2012 November: Managing and Motivating Young Employees

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Managing and motivating the younger employee can be one of the most challenging situations a manager faces. How in the world do you get optimal performance from someone in the “younger generation” who may not seem to want to be motivated?

Many managers think it’s impossible to bridge the gap. Others, however, have successfully obtained high performance and loyalty from Gen Y. These managers realize that the idea that young people cannot be motivated and do not want to be strong contributors to an organization is just a myth.

Don’t get caught dismissing the possibilities of Gen Y. You have the potential to hire younger workers and turn them into superior employees. Assuming that you’ve hired someone with a good attitude, you can rely on these young workers to rise to the occasion. They are technically savvy and energetic, and they can be challenged to be top performers. Here’s what they wish they could tell their managers:

“I want an interesting and challenging job.”

Most members of this generation have a short attention span. If you want to retain your younger workers, give them more than a “job.” Give them problems to solve, challenging situations and a stimulating environment. They are attracted to and will likely stay in workplaces where they are continually stimulated.

If their job role is repetitious, they will get bored easily and feel less productive. In addition to current job responsibilities, give them assignments that will make them feel their feedback is vital to the organization. Assign them to a task force or put them on a project.

“I want to work for a company with a great future.”

Many young employees do not know the “vision” of their top executive—most likely because it is not clearly and frequently expressed. A younger employee will not be satisfied to stay with an organization that doesn’t communicate leadership direction. Describe your company’s direction with clarity and consistency. Ask your younger workers how they interpret that direction. Share your strategy for creating and sustaining success.

 
“I want to work for a company that is well managed.”

Younger employees may not have experience, but they do recognize the importance of management’s performance. They become discouraged when their “leaders” are not performing well and are not taking action where needed. If the management of your company cannot effectively lead, nothing else matters to the younger generation. They will become frustrated. Worse, they will become demotivated and leave as soon as they get another opportunity.

“I want to work for a company that has strong values.”

The younger generation likes being with company that espouses values in sync with their own. While the work and pay are important to younger workers, never underestimate the importance of values. Your core values should include honesty, integrity, teamwork, respect, customer focus, accountability, excellence, continuous improvement, health and safety, family, commitment and environmental stewardship. The latter is important to them because they grew up learning about the importance of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” in school. An overwhelming majority of young workers have expressed this in numerous surveys. They will lose respect for a company that doesn’t take sustainability seriously.

“When you hire me, I want to prove myself, but I don’t necessarily want to work as hard as you do at first. You will need to give me a reason to be motivated and that would be YOU.”

Unless they have an MBA, most young employees have not internalized the importance of customer service or making a profit. To motivate them, you need make them want to be motivated and perform well. They must want to follow your lead.

“I want a great boss who plays down authority, mentors me, recognizes my talents and believes in me.”

Just because you are “the boss” doesn’t mean you automatically have the respect of the younger generation. You have to earn it. You earn it by building trust and by playing down authority. Take personal interest in them, mentor them, and display honesty, integrity and fairness. Continually exhibit every aspect of dynamic leadership. Once a young worker trusts and respects you, he or she will perform for you even if the job is not their dream job.

As busy as you are, find the time to ask your young employees what they enjoy doing in their spare time and what hobbies they have. Ask where they see themselves in the future. Ask if they have personal and professional goals. Show an interest!

Once you are confident of the competency and quality of their work, tell them you have every confidence in them and that you trust them. (Doing so is a very strong motivator.) Then let them run with the ball. Don’t micromanage. Giving young people the responsibility and authority to accomplish results is one of the most effective ways to obtain the most from them.

“I want to understand how my boss thinks.”

The days of “do what I tell you to do” are over forever. When interacting with younger employees, take a few minutes to explain your rationale and why you do things the way you do. Just three short minutes of explanation can make a young employee feel special and provide invaluable insight into your organization.

“I want to be accepted and treated exactly the same as every other employee, even if I don’t have the same amount of experience.”

Treat young employees the same as your seasoned employees. If you don’t, they will pick up on it immediately. Remind your seasoned employees that younger employees must be treated with the same importance and respect as others and explain why diversity in age groups is beneficial to every team.


“I want to have a voice in the decision-making.”

Young workers enjoy organizations and departments that have a high level of employee involvement. They want to participate in idea-sharing and problem-solving sessions. Their ideas are often fresh and new. Include young employees in these sessions or place them on task forces to help in this area. Ask for their opinions on a frequent basis. Give them a say in how work their work gets done.


“I’d rather go home on time to be with friends and family because I value life-balance more than you do.”

Young employees look upon their job as what they do between weekends. They value life balance. If they have to work longer hours, they become unhappy unless paid or rewarded.


“I want great technology and social media access.”

Studies have proven that young employees prefer communication via technology. If you want your younger worker to be able to relate to you and you still don’t know how to send a text message, now would be a good time to learn. Young people are constantly connected to information and constantly communicating with peers. Their brains are programmed to absorb and process information from many sources quickly. The good news is that their ease in mastering new technology can help others in your company learn how to use it. Ask them for their assistance.

“I want training.”

Training young employees demonstrates that they are important to you. Smart managers set up regular teaching sessions for them on different parts of the business. Some companies set up workshops to expose younger employees to different aspects of the business. If you recognize leadership ability, tell the employee that you recognize them as a future leader in your company and train them on how to demonstrate leadership. Remind them that they don’t need a title to be a leader.

“I want to be appreciated for my work.”

As Dale Carnegie said, “All human beings have two invisible signs. One says, ‘Make me feel important.’ The other says, ‘Appreciate me.’” Younger people want and need approval; they also want to feel a sense of accomplishment. Tell younger workers that you have observed their hard work and how much you appreciate it. No manager can expect high performance from any employee without praise and appreciation.


“I like informal environments and may not have the understanding of professionalism as you do.”

When you hire young people, explain how to answer the phone, what to wear, and what not to wear, and other aspects of being professional. Ask them to define “professionalism” and help them understand what it means: coming in on time, helping others, respecting company property, refraining from gossip and negativity, and recognizing that they should think and act as ambassadors of your company.

“I want to work at a place that I look forward to going to work each day, and maybe even have some fun.”

Fun in the workplace. What a novel idea! Most people think that we need to take our work seriously. Of course we do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little fun along the way. Learn to make work as fun as possible. Sales contests and games work very well with the younger generation. Have friendly competitions between teams for predetermined goals.

Managing and motivating the younger generation involves a great deal more than I’ve noted in this brief article. For now, imagine you are in your 20s and ask yourself this question: “Would you work for you?”


Consultant and author Christine Corelli will present two seminars at Pizza Expo 2013 in March: “Are You a Boss or a Leader?” and “How to Handle Problem Employees.”

For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.