Diversity Dialogue Broadening Business Perspectives

The Shifting Attitudes of Workplace Millennials

Recently, we swore in a new class of lawyers in Illinois. Many of these new lawyers were Millennials — people born between 1980 and 2000 — who have had a tremendous effect on the legal workplace.

Michelle Silverthorn

A recent American Lawyer article on Millennials at large law firms pointed out the number of firms recognizing their impact. Firms are implementing remote working policies and choose-your-own technology programs, and they are dramatically overhauling their workspaces to de-emphasize corner offices and install open areas. Firms are including associates on strategic planning, business pitches and even management committees. So, it seems that they’ve listened to the social commentary about Millennials — that they want flexibility, leadership, integration and collaboration at work — and have adjusted accordingly.

But that was for last year’s Millennial attorney. What about the today’s Millennial, the one being sworn in now?


Last year, Deloitte released a report on the views of almost 8,000 Millennials across 30 countries surveyed in 2016. All the participants had a college degree and were employed full time in private sector organizations. Here are five key takeaways from the report:

1. Millennials are concerned about global insecurity. The way Millennials are affected by what’s happening in the world differs based on where they live. Millennials in developed countries (mature markets like the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia) are far more pessimistic about social and economic conditions than Millennials in developing countries (emerging markets like the Philippines, Peru and India). In fact, according to Deloitte, “confidence levels [in emerging markets] are the highest recorded in this series.” In addition, Millennials in emerging markets expect to be materially and emotionally better off than their parents, while Millennials in mature markets feel that their generation is the one that “stopped getting better.”

One immediate lesson here for U.S. legal employers is to invest more resources into well-being programming and workplace changes that can improve the quality of life for attorneys. Lawyers consistently rank low on well-being and resiliency, even without the global anxiety that characterizes Millennials.

I urge every legal employer to read these reports — and other studies of generational attitudes — to see how their findings might positively influence how you recruit, manage, retain and lead Millennials.

2. Millennials are more loyal to their employers. Uncertain markets lead to loyal employees. It seems that Millennials tend toward similar behaviors as Traditionalists, the men and women born between the Great Depression and World War II. Political, economic and social anxiety means that Millennials are staying at their jobs, keeping their benefits and turning down opportunities to leave.

In 2016, 44 percent of Millennials were planning on leaving their jobs within two years. A year later, that number had plunged to 38 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Millennials planning to stay with their employer beyond five years increased from 27 percent to 31 percent. In the United States, the report notes that Millennials are more likely to say that they will stay beyond five years than leave within two.

3. Social impact still matters. One thing has remained constant across years of Millennial study: They still want to work for employers with a social conscience. Working for social-justice-minded employers helps Millennials feel empowered to fight environmental and social challenges. Millennials find a greater sense of control and empowerment through their workplace, which provides them with a more positive mindset at work.

What does that mean for legal employers? If you are designing pro bono or social justice work for your Millennial employees, think about how to foster those feelings of empowerment and need to create change and how they can, in turn, increase the sense of well-being in your workplace.

4. Both Millennials and their employers see the benefits of flex work. Of the workplace Millennials surveyed, 67 percent engage in work with flexible start and end times. And 64 percent can work remotely — 21 percent higher than last year’s number. Crucially, Millennials see the ability to work flexibly as directly related to improved performance and employee retention. Millennials report that flex working arrangements support greater productivity and employee engagement, while enhancing their personal well-being, health and happiness. As Deloitte says, workplace Millennials want the best of both worlds: “freelance flexibility with full-time stability.”

5. But the robots are still coming for everyone. Deloitte is clear: Automation will transform the workplace for everyone, especially Millennials. And Millennials know that. Many recognize the pros of automation — increased productivity and economic growth, as well as the ability to learn new skills and expand creative activities. On the cons side, however, 40 percent see automation as a threat to their jobs and 53 percent see the workplace becoming more impersonal and less human. We often talk about the need to retrain law students into 21st century practice-ready lawyers with an understanding of big data, predictive analytics, cloud computing, alternative billing and alternative business structures. The Deloitte report suggests that the need is urgent.


We as a profession need to recognize that the challenges Millennials face are ever-growing, and the anxieties they experience may be different than what we’ve seen before. We need to constantly check the assumptions we make and the conclusions we draw about them.

What will a 2018 Millennials survey reveal? Will the events of the past year change the Millennial outlook even more? I predict they will. I urge every legal employer to read these reports — and other studies of generational attitudes — to see how their findings might positively influence how you recruit, manage, retain and lead Millennials.