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Meaningful work, not pay, motivates Gen-Y lawyers

Engagement, empowerment and strategic communication key to retention  

13 November 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Generation-Y lawyers value job fulfilment more than financial rewards, new research has found.

The survey of 18,000 professionals (including lawyers) found that the biggest motivator for Gen-Y is a sense of purpose in their work.

Incremental pay increases do not, in isolation, motivate and retain them, according to the iOpener Institute research.

Commenting on the survey findings, Jessica Pryce-Jones, founder director of the institute, said that management need to “pay attention to employee feelings of engagement, empowerment, purpose and future development if they are to retain and foster young talent”.

“This is a particular issue for the legal sector, with many legal professionals reporting high levels of stress, a lack of appreciation and insufficient support.”

Job fulfilment a top priority

The research established a strong correlation between belief in the firm’s economic or social purpose, and pride in the organisation and its work, with the likelihood of someone remaining at the firm.

“Managers would therefore do well to help Gen Y by raising awareness of how their organization’s products, services and culture is worthwhile and has a positive impact the on the world,” the report says.

“Providing Gen Y with opportunities to contribute to the community through meaningful work will help retain them in an organization.”

Being involved in work that is both challenging and interesting was also highlighted as a top priority by respondents.

A strong correlation was found between a sense of job fulfilment and the likelihood of recommending the firm to a friend, resulting in positive word-of-mouth recommendations across social networks.

An absence of job fulfilment explained almost 60 per cent of the variance in a Gen-Y employee’s desire to leave.

“Even at the start of their legal careers, many young associates start to question whether the goals and ambitions that brought them into the profession in the first place will be fulfilled,” comments Jill King, the former global director of HR at Linklaters, in her Managing Partner article Disenchanted lawyers: How to increase your retention of young talent.

“For many, a mid-career crisis looms at a relatively young age. Lawyers stop developing under the strain of long hours, repetitive work and a sense of doing it all for commercial expediency or partner profits.”

“If work was allocated with each associate’s development and career interests explicitly in mind, a more motivating relationship between principal and associate would emerge,” King adds in her article Generating leaders: Why you should embrace the priorities of Gen Y.

“With the emergence of a new generation of partners who may see partnership as less of a job for life and more as a potential stepping stone to other things, it will become more important than ever for firms to nurture their young partners and to find ways to bind them into the firm as the next generation of practice and management leaders.”

Creating a sense of alignment

The iOpener research found that, while pay and financial rewards are not unimportant to Gen-Y, there is no significant correlation between increased levels of pay and greater talent retention.

A correlation was however found between the trust that Gen Y employees have in leadership’s corporate strategy and their intention to remain at the firm.

“This highlights the need to regularly and convincingly communicate key points of corporate strategy, along with tangible proof points of how that strategy is being implemented and the contribution it is making to corporate success,” the report says.

The research found that strategies for retaining and attracting Gen-Y talent should include:

  • spreading ‘the word’ every time there is a reason to be proud of the firm (“do this often and by word of mouth; use stories to create engagement”);

  • building pride within the firm by giving recognition to employees and colleagues (“make it a habit and do it regularly for all types of achievement”);

  • creating visibility internally about the economic or social impact of the firm’s work (“link the work that individual Gen Y employees do to that bigger picture”); and

  • ensuring Gen-Y lawyers understand the opportunities on offer within the firm (“tell them how challenging and interesting their future opportunities will be”).


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