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July 16, 2019 Articles

How Can Millennials Thrive in the Workplace?

Senior colleagues can help younger employees integrate by understanding the environment in which they were raised.

By Ashley J. Heilprin

As employers work to attract young lawyers, they must also examine how to retain millennials, foster their professional development, and empower their leadership. Given the generational differences between baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials, the integration of millennials into the workplace will undoubtedly alter the way business, training, and development are handled in the future.

You Raised Us—Now Work with Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, a 2014 book by Lauren Rikleen, published by the American Bar Association, aims to provide insight to all generations on overcoming generational differences and harnessing unique opportunities as millennials enter the workforce. In particular, female baby boomer and Generation X attorneys have made considerable strides over the past few decades in terms of the power, influence, and achievement of women in the profession, yet millennial women lawyers continue to face unique challenges in assimilating into the workplace. All generations must address these challenges in order to have a work environment where everyone can thrive.

Millennials differ considerably from prior generations. While baby boomers and Generation X value linear paths to success, working independently, and introspection, millennials by nature are more collaborative, circular, and seeking of external approval. In contrast to baby boomers and Generation X, millennials were raised in more protected environments, under heavier supervision. These inherent differences can lead to challenges in the workplace.

Rikleen’s research notes the particular disconnect women millennials face. Namely, women millennials reported a strong desire for senior female role models; yet, one study noted that only 14 percent of millennial women are working in an environment with a woman in a leadership role whose career they wish to emulate. Women millennials also struggle with rejection when seeking support from senior women in their work environments. While women millennials acknowledge the sacrifices that older generations of women have made in order to achieve success, these younger women find it discouraging to be told that to succeed, they must undergo the same sacrifices of family life and long work hours in order to move ahead. Thus, any plan to successfully integrate millennials into the workplace should take into consideration the gender gap within the generational divide.

Rikleen suggests that senior colleagues can help millennials integrate into the workplace by understanding the environment in which millennials were raised. Millennials were raised in more heavily monitored and protected environments than older generations and, consequently, expect coaching and feedback to continue into their professional lives and work environments. Millennials were also raised with a lot of structured systems for review and look for transparency in assessments.

In understanding the environment in which millennials were raised, Rikleen recommends senior generations “can refrain from judging the Millennials because they ask too many questions (‘they don’t know how to do an assignment without hand-holding’) or request too much feedback (‘they always want to hear how they are doing.’)” Similarly, millennials expect clear and consistent measures for evaluation to continue in the workplace.

To create an optimal work environment for all generations, employers should minimize misconceptions between the generations and empower millennials to lead when baby boomers leave the workplace. Rikleen cites a survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership in identifying “clout as the source of most intergenerational conflict.” Replacing clout with mutual respect and developing initiatives that foster mutual support and understanding between the generations will develop a stronger sense of community within the organization. Tangibly, she suggests collaborative discussions that encourage intergenerational dialogue, fostering an appreciation of diversity within the workplace, and training programs for millennials on integrating the culture and adapting to the intergenerational dynamics.

All generations can benefit from a better understanding of the lens through which each generation views the world. While these suggestions are not exhaustive, a careful examination of the ways in which your workplace can better engage, support, integrate, and foster the development of millennials will undoubtedly prove to be fruitful.

Ashley J. Heilprin is with Phelps Dunbar, LLP, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).