Generation Y Redefining Work/Life Balance, Even in the Legal Industry

law2.jpgby Anna T. Collins, Esquire (Portland, Maine)

Today’s workplace is a multi-generation melting pot. While Generation Xers step into positions formerly held by Baby Boomers, members of the Millennial generation, also called Generation Y, are filling entry-level positions while also competing for more coveted opportunities. The entrance of the Millennials is infusing a new perspective into the work/life balance debate, one that underlines the unique skills of Generation Y women and the challenges they cannot overcome without successful mentorship.

Patricia Lawrence Kolaras, Esq., President of The PLK Law Group, P.C. in New Jersey, a boutique law firm specializing in business transactions and intellectual property law, believes that Generation Y women bring many assets to the work place. Patricia recently hired a new attorney right out of law school – 25 year old Kimberly Graison.

Patricia describes her working relationship with Kim as integral to the ongoing success of her company. When it comes to emerging technologies in the workplace, Patricia finds Kim to be “instrumental” and notes that Kim can “fix anything”. After recalling an important project that involved technology and an unexpected emergency, Patricia gushes: “Without her input, there’s no telling how I would have finagled.”

Kim has also helped Patricia achieve work/life balance. Patricia says that “there is no set formula about how to achieve work/life balance.” She finds herself taking things one task at a time. “I try not to stop and think,” she shares “If I stop and agonize, I get paralyzed”. With two young children to raise, a marriage to foster, and an ailing parent to care for, it is no wonder Patricia does not stop. She relies heavily upon her Blackberry to “make it all work” and upon her new associate to be the face of her company when she is not in the office.

While technology provides tools for successful women to find balance, some say technology also creates challenges that Generation Y women are especially equipped to handle. Sharon L. Friedrich, a senior associate at McKinley Irvin, the largest family law firm in Washington state, finds that technology leads to the expectation of constant availability. As a result, work/life balance “is never easy”.

While Generation Y women are very comfortable with technology, Sharon believes they are so reliant upon instant availability of technology that they “lack interpersonal communication skills”. For Sharon, work/ life balance is not only about being able to concentrate fully at work and at home, but also about connecting fully with her clients and family. Generation Y women, while better equipped to confront the pressures technology accentuates, struggle to experience this type of full connection. To prevent technology from getting in the way of living, Patricia Kolaras has the following rule: “When I am home,” she says “I have to put my Blackberry away.” After her children go to sleep, however, Patricia schedules conferences and completes her work. While she is finding a way to focus fully on the moment, she is also creatively merging her work and family life when necessary.

Sharon Bloodworth, a partner at White Oaks Wealth Advisors, Inc., believes Generation Y women are better at asking for flexibility whereas her own generation, Generation X, “fell into line with traditional work schedules much more easily”. Sharon adds that Generation Y women tend to behave “more like owners which can be a real benefit”. She explains that “as an owner you are more focused on outcomes than having someone tied to a desk…I know my best ideas come to me when I am recharging. Generation Y also does not contain their work innovation ideas to the 9-5 zone.”

Bethany L. LaFlam, partner at LaFlam Sullivan, LLP , a business law firm in Newport Beach, California sometimes both envies and resents what she describes as “seeming selfishness and sense of entitlement that comes with youth, particularly Generation Y”. She explains that the envy comes from the fact that “these women seem completely capable of getting what they want without worrying how it affects others.” The resentment, on the other hand stems from her view that “Generation X tends to work hard for the sake of working hard, whereas Generation Y tends to try to get by with as little effort as possible”. For Bethany, “so long as the end result is positive, then one approach isn’t necessarily better than the other.”

Patricia Kolaras believes that it is important to “nurture” Generation Y women so that they can reach their fullest potential. Patricia finds that successful mentoring requires open discussion with young women about each task and the best potential approach. She feels that more experienced women can benefit from Generation Y women’s skills while providing valuable mentorship.
Bethany LaFlam agrees that Generation Y women can offer more experienced women a different perspective. “What I can learn from Generation Y” she confesses “is that ‘working hard doesn’t necessarily equal success and isn’t always required.” Generation Y women, on the other hand, can learn that sometimes women “have to work hard in the beginning and sacrifice for a long term payout.”

The words of these successful women offer valuable insight into how the arrival of the Millennials is redefining work life balance. Regardless of the potential multi-generational tensions, Generation Y women are inspiring a deeper discussion about work/life balance. As long as more experienced women are willing to share their views and mentor openly while Generation Y women continue to listen, all generations are likely to benefit.