A Generational Disconnect

Observations of generational differences is nothing new in the workplace (or anyplace), but this one feels different, and I am loving the one I see right now in big law.  

Firstly, Gen Z, I am here for you!  I am really hoping you’re the law firm generation we’ve been waiting for.  Your commitment to your boundaries is both refreshing and terrifying and holds a lot of power to change a seriously overtired status quo.

A coupla months ago, in a senior associate leadership coaching cohort, a lawyer quipped, “I don’t know what to do about these first year associates.  They say “no.”  I heard last week from an associate unable to help with a project because she had weekend plans.  Like, on one hand I want to applaud her for putting her life first.  And on the other, fuck her, I had to spend my whole weekend doing that work.”


And yet, I see both sides.

There are expectations and demands that have to be met.  And if there’s no one to help, we have to do it all ourselves.  

As an industry, we have set unreasonably high expectations for ourselves and others.  These excesses in expectations and demands have led to staggering rates of burnout, depression, substance abuse, divorce, and suicide amongst lawyers.  

I used to blame partners and leaders finding success in a broken status quo.  For a few minutes I even blamed clients for setting unreasonable demands and expectations.  But I now realize we are all responsible for our small part in a system that rewards toxic perfectionism and high achievement over all else.  We are killing ourselves, our people, and our organizations.  And for what?

For money?  

That’s not going to work for much longer.  Too many people are figuring out that money ain’t worth that.

And it doesn’t have to be.  There is a way to make a lot of money by working really hard without giving up weekends, vacations, date nights, bedtime, family, self-love.  

It all starts with setting and then holding boundaries. 

Which is exactly what these kids today are doing.  And without a doubt, these newbies are going to have to strike a balance between enforcing their boundaries and earning that big ass paycheck (which does mean some sacrifice sometimes!).  

But the rest of us have a thing or two to learn from them about what’s really important in life.  

So maybe we should all hear each other out and figure out a way to remake how we set demands and expectations, set up boundaries to hold them in, and maybe even how much money that’s all worth?


On Key

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