Motivating Your Millennial Employees

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hurryUp02By 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. Amanda was brought in to manage the pizza restaurant five years ago, and now that she’s 37 years old, the prospect of supervising these “almost-20-something” fills her with dread.

Part of Amanda’s fear is based on how different (and difficult) the younger generation is perceived to be. Her concern is based on common perceptions that Millennials expect instant job promotion and aren’t afraid to challenge company practices if they don’t agree with them. They’re also seen as constantly asking for feedback on their performance and demanding a lot of face-time with their managers. One manager at another pizza store even told Amanda that his new employees had the audacity to request flexible work schedules, even though they’re brand new to the job and the organization. Amanda worries 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.

She realizes that she’ll need 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 challenge.

Millennials possess a unique set of skills and a somewhat different work ethic than previous generations. And they’ll have a profound impact on workplaces over the next few years. There are already approximately 35 million Millennials on the job, 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, a “we work to live” philosophy. If Millennials seem overconfident, that’s because they’ve been taught to expect success by teachers and by “helicopter” parents.

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’s 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 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, be a server or work a kitchen line. To do the matching, you can use employee profile and assessment tools, 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 paths.
  • 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 it’s an overload or if it’s provided in the 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 during the feedback to focus on your Millennials’ life goals and career aspirations so they can see how their actions will affect their future careers and life successes. 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. Managers can promote fun and reinforce teamwork by sponsoring “social” events, such as Friday afternoon “happy hours” (alcohol-free, of course) or team-building 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, though, they’ll make strong contributions to your pizza business and may lead the way to a more collaborative, productive and energetic environment.

International Pizza Expo, speakerDr. 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.” She will be speaking Tues., March 25, at Pizza Expo on leading and managing younger employees.

This Pizza Expo Exclusive is part of a continuing series leading up to the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center on March 24-27, 2014. Seminar speakers and demonstrators will provide professional advice on their area of expertise.

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