A multigenerational workforce offers significant benefits to any company, and law department leadership can optimize those benefits by working to harmonize their respective efforts.
Remarkably, in today’s workplace, there can be as many as four distinct generations of workers, each of which brings its own unique experiences and values to the job:
- The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X members are the Boomer’s children, born between 1965 and 1980
- The Millennial generation (between 1981 and 2000)
- Members of Generation Z, born between 2001 and 2020
Uniting the effort of these disparate staff members into a motivated, content, and productive workforce takes insight, attention, and strategizing.
Uniting the Multigenerational Legal Team
Today’s law office runs decidedly differently than those of even a decade ago. Attorneys in practice before the Internet may struggle to embrace the wide variety of options it offers both them and their clients. Attorneys who’ve only practiced using technology may not understand or appreciate how standardized legal functions worked or evolved prior to the advent of that digital tool. As well, there are likely differences in preferred communication methods and frequencies, and ideal work schedules. The benefit that overcomes those gaps is that having attorneys from all four generations delivers the unique talent base each one brings. Managing their expectations helps them to work together without losing those specific values. Rather than focusing on the challenges presented by these varied generations, law department leaders can combine their respective assets, shaping a more productive and expansive skill set across the corps.
Three concepts are significant to ensure that the expectations of each generation are met, allowing attorneys to do their best work individually and as a team.
1. Unify their respective experience and knowledge bases
As a unit, your team members’ individual knowledge bases and skill sets can enhance their colleagues’ comprehension of common concerns and issues. Sharing elements of their personal knowledge can provide training and mentoring across the workforce, which also builds a more cohesive staff.
A multigenerational workforce will also generate enhanced creativity for problem-solving. Each group brings the tools and know-how they’ve learned and honed over their work life. When combined, those experiences and attributes can facilitate the development of a broader range of possible solutions than those presented by any one age group. This knowledge transfer can significantly impact productivity now and in the future.
Perhaps most importantly, mentoring relationships should be encouraged, allowing younger and older lawyers to learn from and teach each other their ‘new’ ways of doing things. Professional and personal socializing among generations helps build new awareness for all and can significantly raise office morale and enhance retention efforts.
2. Expand their communication capacity
Communicating on any level can be especially tricky between the oldest and youngest corps members. More senior members may prefer traditional work arrangements including frequent in-person engagement, while younger members are content to work remotely. However, even remote workers need some face-to-face time with their workmates, and it’s possible to find a balance that can benefit everyone. Arrange for dedicated ‘staff meetings,’ social events, and training opportunities so that members of the entire department can engage together in its shared camaraderie.
Develop a variety of options to facilitate feedback across the department. Older generations may be satisfied with monthly or even annual performance reviews. Younger lawyers may be looking for input on a more frequent basis. Taking the time to personalize communication methods and frequencies will benefit overall productivity and allow your team members to feel valued and heard.
3. Build a better workplace
Again, these generations have distinctly different perspectives about the meaning of ‘work,’ which don’t (and shouldn’t) inhibit the quality of their effort. Adopting a variety of work/life balancing practices allows each to work in their personally preferred environment.
The remote economy driven by the COVID pandemic demonstrated that physical attendance in an office setting isn’t necessary for consistent productivity. At the same time, older generations may prefer to have a dedicated office space where they can easily and confidentially confer with colleagues. Providing options for both – or even variations on those themes – ensures each attorney can perform to capacity regardless of how or where they choose to do so.
Flexible work hours matter, too. Younger professionals may be more attuned to family obligations than their older colleagues, regardless of their gender—track work effort by measuring outputs and outcomes, not by a rigid calendar of hours.y
Two More Benefits to Consider
Like many businesses, law departments sometimes expand their workforce to accommodate fluctuations in workloads. A well-designed multigenerational department is also better prepared to incorporate temporary staff attorneys, so they can effectively lighten the load without disrupting daily operations.
And a multigenerational law department serves another corporate cause: it facilitates a succession strategy built from the inside. Those attorneys who shine at the administration aspect of their work may well be the company’s next General Counsel.
The legal world has changed immensely over the past fifty years and so have the expectations of both corporate administrations and legal practitioners. Harnessing the exceptional talents offered by an age-diverse legal department can bring significant value to the company. Addressing the disparate needs and expectations of the different generations can enhance not only the quality of their work but also open and maintain a dialogue that leads to a better understanding of their colleagues.