ONS statistics show that millennials (born between 1980 and the early 2000s) will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020. They are the future of professional services firms, and with new generations comes change, and new ideas.

A study conducted by PwC concluded that all of its employees, regardless of their age, were not happy with the firm’s attitude towards work-life balance. However, it’s millennials who speak up about the problem. This example demonstrates a wider trend; compared to older generations, millennials are more likely to highlight a problem within a firm—whether that be structural, operational, or strategic—and are willing to make changes to increase efficiency.

 

 

At Kennedys Law, employees stretch in age from 17 to 77, and range in seniority from apprentices to senior partners. “The biggest difference is young people’s ability to engage with technology—it over-rides everything. It has not overtly affected their communication skills or face to face relationships, but young people are as comfortable communicating through technology as they are verbally,” says HR director Caroline Wilson.

“If you turn back the clock, the 77-year-old at 25 would face similar challenges as 25-year-olds do today. They’re new to the business world, are not as adept at presenting verbally, and it takes experience to be able to do that,” she says. “It’s a bit of a myth that older people communicate better than younger people, they’re just more experienced,” she says.

And even if young people do have a shorter concentration span, they’re able to focus on several things at once, suggesting multi-tasking comes naturally. “Keeping their world varied and making sure they are challenged is the most important thing to do, so that they don’t get bored,” says Wilson. “They’re doing junior work because that’s where you start in any business. However, we need to make sure we’re helping them move up as quickly as they are able, rather than holding them back, because they appear to be bored with the routine and mundane.”

Wilson’s focus is to ensure Kennedys embraces what different generations bring to the work place. “Long term, it will be dangerous if we don’t. We won’t have the next generation working for us,” she says.

 

Career management

 

Although there may be some differences between generations, research from ZS (formerly Hay Group), shows that these have been exaggerated. Instead, the salient factor is how young people’s careers are managed. “People coming into the workforce are often very optimistic and have very positive experiences, and those attitudes gradually decline over time until the middle stage of their career, when they start to increase again,” says Tania Lennon, head of the Talent Assessment and Leadership Expertise Centre at ZS.

Lynda Gratton—writing in her book The 100 Year Life—says the assumptions we make around investing heavily in the early stages of career and education, then building up financial assets no longer apply. Instead, people want to do things differently. “We are already seeing that individuals are making broader choices, not just in terms of pay but wanting to have a wider range of life experiences,” says Lennon. “Yet many of the systems and processes organisations use are still mired in the assumption of a job for life and controlling the individual’s career and development in the way they used to. This needs to change.”

This includes the desire for work to be meaningful and challenging, with high levels of freedom and autonomy. ZS’s research shows the need for opportunity to progress and develop is consistent across all generations, not just millennials.

Traditionally, performance management is based on assessing past performance, rather than determining future performance and potential. Organisations that are getting it right tend to be start-ups, whose greater degree of creativity and sense of purpose attracts younger people.

However, progress isn’t limited to smaller firms. Deloitte is changing its performance management system, with less emphasis on control and past performance, and more on development, although, “I don’t feel that has yet fully entered the way they manage projects which is, of course, the path of professional services and typically has greatest impact on people because it is where they spend most of their time,” says Tania Lennon.

Amazon, Google, Accenture, Adobe, and Netflix have also replaced rating and ranking systems with more fluid, ongoing, and real-time feedback.

 

 

Nurturing company culture

 

“When it comes to differentiating your business from the competition, company culture is key to attracting and retaining the best talent,” says Michael Page’s UK Regional Talent Director, Beverley Nicholas. “Employees increasingly expect companies to be more open, honest, and transparent about their vision, purpose, and values—all of which contribute to an organisation’s culture.

“With talent in high demand and a greater variety of jobs on the market, candidates…

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To read the rest of our long-read, download our whitepaper on the state of the industry and gain data driven insight into the professional services industry as a whole.

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