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Millennials Work Like Mad and Make Awesome Associates

Vivia Chen

August 29, 2016

800px-Teens_sharing_a_songI hate to say this but I told you so.

Remember all that fuss about how Millennials are high-maintenance brats who don't have same work ethic as their elders? The American Lawyer devoted a whole issue to the topic in March, declaring that "Millennials are a different breed" and questioning how Big Law should adjust. It predicted that "growing older and settling down probably will not make them conform as much their elders seem to think."

As you might expect, I took a contrary view. "Millennial, Schmillennial," I wrote. From what I've seen, this is not a generation of revolutionaries that's out to change Big Law. If anything, they were bred to please.

Boy was I right. Actually, Millennials are even more pathetically conformist than I thought. Reports Sarah Green Carmichael, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review:

"According to a new survey by Project: Time Off and GfK, Millennials are actually more likely to see themselves — proudly — as “work martyrs” than older workers, and less likely to use all their vacation time."

Here are the traits of work martyrs, according to the HBR:

- Belief that “no one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.”

- Desire "to show complete dedication" to the job.

- Concern that others might "think I am replaceable.”

- Guilt about taking paid time off.

In a nutshell, they see themselves as being indispensable to their jobs—or want desperately to project that image. A perfect brew of narcissism and paranoia that should make them ideal associates! 

Ru Bhatt, managing director at recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa, offers a more nuance view: "I think they're workaholics because they're constantly connected and cranking work out." A Millennial himself, Bhatt says his generation just don't turn off.

The practical effect of these attitudes is that Millennials are working more (24% of Millennials v. 17% of Baby Boomers forfeited vacation time). Plus, they shame those who do, including themselves. HBR notes "that Millennials were much more likely (59%) to feel ashamed for taking or planning a vacation than workers 35 or older (41%). Moreover, Millennials twice as likely to make fun of colleagues who took vacation – 42% of under-35 workers admitted to doing so."

But all work and no play do not boost careers, according to HBR: "In fact, work martyrs are more likely to be stressed at home and at work, and less likely to be happy with their companies and careers." Moreover, they were less likely to receive bonuses or get a raise.

Ask any lawyer and the consensus is that work burnout is a real thing in law firms. "I work my ass off," says a midlevel associate, "and I need my time off."  This associate adds that it would be crazy for anyone to leave vacation time on the table, though there are people who do so.

It might be healthier for lawyers and firms for everyone to take off the standard four weeks, but will most Millennials do so? More importantly, will firms push them to take time off? HBR advocates that managers take a proactive role in steering employees to work less, take time off and smell the flowers.

Maybe some professions will tell those crazy Millennials to knock off the work martyrdom, but I don't see it in law. Seriously, what law firm on this planet will order associates to work less?

Before you know it, 2500 billable hours a year will be the new normal. And firm management will be smiling.




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About The Careerist

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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