The Shifting Attitudes of Workplace Millennials

Workplace MillennialsNext week, we will swear in a new class of lawyers in Illinois. Many of these new lawyers will be millennials – young people born between 1980 and 2000 – who have had a tremendous impact on the legal workplace. We at the Commission on Professionalism have written a number of articles on workplace millennials. We even have an e-learning module about them.

A recent American Lawyer article on large law firm millennials pointed out the number of law firms recognizing the effect of workplace millennials. Firms are implementing remote working policies, choose your own technology programs, and have dramatically overhauled their workspaces to de-emphasize corner offices and install open areas. Firms are including associates on strategic planning, business pitches, even on their management committees. So, it seems, law firms have listened to what the social commentary is on workplace millennials – they want flexibility, leadership, integration, collaboration – and have adjusted accordingly.

But that was for last year’s millennial attorney. What about the 2017 millennial, the one being sworn in on Thursday? Over the past year, our nation, and our world, have undergone some dramatic shifts, from Brexit to the 2016 election to terrorism attacks to ongoing economic, political and social crises. Have these shifts had an impact on how millennials view their workplaces? Turns out, they have.

Five Key Takeaways from Workplace Millennials

Earlier this year, Deloitte released a report on the views of almost 8000 workplace millennials surveyed in 2016 across 30 countries. Participants surveyed all had a college degree, were employed full-time, and worked in private sector organizations. Here are five key takeaways from the report:

1. Millennials are concerned about global insecurity. At least some of them.

Millennials are certainly impacted by what’s happening in the world. However, they are being impacted slightly differently based on where they live. Millennials in developed countries, or mature markets like the UK, the US, and Australia, are far more pessimistic about social and economic conditions than millennials in developing countries, or emerging markets like the Philippines, Peru, and India. In fact, according to Deloitte, “confidence levels [in emerging markets] are the highest recorded in this series.” In addition, millennials in emerging markets expect to be materially and emotionally better off than their parents, while millennials in mature markets feel that their generation is the one that “stopped getting better.” What’s interesting to note is how this tracks very similarly with the sense of “white middle America malaise” that several observers still see as the root of the 2016 election results. Does that feeling hold true when American millennials are comparing themselves to the rest of the world?

One immediate lesson here for legal employers in the US is to invest more resources into well-being programming and changes to the workplace that can improve the well-being of all attorneys. Lawyers consistently rank low on well-being and resiliency, even without the global anxiety currently characterizing the millennial population. The Deloitte report should add to the chorus of the many individuals and organizations calling on the legal profession to do more when it comes to the well-being of all attorneys, including millennials.

2. Millennials are more loyal to their employers.

As I’ve written about before with respect to Traditionalists, the men and women who grew up during the Great Depression and the World Wars, uncertain markets lead to loyal employees. It seems that Millennials are doing the same. Political, economic, and social anxiety means that, like the Traditionalists before them, Millennials are staying at their jobs, keeping their benefits, and turning down opportunities to leave. In 2016, 44% of millennials were planning on leaving their jobs within two years. A year later, that number had plunged to 38%. Meanwhile the percentage of millennials planning to stay with their employer beyond five years increased from 27% to 31%. In the US, the report notes, millennials are more likely to say that they will stay beyond five years than leave within two.

This is huge. For decades, observers have noticed millennials are far more job transient than any other generation. Is that trend changing? And what does that mean for legal employers, like those mentioned in the American Lawyer, who have changed many of their work policies to keep millennials employed and happy?

3. Social impact still matters.

As the saying goes however, the more things change, the more they stay the same. One thing has remained constant across years of millennial study. Millennials still want to work for employers with a social conscience. Working for employers who work for social justice helps workplace millennials feel more empowered to fight environmental and social challenges in their countries. Through their workplace, millennials find a greater sense of control and empowerment which provides them with a more positive mindset in the workplace.

What does that mean for legal employers? If you are an organization designing pro bono opportunities or social justice work for your millennial employees, think about how that feeling of empowerment and need to create change translates into those opportunities, and how it can, in turn, increase the sense of well-being in your workplace.

4. Both millennial employees and their employers see flex work benefits.

Flex work delivers benefits, both economic and psychological. 67% of workplace millennials surveyed now engage in work with flexible start and end times. 64% are able to work remotely, 21% higher than last year’s number. Crucially, millennials see the ability to work flexibly as directly related to improved performance and employee retention. Millennials report that flex working arrangements support greater productivity and employee engagement, while enhancing their personal well-being, health, and happiness. As Deloitte says, workplace millennials want the best of both worlds, “freelance flexibility with full-time stability.”

5. But the robots are still coming for everyone.

We have long sounded the alarm on this issue: the future is now. Deloitte is clear: automation will transform everyone’s workplace, especially millennials. And millennials know that. Many recognize the pros of automation: increased productivity and economic growth, as well as the ability to learn new skills and expand creative activities. On the cons side, however, 40% see automation as a threat to their jobs, 44% believe there will be less demand for the jobs, and 53% see the workplace becoming more impersonal and less human. We often talk about the need to retrain law students into 21st century practice ready lawyers, with an understanding of big data, predictive analytics, cloud computing, alternative billing, and alternative business structures. The Deloitte report suggests that the need is urgent. Millennials are recognizing it too.

Future Challenges

Next Thursday, we will welcome our new class of attorneys, many of whom will be millennials. We as a profession need to recognize that the challenges they face are ever-growing, and the anxieties they experience may be different than what we’ve seen before. We need to constantly check the assumptions we make and the conclusion we draw about workplace millennials and recognize that as times change, so too will this generation.

What will the 2018 Millennials Report reveal? Will the events of the past year change the millennial outlook even more? I predict they will. I urge every legal employer to read these reports, and other studies of generational attitudes, and see how their findings might positively influence how you recruit, manage, retain, and lead tomorrow’s workplace millennials.

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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