New Jersey Law Journal: Generation Education

We hear a lot about “Millennials,” “Gen-Xer’s,” “BabyBoomers” and how we do not understand each other. We three have undertaken here to bridge the generation miscommunication gap with some insights into what we see as very different approaches and goals depending upon which generation you identify with. We do not claim to speak for all members of our respective generations, but hope that these insights will help different generations better understand their colleagues who may seem to otherwise be from a different century—let alone a different generation.

What Motivates You?

Back in the 1950s, the “dream”—what you were working for and was reflected on every commercial and every television show—was the family (husband, 2.5 children and a dog) living in a lovely home with a white picket fence. Even today, many babyboomers are still motivated by “stuff”: the bigger home, the better car, the right club, the better title, i.e., keeping up with—or surpassing—the Joneses. We are not suggesting that this motivation is right or wrong. We do, however, believe that BabyBoomers who assume that their younger counterparts are similarly motivated are often mistaken.

Those of a younger generation do not always value “stuff,” per se. Increasingly, Gen-Xers and Millennials are placing a higher value on experiences—travel, concerts, athletic and cultural events—than they are on owning things. Often, the goal is simply to be financially secure enough to pay for these experiences. The picket fence, marriage and children may be on the back burner, now or forever, in favor of experiences.

Supervising partners who assume their subordinates are focused on the same things that they are may fail to understand that to have an experience-rich life does not just require financial wherewithal, but also flexibility. Flexibility means different things to different people; from a generous vacation schedule to a policy that allows working remotely (and does not penalize those who may miss out on “face time” in the office). Indeed, younger attorneys who place a higher value on experiences may entertain a lower salary in return for a workplace that offers a higher degree of flexibility.

For “brand new” attorneys entering into practice today, motivation for “stuff” or experiences is sometimes lost in the skepticism and uncertainty that plagues today’s legal profession. Chelsea, a 2014 law school graduate, was reminded throughout law school that the legal market, especially in New Jersey, is “oversaturated” with attorneys, and therefore it is important to make oneself stand out from the vast, eager crowd. We were warned that the legal profession is not what it once was, and that a job (much less a high paying job) is not guaranteed. In this climate, many new attorneys have put their dreams on hold to focus more on obtaining a respectable position in a legal market where competition is increasingly fierce.

The lesson? To motivate people, you need to understand what their goals are, which may not be the same as what your goals were at their age. And it certainly helps to be sympathetic to the sometimes anxious mindset of “newly minted” attorneys.

Privacy Expectations

First, a note: We are not talking about security breaches, but rather personal preferences as to what is shared and how.
BabyBoomers did not grow up with the Internet. (Michelle claims to be the only person in her law school section to use a portable computer for her outlines—the Kaypro 2, which weighed a sleek 45 pounds, with a 9-inch screen.) There was no Facebook, no cyber-bullying, and few cellphones. When you went on vacation, you were truly gone, and were not expected to check in. If you wanted to tell someone something newsworthy, you picked up the (landline) telephone, or waited until you next met in person. Research was done manually (in books) and information moved at slower pace.

Those of a young(ish) generation were in high school or college when social media started to take over. Abby had to have a computer for college, but rarely took it to class. “The Facebook” became a thing during Abby’s sophomore year in college, originally available only to those with a “.edu” email address and with no way to upload pictures. Concerns regarding cyber-stalking, misuse of postings by third parties and the potential future implications of that status update and photo album of a night out was an afterthought, if that. Also, Facebook’s privacy settings were not as customizable (or widely known) as they are now. In the mid-2000′s, student organizations started providing programs with the message: “Don’t forget, anyone can see this and you are going to have to get a job one day.” Now, many of Abby’s peers have young children whose every outfit and meltdown is documented on social media, and the debate is turning to the children’s expectation of privacy and their future. (Abby, for one, can think of several of her childhood photos that she is glad are not on social media.)

Of course, this goes both ways. Many of our younger peers would not think twice about “Facebook-stalking” or “Googling” a blind date, potential hire or potential boss. Thus, social media can be a useful tool in “vetting” potential engagements (in the broadest sense).

Most of the newest attorneys are seasoned social media users, having attended college in an era where social media was already thriving and occupying the lives of teenagers, college kids and adults alike. New attorneys like Chelsea have witnessed public relations and professional disasters attributable to careless emailing or inappropriate social media usage. In the minds of the brand new attorney, it is simply assumed that nothing is private. Indeed, those that have embraced this zero-privacy assumption use the Internet to their advantage by proactively “branding” themselves on social media in a way that will make them attractive to future employers.

We are not necessarily suggesting that having every detail of someone’s life at your fingertips is better or worse. However, those BabyBoomers that reject social media may be missing out on how subsequent generations are choosing to communicate and share, and may be out of touch with, and outpaced by, their younger, more electronically savvy counterparts.

“Mommy Track”

BabyBoomers—especially women—remember that promotion killer perception of “mommy track.” Either you were a hard-nosed, aggressive b****, or you planned to have a family eventually, and were never (really) considered to be “partnership material.” Notwithstanding the “Enjoli” perfume commercial assuring women they could “have it all,” BabyBoomer women knew this was often not the case.

Michelle voluntarily stepped off her original partnership track to follow her husband, and his career, to Tokyo for two years. As her children grew up, Michelle juggled career with carpools, concerts and lacrosse games. How successfully she did this is up to her two (now grown) children. She was not at every event, but she was at every emergency room visit.

Now it seems the mommy track is less of a public issue and more of a personal issue. Starting a family isn’t just about whether you and your partner are ready, but whether you feel like your career is ready. Do you feel comfortable taking a full maternity leave (if you are lucky enough to be given paid maternity leave)? Will you miss out on the “best” projects while you are gone?

“Having it all” may be merely a myth. If you are at a child’s soccer game, should you be working? If you are working late, are you missing a dance recital? Some of the conflict seems to come from social media. Stay-at-home Jane’s social media shows that she made all of her children’s baby food herself and spent an afternoon with her children doing a “Pinterest-perfect” craft. Offline, Jane wonders whether her working-mom friends frown upon her for giving up her career.

On the other hand, working-mom Mary sees Jane’s posts and feels guilty when she sees her children after work. Mary worries whether Jane thinks her children are neglected or that the woman trying to have it all is viewed as “the hard-nosed, aggressive b****,” missing out on her children’s formative years.

That said, it seems the day of the stay-at-home mom is becoming a thing of the past. Younger generations have been less exposed to the message that a woman’s job is to raise children and keep the house, and have been raised with the idea that women can and should pursue fulfilling careers (if they so choose). This “evolution” may be a reflection not only of social change but also financial reality—in many households, it is no longer financially feasible to have one parent stay at home. And where families are fortunate enough to afford one stay-at-home parent, we are now seeing households where women are the primary bread winners, with their counterparts opting to stay home.

Here’s the bottom line—as women, we three are faced with an endless array of choices and there is not one “right answer” for us or our (future) families. Perhaps the best we can do is remember to offer support (not judgment) to one another as we make these choices, while understanding what different generations value and prioritize.

Reprinted with permission from the November 10, 2016 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. © 2016. ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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