Mind the Generation Gap

InternsWe’ve had three interns working at the Commission this summer, and gee, have they learned a lot!  At least I think they’ve learned a lot, because the rest of us have learned a lot.  Let me explain.  Our hard-working interns, two law students and an undergrad considering attending law school, are Millennials (commonly defined as those born between 1981 and 2000), as is one of our full-time professional staff.  The other three of us are Baby Boomers (generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964).

We’ve worked together as a very effective team this summer, tackling everything from a rebranding project to revising our mentoring program materials, from drafting blog posts to analyzing the engagement of our Twitter followers.  We’ve all learned a lot from these projects.  But the most interesting learning often has come in our weekly staff meetings, where we all sit in the conference room to discuss our projects and outreach meetings.  It has been a great opportunity to hear how various age cohorts think about things differently and to realize how much we have to learn from each other.  Just as many organizations have recognized that racial, ethnic and gender identity can lead to greater breadth of thought and thus better decision-making, we are finding that age diversity is broadening for our small agency as well.

The differences between Millennial workers and Boomer workers are quite real, according to a recent study by Millennial Branding, a research/consulting firm, and Beyond.com, an online career search network.  Millennials are leaving their jobs in large numbers—more than 60% left their employer after less than three years.  Should we expect them to do more job-hopping because they are less established in their careers and have fewer responsibilities tying them down? Have high unemployment rates put pressure on younger workers to take positions that they have no intention of keeping over the long-term? Or is it something else?  According to the survey, the main indicator of whether a Millennial chooses to stay is whether there is a “good cultural fit” with the organization.  Other top reasons they leave:

  • Received a better offer (30%)
  • Career goals aren’t aligned to their company (27%)
  • Lack of career opportunities (13%)

Now employers are struggling to figure out how to retain the group, and with good reason.  The costs of losing Millennials is significant—87% of the companies surveyed said it cost $15,000-25,000 to replace a departed Millennial, and takes between three and seven weeks to hire and train a replacement, increasing the workload and stress of the remaining co-workers and negatively affecting morale and productivity.

The surveyed employers were optimistic—80% believe they can increase their retention of Millennials, and companies are doing so in a variety of ways:  nearly half say they offer flexible work environments; forty percent said they have implemented mentoring programs; and thirty-seven percent indicated they offer internal hiring opportunities, allowing employees exposure to different aspects of the business and thus expanding their knowledge base.  Will these steps stem turnover or maybe even build loyalty?

I’m not sure loyalty is a goal of the Millennials.  When speaking to younger lawyers, I often poke fun at my younger self because when I started as a law firm associate right out of school, I expected I’d retire from that firm.  Really, I did.  I was probably naïve even way back then, but Millennials (rightly, I am sure) think differently about the employer-employee relationship.  They understand, in a way my peers and I did not, that they, not their employer, are responsible for their career path, and they don’t assume much loyalty flowing in either direction.  With pensions and retirement programs dwindling, I suspect workers in the cohort following the MIllennials will likely not understand the concept of “retirement” any more than they can comprehend the need for a butter churn or carbon paper.

It seems counterintuitive (at least to my Boomer brain) that, in this less-than-roaring economy, any age group could demand increased flexibility, training and purpose in their work, but the Millennials are asking, and companies are listening.  More power to them.  Despite our differences, there are more similarities among each generation of workers.  Who doesn’t want a greater sense of purpose in their work, opportunities for growth and the flexibility to achieve some work-life balance?  In my view, we will all benefit from the charge the Millennials are leading, and I, for one, am cheering them on.

What do you think?  What generational differences are you seeing in your work environment?

Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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