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May 20, 2008

Who cares what makes Generation Y tick?

From a marketing e-mail I received today:

Are you frustrated by young workers who feel entitled to success, need constant praise, want everything to be 'their way'? Are you struggling to attract and retain a generation of workers whose commitment seems more temporary than permanent?

This is Generation Y, a workforce of as many as 70 million, and the first wave is just now taking their place in an increasingly multigenerational workplace.

In this 1-day seminar, we'll show you how to motivate and manage Generation Y. You'll learn what makes them tick, how to retain them, and make them productive and energized.

It's your problem, Gen-X and Gen-Y. Not ours. Work, figure it out, ask questions, and we'll help you--but it's your job to adjust to "us" and the often hard adventure of learning to solve problems for your employer and its clients.

Posted by JD Hull at May 20, 2008 11:59 PM


I convey my deepest appreciation every other Friday. For some, more so than they deserve or contribute.

Posted by: shg at May 20, 2008 01:52 PM

Dan, it isn't a challenge. Every generation has to learn to work with the next generation coming up. Those who opt not to are often left scrambling.

It think it is mutual adjustment...some employers are more inclined to recognize the mountain needs to move a little to accommodate Mohammed.

Posted by: Susan Cartier Liebel at May 20, 2008 04:40 PM

With all respect, Susan, lawyering is hard--and we don't owe anything to anyone who doesn't act like it is hard. No need to adjust down. High standards and work ethic transcend generations. If by mistake you hired any "babies" to work in your office this summer, just fire them. You have my permission.

Posted by: Dan Hull at May 20, 2008 07:20 PM

Dan, of course lawyering is hard. But why is there only one 'working hard' model and if one adjusts that model it is necessarily 'down'.

I know many lawyers who released from the strict 8-9 work day actually work more and harder when less confined to artificial time constraint. Does that mean they are 'babies?' Work ethic is worth ethic, Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomer. But what is wrong with relaxing artificial constraints instead of mandatory compliance to what's worked in the past?

Posted by: Susan Cartier Liebel at May 21, 2008 04:38 AM

Susan, you make good points; you always do. And we get it. But we have no time to present remedial courses in "how to take pride in your work" or "why working hard is way cool". Have you ever had to formulate, finalize and submit a major deal document, opinion letter or brief for a to-die-for publicly-traded client working along side a bunch of wimps? Was it wise for such people to have attended law school in the first place?

Posted by: Dan Hull at May 21, 2008 11:48 AM

I agree that it's the employee's responsibility to adjust to the employer, and I don't really know how different Gen-Yers are than any other generation. But I do think that, from a knowledge management and technology perspective, Gen-Yers (because they grew up on the web) will expect to have certain "web-like" technologies available to them in the firm. I am not talking about IM'ing with their buddies all day long when they should be writing briefs; I'm talking about using "web 2.0" technologies to help them be more efficient and effective associates. I think that those firms that must compete for the "best and brightest" young lawyers need to incorporate some new technologies to attract and keep talented lawyers. I wrote a post about it: "Attorney 2.0 - Generation Y in Your Law Firm" http://lawyerkm.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/attorney-20-generation-y-in-your-law-firm/

And by the way, it's good for the clients, too.

Posted by: Patrick DiDomenico at May 21, 2008 08:26 PM

Dan, I think what you are talking about is believing that Gen Y doesnt' HAVE a work ethic otherwise there would be no need for lessons in 'taking pride in your work ' etc. (I would strongly beg to differ on that point because of all the Gen Ys I know. But they do work differently and are much more independent)

In any screening process you have to be careful to discern work ethic, regardless generation.

The adjustment is in part like Patrick said and in large part getting away from a 'strict leash' mentality and the "I trudged to school barefoot in 10 foot snow drifts..so should you" mentality.

It's a debate which will be played out for a long time :-)

Posted by: Susan Cartier Liebel at May 22, 2008 08:54 PM

Noted, Susan, good and bad workers can be found in any generation. True, Holden and I are both boomers, even if 10 years apart. But Holden is really, really tough. He calls 7-to-9 a "half day", eats only red meat and JIF, drinks only milk--from a dirty shotglass. He jogged to all his classes at Andover and Williams, carrying in each hand a 20 pound sack of books by Ayn Rand and ancient Greeks. He still does this at Stanford Law, where he lives among Gen-Ys, and is making a stand.

Posted by: Dan Hull, and Holden Oliver at May 23, 2008 08:38 AM

Touche! And thanks for the visual. :-)

Posted by: Susan Cartier Liebel at May 23, 2008 08:43 AM

I realize I'm late to the party, and this is really just echoing what Susan has already said, but as a "Gen-Y-er" (whatever that means) I feel compelled to speak up.

I love the implication that Baby Boomers were all work ethic back in the day. Look, I didn't live through the '60s, but I've seen the films. Don't give me this "back in my day, we'd work for 300 hours a week, and our only pay was a nickle and swift kick in the pants, and we were glad to have that" crap. And if you want to start sterotyping generations, then you get to explain why, in your day, reasonable minds could differ on the moral propriety segregated schools, lunch counters, water fountains, and restrooms. (I mean really. There was a legitimate pro-segregation movement -- with U.S. Senators on board. I'm not making this up.)

Many of us "Gen-Y-ers" work our butts off, and those who don't, well, they won't be around the office when those of us who do are running law firms and complaining about the young associates and their new-found sense of entitlement.

In sum, quit talking 'bout my g-g-generation. It's not our fault some hack is trying to sell a worthless seminar.

Posted by: Gen-Y at June 3, 2008 07:38 PM

This is a horrendous slander by greedy, entitled and narcissistic baby boomers. It's also a scheme by which they make another easy and undeserved buck. "Hey, those Gen Y people are lazy but if you pay me $xxx I'll help you work with them."

As a Gen-Yer dealing with financial problems and a dearth of opportunity which you, you grotesque old cretins couldn't have imagined coping with, all I have to say is two words.

F*&k YOU.

Posted by: anonymous at June 3, 2008 11:16 PM

Even as a Boomer, I feel it is short-sighted and egotistical to tell the Gen Y-ers that "it is your problem" and "your job to adjust to us." Of course it is not. The world progresses, and the way business is done now is much different than the way it was done in the past. Who brought about these changes? New generations of workers who had new - not worse - ways of working. We can all learn from each other; in fact we have to, if we want continued success in our practices.

Posted by: Boomer at June 4, 2008 06:06 AM

I find it extremely interesting that the knee-jerk reaction to the above e-mail is to say "I'm older and I sign the checks, so why should I bother with keeping my employees engaged in my business?" The e-mail in question is offering a seminar to show how to manage Gen-Y employees in such a fashion that you keep them happy and productive.

Do employees have a right to be treated in a way that keeps them happy and productive by their employers?

Does an employer have a duty to manage its workforce in a way that keeps employee morale high?

Is it in a firm's interest to retain particularly intelligent, competent, and productive employees?

Of this class of employees, who is more likely to remain with the firm - the employee who is happy, motivated, and feels that the firm's culture parallels his or her own values; or the employee who feels unhappy, unappreciated, and has difficulty communicating these concerns to their superiors?

If you want to find and keep the best people, you have to make them feel like your office is the best place to work, and for the vast majority of people that goes beyond the size of their pay check, especially when other employers will match the salary.

Posted by: Mr. Mynor at June 4, 2008 09:52 AM

It may depend upon what you mean by "artificial time constraint." I want you in the office when I am. Is that artificial? You'll have to live with that, or you'll be working somewhere else.

Does artificial mean "when the client or court want it?" You'll have to live with that, or you'll ultimately lose your license to practice law.

Posted by: barbara at June 6, 2008 01:54 PM

Barbara--Will you marry me?

Posted by: Dan Hull at June 6, 2008 03:07 PM

I'm a GenY-er, and I would say that although I agree with the general premise that it's the employee's job to adjust to the employer's needs and requirements, the so-called epidemic of self-entitled GenY-ers is overblown. And it's also belied by an increasingly demanding and cutthroat work environment, particularly in Biglaw. Thirty years ago, it was unheard of for a firm to require associates to bill 1950 hours a year; now it's the norm (although it's true that associate salaries have risen to an absurd level, they're dwarfed by increasingly massive partner profits and billing rates). It's getting harder and harder to make partner, so much so that a significant number of associates are leaving Biglaw not because they find the work unfulfilling, but because they don't consider making partner a realistic or worthwhile goal. I would sure like to meet these bratty GenY-ers you speak of; most 20-something junior associates I know are worried about making their hours, meeting their deadlines, and (these days) not getting laid off.

Posted by: AnonymousJuniorAssociate at July 11, 2008 12:39 AM

The boomer's have systematically destroyed all that once made life bearable: marriage, traditional faith, the hope of financial security. In place of what used to be the societal superstructure, our generation has been force fed the consumer culture. We still feel empty. The money you pay is not worth it. When I pay off my loans (twenty years from now) you can kiss my ass. And after you are dead, which unfortunately will take a while and cripple our generation financially, we can correct the gervious injuries that your generation inflicted on humanity. If the present election is any indication, boomer's are incompetent leaders who's malignant narcissism is only exceeded, at times, by their myopia. Take your second trophy wives, McMansions, and blinding self love with you when you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Posted by: Patrick Bateman at July 11, 2008 06:12 AM

Very interesting thoughts, Patrick. And now that we know who you are, a few special boomers will be paying you a visit to help with your cultural indoctrination and re-education. I see that we've failed you, and we will make up for that deficit.

No need to worry about your future. We'll take care of everything. Everything.

Posted by: shg at July 11, 2008 07:17 AM

Well, uh, if it affects the business model, then it is your problem. To put it another way: if (benefits - costs) is maximized by an accommodation and capitulation to Generation Y, then it IS your responsibility.

You might laugh at that possibility. But it's happening in medicine, engineering, and accounting (I'm an accountant considering law school). The overabundance of J.D.'s may preclude such a situation in law; but you never know.

Hey, it's not a moral thing. It's not written in the bible/koran/ayn rand that it's the employee's job to adjust. It's a function of price elasticity of supply and demand for labor. The sooner people like you recognize that, the better for everyone.

Posted by: chuck at July 20, 2008 11:37 PM

Good points, all, Chuck.

We're confident that there will always be highly qualified graduates who think it's (1) a privilege to work and (2) a privilege to practice law. It just may be a bit harder to find them these days. Well, it IS harder. There is a built-in low standard--and you see it a lot. It seems to stem from the fact that some younger lawyers have lots of self-esteem, but little willingness to consider that their work might at turns be mediocre and in need of improvement. They seem to be in denial about it, or are too thin-skinned and/or outraged by criticism to let it sink in correctly.

There are wonderful exceptions, too.

Generally, though, employees who think they call the shots in the legal markets are in for a hard time. The reason: they don't know anything yet--and they won't for a while. Practicing law is very very hard, even for brilliant people who work at it. And clients don't want young lawyers--even accomplished ones who made Law Review at fine schools--working on their projects if they have built-in low standards which they refuse to change, i.e., "my whole life, my parents/my teachers/everyone told me that everything I did was perfect so I am not going to change."

Posted by: Dan Hull at July 21, 2008 11:37 AM

Please excuse the generalization of my post, I have never worked in law. That said:

There have always been generation gaps, not just recently and not just in the white-collar world. In my opinion, the person in charge of marketing the above mentioned seminar failed horribly in his goals (and where is the seminar for "Gen Y" to learn how to adapt to the working world?). All he has done is incited anger from both generations and provided the opportunity for each side to nit-pick each other and widen the gap. Unless, of course, this was some sort of weird sociological experiment. If so, congratulations, Mr. Professor, you've just proven that different generations don't understand each other, duh...

As with any generational gap, the problem lies with both sides. Both sides have good points, but they are both stubborn in their viewpoints. I don't know about anyone else my age (mid-late 30's), but I feel a bit stuck in the middle, and as though I witnessed the sociological factors that seem to have made this gap wider than previous generational gaps. For example: The decline (and, in a way, criminalization) of punishment and discipline in schools and the home, Enron (and other various corporate "atrocities"), the 2000 election, etc. Luckily for me, a sense of ethics, integrity and accountability were instilled into me before these events happened, but I can still see the effects it has had on peers younger than myself and my child, a "Gen Yer". More and more I hear "Why should I give my all for a company who is just going to steal my retirement funds?" and "Why vote, it's just going to go to the guy with the most money and connections" from people under 30. At the same time I hear people over 40 complain that this generation is thin-skinned, doesn't have a good work ethic, and needs constant coddling and motivation.

In my humble opinion, both the "Boomers" and the "Gen Y" need to work together to find a solution and/or compromise. Both generations have a lot to offer each other. Perhaps if adjustments were made by both laterally, not "up" or "down".

Posted by: Girl Friday at July 31, 2008 07:49 AM

Aren't boomers the parents of Gen-Y? Didn't you want us to have easier less demanding lives? Didn't you want us to have better childhoods than you had? Didn't your parents think that you were ungrateful whiners? Pretty sure all this "entitlement" your talking about is exactly what you wanted for you children... seems funny that same thing is being cursed now... Guess we want our kids to have it just as tough and demanding as us...

Posted by: Generation Y at August 5, 2008 01:49 PM

I'm still just a law student--though an older one. I've noticed something that needs an answer: Why do virtually all GenY commenters never identify themselves? Protecting those traumatic real-world jobs they hate? A millennial spine shortage?

Posted by: Holden Oliver at August 5, 2008 07:39 PM

Oh my goodness...

"A millennial spine shortage?"

Even though the "Boomers" appear to be refusing to answer a lot of the legitimate questions the "Generation Y" crowd seems to be asking, I will try to answer your question, Mr. Oliver.

I believe that they do not identify themselves for two reasons. One, because that's what their parents taught them (at least any parent that has half a brain), and two, they value privacy. The internet is not necessarily a safe place to be throwing around identifying information, and in a society where it is commonplace to submit to invasions of privacy in order to even gain employment, it is just good sense to protect oneself while honestly giving your opinion (even on legitimate boards such as these). So yes, in a way, they are protecting their real-world jobs/lives, regardless if they hate them or not. It has more to do with having a brain than a spine.

That's the beauty of the internet, folks. Everyone can speak their minds with out fear of repercussions, if they take the proper precautions.

Now, will someone please answer their questions instead of attempting to insult their posture? I'm curious as well as to how many of "Generation Y" were born and raised by "Boomers". Personally, I think most of the "Boomers" are actually grandparents of the incoming "Gen-Y" workforce. I thought it was "Generation-X" that was raised by the "Boomers"? It's all too generalized and subjective for me to tell.

Posted by: Girl Friday at August 7, 2008 07:34 AM

Its is all about affluence.

Boomers had a choice of work or starve.

Gen X had work or get social security cheque and be miserable but alive.

Gen Y has work or move back in with parents affluent enough to support while feet are re found.

The slave driving reign of terror that employers used to be able to get away with (and think is still acceptable because it happened to them) is now a take it or leave it rather than something you have to put up with.

These days the news (or the horrific ramblings of the criminally stupid as it more seems to be) is rife with people who have gone off and made a quick couple of million in start up entrepreneurial adventures.

Why slog for 20 years to not make partner when you can knock up a website and flog it for a couple million.

That’s all. One generation does not think you have other options One generation thinks you can (indeed might have to) jump from career to career.

Posted by: D McCulley at August 8, 2008 08:35 AM


Boomers don't have my respect. And I don't want the respect that you have. I respect your ink on endorsement line of my check.

"There is no goodwill for the unearned dollars thrown your way."

I'll tell you, I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. Your generation of partners would lay off every associate if you thought that you'd have to put gold knobs on your yachts cabinets instead of platinum, or more to the point: if it meant that you couldn't pay off the party-girl videographer that you are knocked up on the side while your wife was weak with cancer(like the Boomer that typifies your generation). Your generation does not have the moral high ground.

You seem to suffer under the delusion that we were once your prospective comrades in arms. Your generation loves itself way to much to ever see any other as its prospective equal. And I'll kiss your ass alright, charging you as much as I possibly can, till I pay off my loans. Then I'll spit on your palatial, self-indulgent grave.

"[F]or the good of the company[?!]"

Did you stumble upon this site from your desk at Mitsubishi in 1980? Ha. . HAHAHAHA. The company's warm embrace keeps me safe at night and hushes away the fears I have about paying 60%+ of my income in taxes as a result of the boomers' shortsighted, wasteful, and ineffective management of this country or being out on the street when the house of cards economy that the boomers have built comes crashing to the ground. I may have a lot to learn about being a lawyer, but I have nothing to learn from your generation about a)running a business (except for feudal fiefdoms) or b) being a decent human being.

Your time has come as well. Soon enough I'll be drawing breath and you'll be in the ground. Thanks for the cautionary tale.

Posted by: Patrick Bateman at August 13, 2008 08:00 PM

Wow, I'm feeling the cold breath of Fight Club here, as well as a disturbing sympathy for psychotics (NB, allegedly better-read Boomers, that 'Patrick' didn't, actually, ID himself; his name is the character's name from Easton Ellis's books) though from a Englishman's perspective this crazed 'us and them' debate looks misdirected.

I'm one of those people - 37 this year - who's somewhere between X and Y and looks somewhat askance at this kind of raging. I work hard, but I don't run a business like my dad did, and as such, were I to currently have children I may, you know, actually see them from time to time. I don't earn in real money what he did, but I chose journalism for my career which is traditionally low-paid. That doesn't bother me as much as you might think - I like getting up and coming to work, and I know lots of people who don't, and strangely they often earn a lot more than me.

However, over here in Blighty the argument roaring through this thread might make more sense - in fact, pretty much anywhere in Europe it might make more sense than it does on this thread. Why? Well, social welfare funding, public pensions systems (UK, mainly), publicly funded healthcare (mainly UK, but also Nordic countries and, I think, France) are all deeply affected by the effects of the Boomers' and Gen-Y's behaviour in terms of public spending (tax) vs personal profits, as well as the effects of their longevity (not, I think we can all admit, really their 'fault').

As usual with a good ole-fashioned fistfight on a good blog, the point's been allowed to wander off to the side. For sure our task is and has always been how to, in fact, subvert Boomers' businesses from the inside to make them more adapted to how we want our lives to be. That means getting in there in the first place. Changing work modes from the outside only happens if you set up your own firm or just follow your own path. Which means, usually, becoming an entrepreneur or web-tycoon (neither of those being, in reality, slackervilles either ever (entrepreneurship) or in the end (Mr Facebook works, er, pretty hard, as do Mssrs Google)).

Lawyering will change, Dan, but it doesn't mean an invasion of Gen-Yers will bring customer service down with it. After all, we're also incredibly frustrated with outsourced call centres, zero corporate customer service, faceless corps and government worlds where no one, ever, is accountable for anything anyone does. I'm sure you'll get that last point - it's what this blog is all about.

Tell you what Gen-Y workers, and the next lot too, might bring to lawyering that will truly change it for the better - a generation that has grown up with the need to interact more (not necessarily better) with real people, via the internet and other modern comms. That's got to be good for customer service in a time-poor, comms-rich society.

Bring on the future.

Posted by: Rupert at August 18, 2008 02:56 AM

Rupert, we're honored to have you weigh in.

Posted by: Dan Hull at August 18, 2008 05:14 AM

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