DTCI: A baby boomer responds to the millennial generation

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kevin tyra DTCIIn the March 9-22, 2016, issue of Indiana Lawyer, my friend Nabeela Virjee discussed the differences, and divide, between her generation (“millennials”) and mine, especially as it plays out in today’s legal workplace. She then focused on communication issues between the generations, particularly as technology affects them.

As Nabeela identified the age ranges of the groups, baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X members were born between 1965 and 1980; and millennials (Generation Y) were born between 1981 and 1995, which means they are currently about 21 to 35 years old.

As Nabeela described millennials in her column, they could be stereotyped as “entitled, self-absorbed, and addicted to our phones;” and perhaps from the perspective of some boomers, “lazy.” Nabeela went on to say that millennials have a strong desire for immediate information, an increased desire for flexibility, as well as a desire to be an integral part of a team. And for my two cents’ worth, millennials seem to be more interested in a little work-life balance and not selling themselves into indentured servitude for a partnership that may or may not ever happen.

I gave Nabeela’s column a lot of thought, and came away with this: Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”

No, wait, that’s not it. Let’s try this: “Let’s cut the kids some slack.”

First, if we give any credence to the above descriptors of millennials, how did their upbringing develop those qualities? We boomers were the ones who raised them. We’re the ones who handed out the participation ribbons and hovered over them.

And what else helped form the millennials, especially the extent to which millennials may not be as “committed” to their jobs? Maybe watching their parents get worked over by their employers, especially during the employment bloodlettings in 2008-09. And for the parents who didn’t lose their jobs, watching their parents work like crazy at their jobs where maybe the rewards came, maybe they didn’t.

Second, what was so great about the law firm culture in which most boomers started? Millennials have heard the urban legends about boomer associates 30 years ago jumping through whatever hoops the partners told them to, and in general allowing themselves to be treated like dirt, in hopes of someday grabbing the brass ring. Those are the good old days boomers think millennials should try to emulate?

Third, let’s put this all in a little intergenerational perspective. Many boomers don’t think millennials are sufficiently committed to their jobs and their futures with their employers. To whatever extent boomers are “disappointed” in millennials, that is a fraction of the disappointment, generally speaking, the Greatest Generation (the boomers’ parents) had in so many young boomers about 40-50 years ago. Do today’s boomers, hitting around 60 or 65 years old, really forget that when we were young, we were almost universally viewed by our parents as (and in very many cases, really were) disrespectful, long-haired, pot-smoking hippies? Or at a minimum, unworthy of succeeding a generation that grew up in the Great Depression and won World War II?

So boomers are now expected to work on a somewhat more collaborative basis with their juniors, and maybe remember more often to give constructive feedback, and in particular to share some words of praise when warranted? What, that’s going to kill you?

It’s worth it, especially when the upside of millennials can be terrific, starting with their tremendous technological talents,as well as their creativity and energy.

(Thanks to my colleague and millennial, Elizabeth Steele, for her input on this column, for which she received a participation ribbon.)•

Kevin C. Tyra is a director of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and the principal of The Tyra Law Firm, P.C. in Indianapolis. He is also the chair of the DTCI membership committee. The opinions are those of the author.

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