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Will Millennial Men Change the Workplace?

Vivia Chen

October 16, 2013

Millenial_by_RidoFranz_iStockWhenever I read that Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and early 2000) will shake up the workplace, I'm never sure whether it's a real revolution in the making or just wishful thinking. Didn't we say similar things about Generation X—about how they won't work as hard as their parents?

University of California at Hastings law professor Joan Williams is the latest to argue that Millennials—particularly the men—want a different structure. She writes in the Harvard Business Review blog that there's a generational shift taking place between those currently in executive positions (where 75 percent of the men are married to homemakers) and the group behind them. The "he works all of the time, she does all the housework" arrangement won't cut it with the younger group, writes Williams:

This mindset, created by the peculiar demography of upper-level management, is increasingly out of sync with most of the workforce. Younger men increasingly want schedules that work around family needs—just as women have been demanding for years

Williams gives two curious examples of impending change: surgical residents and blue-collar men. First, Williams notes a study in which Millennial men joined women at four hospitals in Boston to support an 80-hour per week work limitation for surgical residents (traditionally, the limit was 120-hour per week). Second, Williams says Millennial men are crossing class lines to join their blue-collar brothers in rejecting the over-load work culture. She cites a study by Michèle Lamont who finds that blue-collar men regard the competitive, all-consuming corporate ethos to be signs of "selfishness."

Instead of accepting the work-till-you-drop culture, writes Williams:

Millennial men are beginning to do what women have done for decades: to work as consultants or start their own businesses that give them the flexibility for better work-family balance.

Williams says her own study shows that many lawyers "in their prime" left big, fancy law firms "so they could practice law in ways that allow them to be more involved in children’s lives." She adds:

Like blue-collar guys, these younger professional men have different understandings of ambition and different ideals of fatherhood. If they’re unable to change their organizations to allow time for family life, like the young surgeons were, they will leave. (Big Law, take note.)

I'm still not sure that the plight of surgical residents is analogous to Big Law associates, and I'm certainly not convinced that lawyers are now embracing blue collar values. But we won't quibble.

So is Big Law taking note of Millennial priorities? Well, I think Big Law is paying lip service to the whole concept of work-life balance, but I'm not convinced they are changing the basic work structure all that much. And, to be frank, I'm not sure why they need to do so.

While I agree that Millennials are different from their parents (what generation isn't?) and that they're generally more chilled about gender roles (even tough guys change diapers now), I can't imagine law firms or any other profit organization getting more relaxed. Quite the opposite in this competitive, technologically-driven environment.

I mean, are firms and corporations really hurting for talented, eager applicants to fill their partnerships or C-suites? Last time I checked, there were plenty of people (still mainly men) who would gladly sacrifice the family puppy or a distant relative for the privilege.

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

Related post: What Millennials Want on the Job


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Funny - I was having drinks with 3 BigLaw women partners just last night at the Atlanta Lawyers Club - about 35 years old each - and they were complaining about these "kids" coming into the firm these days that "just dind't have the work ethic they did" way back in 2003. Overall, tho, I think you have assessed the situation correctly. No change on the horizon, as far as I see.

Dan B

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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