get to my point.
I am not so sure that what we are seeing today at work is really any different from Gen Y or Gen X or even my generation - not sure which one it is but I snuck in very very late as a 60's child.
The Ipsos Mori report actually goes to show only a very small difference in job tenure between Millennials and Generation X and when times are tough people stay in their jobs. What may be true is that Millennials challenge the status quo more than any generation before and are doing so loudly. Though interestingly if you look at your facebook, linkedin, twitter, instagram and snapchat feeds what we see is not an ocean of commentary by Millennials on the state of everything in their lives but actually every generation is being more vocal - why? maybe because we all care deeply about what is happening in the world, have more confidence to speak out and up, maybe partly by watching our younger friends and colleagues as well.
Each Generation Gets Criticised by the One Before
Each generation gets criticised by the one before for being more daring, more demanding, having greater expectations, wanting to win faster and louder than the one before. Clearly when we have so many tech billionaires whose businesses were built from a garage during university we create an insatiable desire for immediate success - ok there may be some poetic licence there but you get the point.
When I left university in the late 1990's and within a few months of work I also felt that if pushed hard enough I could do pretty much anything I tried and that I wanted it as much as I could get. I had my first job at 12 and was paid £200 in 1981 for a week's work on a fruit and veg barrow in central London, up at 3am to go to the Covent Garden markets. I wanted to work.
I always felt that starting my own business at 30 was being a bit late to the game, now 14 seems to be the right age. Though a recent Gary Vaynerchuk video suggests keeping your eyes closed until you are 29 - I have to say that I disagree with that for a number of reasons and think it only looks at young men. The very best interns and young employees I have ever had have all been young women, far more driven, curious and hungry for success and to get on with their lives at ages 18-22. There is some neuroscience behind that from what I gather and yes of course there are many exceptions just look at Manu Goswami and Jack Parsons and I am sure many others, Milan Gandhi is one of my favourites.
My fathers generation made their real money in their forties and fifties though I remember in the world of investment banking not many people stayed around into their forties, they had earned huge amounts in their twenties and thirties and burned out fast. So does that sound familiar yes it is - the biggest difference today is that technology has impacted the way that all generations consume information and access to job opportunities has increased exponentially. If you wanted a job 25 years ago you went to a print newspaper and looked in the classifieds or called a headhunter. There was no internet.
In 2017 you can start up a business on the whiff of an oily rag
Today everyone and not just Millennials can create their own business so much easier, faster and cheaper than ever before. Access to capital is much easier, raising money for your start up can be crowdfunded, with so many free and premium hosted platforms you can set up a new business over a weekend and with some canny growth hacking you can be up and running fast for a few thousand dollars, sometimes less. There are also many many spectacular failures and thousands you will never know about. But there is enormous opportunity and you can parade your success all over facebook, twitter and instagram.
There is also a much needed re-alignment to working with real human values and ensuring that where you work is aligned to your own purpose and feeling of self fulfilment, that you have a career and direction, that you as an individual are celebrated - this point is driven harder by all of the motivational speakers and personal development courses. What everyone has are choices.
A generational evolutionary process
What we are witnessing are simply evolutionary traits exhibited by a group of people who have been thrust into a technological explosion not only of interfaces and apps but where technology is so disruptive to industries that many have no idea what they actually want or how to get there, or are being fed doomsday scenarios just to fill up the daily quest for enormous volumes of digital column inches. This generation is questioning the relevance of an education system which is leaving them ill prepared for the reality of working life, that do they need a linear progression through their careers or should they take some time to explore a multitude of opportunities to figure out what they really want.
That last point is what causes employers to raise their eyebrows, pull out their hair and wonder how do we keep them. But is it really any different to what previous generations have done or said, maybe what we are seeing today is just a far more vocal expression of dissatisfaction and a lack of understanding - technology has provided the voice to vent to the world in micro second bursts with instantaneous replies.
I was born in a generation where mobile phones, at least ones not the size of a small suitcase, arrived after university where I wrote all of my exams right through law school long hand, where my watch read the time and my camera only took pictures. I told my 6 year old daughter this recently and her jaw dropped, she asked if we had shops. I could only smile.
As the world of work changes rapidly and the 'gig' economy takes off, there is a greater freedom to explore career paths, to take sabbaticals, to re-invent oneself, learn new skills and to go to work with a purpose to enrich our lives. Now that is not possible for everyone all the time and maybe it is a slightly utopian view but the point is the generation entering work now will see the world from two places, abject horror at what they read and see, will I keep my job and will it be replaced by a robot or alternatively seek opportunity to learn and explore.
It is the latter point combined with the exposure to instant gratification and developing non human traits (not making eye contact, constant searching the net for news, trawling social media feeds for likes and comments) that causes employers most consternation.
However, for me it becomes quite simple if you want a career then you need to stay and learn, if you want to be treated well then you need to make a commitment and offer loyalty, I fully understand and advocate 100% that you should not work for any organisation that is not aligned to your own personal values, that you feel respects you and wants to develop you as a person. There are plenty of those companies that do so, go and find them. The problem has been that the traditional career ladder is no longer so appealing especially if what they they see at the end of it may be financial rewards and a bit of power but unhappiness and an unhealthy attitude to life itself - who would want that.
For me I see the biggest problem for employers is not keeping their younger generation of employees but attracting them in the first place. I still believe that most humans are loyal when treated with respect, equality and have the freedom to think for themselves especially when the lines of communication are open and transparent.
My sector has been law for most of my working life though I have not practised law since my twenties, I still use it and am connected to the industry. The legal profession is seeing enormous change and yes sure of those law tech founders are Millennials but that really has got nothing to do with anything. All I need to do is to read my linkedin feed and see how many Millennials are really scared about whether they will keep their jobs, whether they will actually have a job as a young lawyer, make no mistake they want to work and have a career. If we do not provide them a reasonably safe and well informed journey then they should leave and look at something else to do.
I have been an employer around the world and in different industries and I cannot honestly say that the traits exhibited today are really any different from any other generation born after me. I have had employees who thought that after a years work they should own half my company, simply because they turned up and were there from the beginning, I have seen colleagues younger and older than me turn up to meetings with their ipads or iphones switched on and constantly play with them during meetings they were leading. That is not a Millennial problem it is a human problem.
The instant gratification provided by social media affects everyone who interacts with it regardless of generations - again a human problem.
The cultural problems that exist today in the modern workforce are not the result of one young generation, they are created by older generations and we should be saying a collective thank you to the younger generations for finally voicing their opinion and liberating the older generations as well to say enough is enough, we want change and we will do something about it.