Strategies For Managing a Multigenerational Workforce in Your Law Firm

Eric Mochnacz
March 15, 2024

In today’s ever-evolving and dynamic job market, it’s no surprise to see a shift in the diversity of the makeup of the workforce in law firms.  Not only are we talking about racial and ethnic diversity, but there is also a greater diversity in ages and generations.  Gen Z is entering the legal workforce, joining firms with a mix of Millennial, Gen X, and even Baby Boomer employees.  Managing a multigenerational team is rife with opportunities, but may also present some challenges.  Let’s discuss effective strategies for managing generational diversity in your law firm.  

Challenge Stereotypes Through Deed and Training

It’s easy for companies and managers to make assumptions and believe misconceptions about the different generations in the workplace.  Individuals may hold personal biases for those born in different generations, which, in turn, impacts how they work together.  Ultimately, the company has a responsibility to challenge those stereotypes through actions and policy.  

It’s easy to assume that Boomers are workaholics who demand in-office time because they don’t understand technology and need to see others working to ascertain their productivity.  Gen X is often seen as pragmatic with an interminable work ethic,  which can be misinterpreted as solely focused on money and productivity, with little focus on the idealistic nature of the generations that came after them.  Conversely, millennials are often accused of not having a strong work ethic because of their desire to seek out more from their career.  They may be viewed as tech-obsessed, and due to their use of technology, lacking social skills combined with a sense of entitlement.  The misperceptions about Gen Z seem to be extreme, with an assumption they are lazy, tech-addicted, and don’t want to work. 

Although data may support information regarding some of the behaviors listed above, companies have a responsibility to reframe generational characteristics positively as a way to enhance collaboration and business success.  Challenge people when they make age-based assumptions and focus on the unique strengths of the different generations that make up their team.   Encourage an environment built on mutual respect and actively combat falling victim to generational stereotypes. 

Falling victim to stereotypes – and making business decisions based on them – sets the business up for legal trouble.  If a manager turns around and says “I won’t hire them because they are Gen Z”, the company (and HR) have a responsibility to push back and understand what they mean by that statement, and not allow generational misconceptions to influence decisions related to a candidate or an employee.  Generally, anti-discrimination policies address age discrimination in the workplace, but the company is responsible for following those policies and ensuring multigenerational workforces are supported in actual business practice.  One would hope that of all the industries, law firms would be the most sensitive to avoiding discrimination in both deed and practice as they are dialed into legal implications of a workforce where certain ages feel excluded.  

Communicate Openly and Honestly– And Encourage Your Team to Do the Same

Although we want to avoid stereotyping our colleagues based on the year they were born, there is useful information about their generation we can all use to foster effective communication.  Understanding and appreciating our differences, and how different people prefer to communicate, within the context of their generation, is important in managing a multigenerational workforce.  One key difference is older generations may prefer in-person communication while younger generations are comfortable with asynchronous communication through technology tools.  Both are effective, so encourage your teams to acknowledge these differences and identify what needs to be discussed in person and what can be communicated over Slack.  Empower people to clearly state their needs, and encourage others to work to meet those needs, even if it’s against their natural inclination or preference.  Be clear that as a company, you are committed to accommodating different work preferences in the service of multigenerational collaboration and productivity.  

Provide Flexibility

There are a number of ways employers provide flexibility to their employees.  Part of being flexible is acknowledging how different generations define and perceive flexibility.  One primary example is your company’s approach to hybrid/remote work.  Younger generations expect the opportunity to work from home whereas the generations that came before them are used to working from 9 am to 5 pm, every day, in an office.  The return to office debate is centered on the choice you give to your employees, and a proven way to demonstrate a nimble approach to work and an understanding of different generational needs is offering flexible schedules and hybrid work.  Then, set up appropriate support systems, management development, and communication rhythms to support employees who take advantage of the opportunity while others still insist on being present in the office.  As law firms compete for talent, your approach to work and working flexibility will help you stand out in the industry!

Build Strong, Diverse Teams

If we reframe assumptions about each generation as opportunities, it unlocks the potential of having generationally diverse teams.  A Gen Xer or Boomer who has been in the workforce longer, by definition, has more experience to contribute to a team. A long-tenured employee with years of experience in your company has loads of organizational knowledge they can share with newer, younger team members.  On the other hand, Gen Z and Millennials can expose seasoned professionals to new ways of working and guide them through technological advancements to enhance productivity. By recognizing what each person contributes to their role because of their generation, it opens up the doors to build strong, diverse teams with complementary skill sets. In the legal industry, you want to have teams made up of seasoned professionals who are familiar with the law working alongside new lawyers who are willing to take more chances and have a newfound appreciation and progressive approach to the law.

Understand and Respect Boundaries

A team’s ability to work together is connected through a relationship built on mutual respect.  We can’t ignore the role someone’s generation plays on how they work, just like we shouldn’t ignore how someone’s racial identity, sexual identity, or ethnicity impacts the work they do.  It is reasonable, then, to expect employees to set appropriate boundaries based on their work preferences and individual needs.  Aligned with flexibility, regardless of your generation, if a colleague requests something of you that is reasonable based on your job, but may not be the way you would do it based on your preference, respect the fact they are your colleague and act collegially.  Demonstrate respect for their boundaries as well as communicate your own so you can work effectively across generations. 

Encourage Knowledge Sharing

We are not going to be able to change the fact that your workforce is made up of people who span four generations.  Although it’s easy to perceive as an insurmountable barrier, it’s actually a great opportunity for knowledge sharing.  There’s a lot to be gained through organic learning by encouraging different people to share their knowledge.  Whether through formal channels like a mentorship program or just by everyday interaction and collaboration, there’s a lot to learn from different generations in the workplace.  When we embrace these differences and the diversity in our workforce, it opens the doors of opportunities to engage in positive knowledge sharing and professional edification.  At your law firm, there is an incredible benefit to having seasoned lawyers work directly with new graduates because of the immense amount of cross-generational learning that will occur!

Balance Your Multigenerational Workforce with HR Support

Yes, age is just a number.  But, the year we were born does have an impact on how we work, because the conditions of the society in which we were raised influence our behaviors and expectations.  Ignoring generational differences in the workplace and treating everyone the same does not benefit a business.  Embracing the differences and creating nimble, flexible policies and processes that work for all generations does benefit your business. 

As a multigenerational workforce ourselves, Red Clover is equipped to help businesses scale while acknowledging the unique differences that exist in a company’s workplace.  We guide leaders in acknowledging the unique makeup of their workforce and develop people solutions that acknowledge the diversity of their workforce and apply to all people, regardless of generation.  We work across industries with all different types of workforces, and we’re prepared to help you scale your business.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you

Photo Credit – Photo by Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

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