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Retention of Gen Y lawyers

Job fulfilment is key to this generation of digital natives, says Jessica Pryce-Jones.

Retaining Generation Y is a challenge for law firms Chatchawan

Retention of today’s 20-to-30 something workforce is a major phenomenon affecting legal firms both large and small. These Gen Y employees represent the legal profession of the future, yet they also exhibit a new found job mobility. Which makes for a ticking time-bomb of potential cost and disruption to their firm.

The iOpener Institute has gathered and studied questionnaire responses relating to workforce issues from over 18,000 professionals, including lawyers, gaining insights into how employers can retain their Gen Y talent. Like many professions, legal firms have tended to think they can simply throw money at people to retain them. But what is clear from the iOpener Institute’s research is that while pay and financial rewards are important to Gen Y (i.e., they are not prepared to be under-paid for their work), there is no significant correlation between increased levels of pay and greater talent retention.

Job fulfilment is key

But, the research points to the importance of job fulfilment to Gen Y, showing a strong correlation between job fulfilment and the likelihood of quitting. Statistically speaking, Gen Y employees who feel most fulfilled in their jobs are 60 per cent more likely to stay in the role than those who feel least fulfilled. Gen Y employees are simply not prepared to stay in jobs that make them unhappy.

Strategies can be put in place to improve happiness and well-being at work for young lawyers, with positive effects.  The first step is being able to recognize which precise factors are contributing to unhappiness, in order that they may be addressed.

Gen Y lawyers need to believe in the strategic direction that their employer is pursuing. One large international legal firm recently identified that it was losing young talent because these employees felt neither empowered nor respected in a firm they perceived as being mainly populated by white, heterosexual, middle-aged men in suits.  The firm radically reduced its talent loss through a combination of executive training and an internal communications programme illustrating the level of diversity (gender, race, age, sexuality) that had already been achieved.

Digital natives

As digital natives, Gen Y workers are heavily influenced by a company’s reputation online and on social media. More than other age groups, Gen Y turns to these channels to find out about job opportunities and learn about the companies that offer them. So spreading the word about high levels of job fulfilment and enjoyable working culture online will help to attract Gen Y talent.

Firms are recognizing that Gen Y, the future of the legal profession, is different from the previous generations, especially in terms of job mobility. No firm wants to invest in the next generation of lawyers only to find that they leave and destroy return on that investment. It is essential to develop strategies that retain Gen Y talent and attract further top-level candidates in this age group.

There is a growing body of hard evidence to show that identifying the precise underlying components of happiness, empowerment and fulfillment at work are helping to retain the best people. This in turn improves performance and produces a measurable improvement in the bottom line. This is a particularly relevant issue for the legal sector with many legal professionals reporting high levels of stress, lack of appreciation and insufficient support.  Ultimately firms must ensure that Gen Y lawyers understand the opportunities on offer within the organization, enabling them to see a path of progression and job fulfilment.

Jessica Pryce- Jones is joint founder and partner of the iOpener institute for People & Performance.

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05 December 2013

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