People Planning – The Rise of the Millennials

As we’ve recently seen, events are what tend to unravel politicians’ best-laid plans – for professional services, it’s people.

Baby boomers (those born in the 40s, 50s and 60s) are, or soon will be, retiring, and millennials (who, as the name suggests, started working from the year 2000 onwards) are steadily taking over the labour market. Statistics in the US from Deloitte showed that they’ve recently become the largest share of the US labour market, with a growing number occupying senior positions. To secure their futures, professional services firms need to know how to recruit this new generation of talent and, more importantly, learn how to keep them.

Attitudes often inherent in professional services firms – hierarchical, secretive, protective of clients (as the means to power and status within a firm) – once commonplace are now unacceptable, because the next generation doesn’t see the workplace that way. Instead of hierarchy they want team dynamic and flatter structures and instead of secrecy they expect openness and collaboration – illustrated in multiple studies, including PwC’s NextGen study from 2013.

Julia Warrilow, finance and internal operations director at Thursfields, explains how her firm has started to comply with these generational attitudes: “We brought in regular board presentations and we don’t hide information – even in my area of finance. I send out monthly financial information, keeping staff up to date – and most of the feedback we’ve had from our staff shows how involved they feel as a result.”

Of course, this isn’t the only area where millennial and baby boomer attitudes differ. The PwC NextGen study indicates that millennials don’t necessarily see themselves as future equity partners – happy to remain talented professionals with good salaries, without taking on any further risk. This is a big problem for professional services, particularly in the legal industry – though one that could potentially be overcome by corporatising.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, professional services firms need to create clear, well-defined career structures for their employees, clearly signposting their next career stage – if they hope to keep them for any significant amount of time. Law firm Brethertons, for example, has rolled out a transformation plan introducing two distinct career pathways – one for lawyers and one for business support staff, believing that this will play to employees’ strengths.

Millennials also expect greater flexibility in the workplace. This could mean something like PwC’s returnship programme, which takes a more open approach to a woman’s return from maternity leave and gives her the option to try out being back in the workplace before committing. Or it might mean a ‘paid time off’ policy, replacing your traditional statutory holiday policy, and entitling staff to take as much time off they need.

Whatever you think of these generational attitudes one thing is for sure – tomorrow’s talent is today’s challenge. If you expect the most talented and hard-working young professionals to come work for you, you need to change your ways to accommodate them.

This blog is based on an article by Polly Jeanneret in Legal Practice Management magazine July 2016