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Motivating Your Millennial Employees
By Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed

When Amanda Ross learned that her boss had hired two recent high school grads to fill vacancies in her pizzeria she started to worry. Now 37 years old, Amanda was hired to manage the pizza restaurant five years ago. The prospect of supervising these “almost-20-something” new employees has always filled her with dread.

Part of Amanda’s fear is based on how different (and difficult) the younger generation is proving to be. Her experiences have suggested that Millennials expect instant job promotion and aren’t afraid to challenge company practices if they don’t agree with them. They also are constantly asking for feedback on their performance and demand a lot of face-time with their managers. One manager at another pizza store even told Amanda that his new employees have the audacity to request flexible work schedules, even though they’re brand new to the job and the organization. Amanda’s worried that the challenge of dealing with these demanding new employees will eat up a lot of her time and disrupt the high morale that she’s worked so hard to achieve.

It’s not that Amanda lacks managerial skills. She understands how to conduct on the job training and she is skilled at confronting employees to solve job-related issues and problems. However, with this new batch of Millennial workers coming on board, Amanda realizes that she is going to have to figure out how to motivate her new, younger employees before their job performance becomes an issue…or before they quit and leave her stranded. But guess what? Amanda isn’t the only manager facing this dilemma these days.

Millennials possess a unique set of skills and a somewhat different work ethic than previous generations. They will have a profound impact over the next few years. There are already around 35 million Millennials populating the workplaces of America and by next year there will be more than 58 million members of Generation Y employed in U.S. organizations.

Without question the culture clash between Millennials and earlier generations has already ignited. Veteran employees from the Mature, Boomer and Gen X generations frequently complain about the different attitudes and workplace expectations of Millennials.  Many do not understand why they are the way they are, hindering Millennials’ full engagement in the workplace.  Often this biased thinking prohibits managers from finding Millennials’ unique talents and skills that can contribute to company growth and profitability. 

Yet … writing off your Millennial employees before they have a chance to prove themselves is a big mistake! Generation Y is already one of the best-educated generations in American history. They’re technologically savvy, embrace diversity, and have a strong preference for collaboration to solve problems and seize opportunities. They also have a strong sense of work-life balance or, as they would say, “we work to live” philosophy. If Millennials seem over-confident that’s because they’ve been taught to expect success by teachers and by “helicopter” parents (so-called because they hovered over their children).
In short, Millennials may be a challenge to integrate into your work teams, but over time they’re just as likely to become among your most energetic and successful employees. It is important, however, to adjust your management strategies to take advantage of Millennial preferences and strengths.

Following are four strategies to help leaders adapt to the unique needs and perspectives of these new Millennial employees:

  • Ramp Up Your Onboarding Process – This is not your father’s new employee orientation program! In the old days new employees watched a video on company history, received a policy and procedures manual, and maybe heard a welcome speech from the CEO or owner. Today we bring new employees “on board” by assimilating them into the restaurant culture, providing exposure to different aspects of the business, providing resources on their smartphones or iPads for them to use at their own pace, and helping them to build relationships with current employees and customers. Onboarding is ongoing, with lots of feedback, plenty of checkpoints and close mentoring. The goal is to ensure that all new employees – especially Millennials – become valued contributors while reducing turnover and increasing morale.
  • Profile Your Talent – An important part of onboarding, as well as career management, is to make sure your people are filling positions that are well matched to their talents, skills and interests. Not everyone is meant to answer the phone for take-out orders, or even be a waitress.  You can however use employee profiles and assessments to make a good match. But make sure you use well-designed instruments with high reliability and share those results directly with each employee. Profiles are not tests in the strictest sense of the word, but rather learning opportunities that can increase job satisfaction, provide valuable coaching suggestions to employees, and guide career pathing.
  • Correct Your Corrections – No matter how carefully you onboard your new employees and create a good job fit, the potential for performance problems always exists. But you have to be careful when providing corrective feedback to Millennials.  They’re accustomed to receiving a great deal of praise from parents and teachers and some may have a hard time accepting seemingly negative feedback, especially if overloaded with it or if provided in absence of recognition for work well done. Your corrective feedback needs to be specific and concrete, creating a clear picture for the employee of what was done well and what needs to be improved. Also be sure to focus on your Millennials’ life goals and career aspirations with your feedback so they can see how their actions will affect their future career and life success. When you keep your corrective feedback specific, solution-oriented and forward-focused, you can keep your Millennials motivated and engaged.
  • Create a Fun and Challenging Atmosphere – Millennials, like most employees, prefer to work in an atmosphere that’s productive but also fun. That can mean everything from suggestions to change the restaurant layout to creating new opportunities for customer attraction and retention. Managers can also reinforce teamwork by sponsoring “social” events, such as Friday afternoon “happy hour” (alcohol-free, of course) or teambuilding activities, such as scavenger hunts, Nerf battles, etc. Fun social activities are also a good way to celebrate victories, such as an important customer service milestone or a major total day sales achieved or exceeded. The only limits are the leader’s imagination, but looking for ways to encourage social interactions between and among employees and your customers is a powerful way to build a productive, high-energy workplace.    

As you begin to recruit and integrate Millennials into your work team don’t be afraid to “change up” how you orient, train and manage new hires. Too often in the past, the members of preceding generations were thrown into a new job without much guidance. This “sink or swim” approach won’t work for Millennials, who have experienced extremely attentive teaching and parenting styles as they grew up. Given a fair chance they’ll make strong contributions to your pizza business and may lead the way to a more collaborative, productive and energetic environment.

Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed, is President of KEYGroup and provides businesses with insightful information to create engaged, productive and profitable multi-generational organizations. She is the co-author of the best-selling book, “Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About It.” To hire Jan, visit: www.KEYGroupConsulting.com or call 724-942-7900.