This same time period has coincided with the entry into the workforce of the oldest members of Generation Z, the cohort generally described as those born from 1997 onward. Gen Z, as they’re referred to, is the most diverse generation yet — and they’re passionate about the world they live in. Their choice of workplace is an extension of their values and beliefs — to that end, they want to work for firms whose values align with their own. What do legal administrators need to understand about this next wave of potential employees?
NOT AFRAID TO ASK SOME QUESTIONS
Some issues that might be top of mind for a potential Gen Z employee as they’re mulling which legal shop they want to work for: What is a firm doing from a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) standpoint? What is it doing from an environmental standpoint?
The most successful organizations will be those that take these matters seriously and thoughtfully rather than implementing a superficial checkbox approach. In part, this means showing a consistent, ongoing commitment toward “walking the walk” rather than participating in one-off events and then putting the issues aside for the remainder of the year.
Does the company bring in a DEI speaker once a year and then consider their efforts on this front satisfactorily addressed? Do they give employees a few hours off on Earth Day to pick up trash from the local park and then not examine whether their office space uses disposable single-use plastic cups in the break room? Do things for a reason, not for a season.
CULTURE MATTERS MORE THAN YOU THINK
Gen Z might also have some questions about the workplace culture. Is there a commitment to work-life balance and the overall well-being of the employee? Even more than a firm’s stance on DEI issues or environmental impact, the day-in, day-out culture is where an organization’s values are expressed most clearly.
It might be seen as difficult to establish and maintain a strong culture in the midst of a pandemic when employees more often than not aren’t physically located in the same place at the same time — but this just means organizations need to be very intentional about fostering culture.
This can take the form of everything from regular Zoom happy hours to a mandatory “Day of Wellness” — a companywide holiday that allows everyone to unplug and take care of themselves. These actions speak volumes about what kind of culture the organization values.
TECHNOLOGY MATTERS, TOO
Tools and technology are not immaterial matters to Gen Z, as they’re the most digital-native generation yet. The iPhone was launched in 2007, so they’ve effectively never known a world where they didn’t access to information at their fingertips anytime, anywhere. Additionally, from their earliest years, they’ve been immersed in the smooth and intuitive user interfaces provided by Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and other consumer tech services.
“[Gen Z’s] choice of workplace is an extension of their values and beliefs — to that end, they want to work for firms whose values align with their own.”
How would a member of Gen Z rate a law firm or corporate legal department that only provided ancient, clunky desktop tools and no ability to easily access key files outside the office? Not very highly. They would likely say to themselves, “I’m not sure this organization values the same things I value or is even remotely interested in creating the kind of workplace that would attract me. I think I’ll see if another organization is a better fit.”
Ultimately, the direction a firm takes with the tools and technology it provides to employees expresses its values and indirectly contributes to overall culture — for better or worse.
WORTH THE INVESTMENT
Lest legal administrators think young employees are the only ones asking about these sorts of things, rest assured potential clients are starting to ask as well. Increasingly, they are requesting information about the demographic makeup of senior leadership or the size of a company’s carbon footprint in their requests for proposals (RFPs) to help them decide which companies they want to do business with.
And just like potential employees, clients also care about what tools and technology a firm is using — not just because it signals how much a culture of innovation exists within the organization but also because of some very real concerns around whether the firm can effectively address privacy, security and governance. Clients also want to know that firms are working efficiently. Law firm clients certainly have a keen interest in knowing that billable hours are being optimized, and technology can have a key role in driving that efficiency.
In focusing on what’s important to Gen Z — from values to technology — firms may wind up also addressing some of the top areas of interest of clients. For any legal organization with an eye on continued success in the years to come, this is just smart business all around.