I’ll be honest I don’t really buy into the generational difference thing. I mean, there are obvious differences between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers and Millenials—I’m thinking of things like “age” as pretty blatant indicators of where one falls in the generational demographics of the day. Culturally, the line gets a little fuzzier. A selfish predisposition to destroying the world because it suits you at the moment will reveal you as a Baby Boomer every time, sure. But culture is shifting for all of us, and such is the power of this tide that we’re all getting caught up in it whether we like it or not. My own mother responded to a text message from me just to say, “U know I h8 2 txt,” which pretty much sums it all up, as far as I’m concerned.
In researching this piece, I stumbled upon one of those fun quiz thingies over at the Pew Research Center’s website. Titled “How Millennial are You?”, the quiz aims to judge your milleniality using hardcore scientific propositions such as how you consume media or view the impact interracial marriages on society. Apparently, scientific propositions are now based wholly on whatever Aziz Ansari’s latest stand-up set is about. According to their criteria, I’m more millennial than Millennials. I scored an 89/100 on their scale, where the average Millennial is situated right at 73 (coincidentally, the same digits as my birth year, w00t!). So you may ask yourself, Why is he bringing all this up? I’ll direct you back to the first sentence, where I said I don’t really buy into the whole generational difference thing.
And that goes double for when we’re talking about something like keeping your employees engaged. We’re all people, flesh and blood and failures and successes, and we all have our faces stuck in our smartphones, regardless of age. Ultimately, though, that means we all—more or less—want the same things out of our jobs. If we’re going to be spending half our waking hours dedicated to whatever our chosen profession is, we’d basically like it to not suck. That said, there is one thing about your Millennial employees that detached Gen Xers and soon-to-be retired Baby Boomers don’t have, and that’s a general sense of possibility. It’s not that that’s a mindset particular to their generation: it’s just that they’re still young and waiting to see what comes next. Those of us in our 40’s and beyond are, for the most part, living the life we’re going to live and that’s that.
But your Millennial employees are just starting out—the likelihood is that they view their job with you as a stepping stone to somewhere or something else. Especially in retail or hospitality, there are going to be higher numbers of employees who are just trying to make ends meet while planning their next big move. You know this. They know this. They know you know this. But whether you’re employing a full-time, career-oriented manager or an entry level and probably temporary hourly employee, your approach should be the same for each. Namely, that you can’t run your business without your employees—that is, after all, why you chose to redirect some revenue that could’ve been yours over to them—and it’s in your best interests to keep them engaged and ensure that they feel a part of something. In a post over at Hospitality Times uncredited to any human, the anonymous author spoke with a few Chief HR Officers of major companies to ask their strategy on keeping the youngest among them interested in the culture and direction of their employers. They all recommend strategies that could really be applicable to any age group but are valuable nonetheless.
- Executives need to come down from their ivory towers and foster an inclusive atmosphere. This one comes from Bill Allen at Macy’s, and he’s pretty straightforward about the reason why. To paraphrase: Macy’s executives are old. Macy’s is old. To continue on in business means attracting a new generation of people with disposable income, and old people in old stores aren’t the best at connecting with younger audiences. Allen says that “bringing internal and external Millennial influencers into executive-level conversations is crucial to keeping Macy’s attractive to younger customers and employees.” With hip and dynamic language skills such as this, it’s pretty obvious how much help they need in creating the kind of hipster street-cred he’s talking about. But this mindset is instructive. Your experience may be long and unparalleled, but the truth is it’s also a sign of your being out of touch. Keep your employees in the loop with what you’re thinking, don’t be afraid to let them constructively criticise your ideas, and don’t be afraid to take some advice from someone 20 years your junior.
- Create a work environment that feels familiar to the world in which they grew up. Yes, when you were a kid you had to fast forward the tape to get to the song you wanted to hear. You had to wait for a particular time each week to catch your favorite TV show, and if you missed it you had to wait till summer for the rerun. It’s not helpful to point any of that out to a 24-year-old who’s annoyed she has to fill out her time sheet with a pen. Recognising this, Verizon re-engineered the way they conduct business with their employees, treating them as if they are “customers of the working environment,” according to Claudia Healy. This means more high-tech tools for interoffice messaging or more self-directed, tech provided services for things like training. For the small business, this could mean using tablets and smartphones for your POS and/or business operation tools. If you read this and thought, I’m not gonna go out and buy a bunch of iPads so my employees can have more fun at work!, then you’re missing the point. These tools may look cool and be enjoyable to use, but they also accomplish things much faster—a speed that Millenials are not only used to but utterly comfortable with.
- Having a purpose is more important than having a product. Jan Becker at Autodesk talks about how they pride themselves on “work centered around positive impact in the world.” Clearly, you can’t stay in business just because you have a nice purpose. And Autodesk hasn’t stayed in business for over 30 years by licensing positive impact. They make software. But it’s a lot easier to get their employees to rally around “changing the world” than it is to do that for “making software.” As someone on the outside looking in at Kounta—I’m a contractor—I can say that this is a successful attitude. The folks I’ve dealt with here all speak about their work at Kounta not as a job they do, but as a mission they’re on. Ask anyone what Kounta does, and POS is usually the second thing they’ll mention. The first is an enthusiastic and ALLCAPS exultation of how they are “changing the face of retail.” You’d expect them to talk like this to customers, but they talk like this to each other, too. As a Gen Xer wearing a protective sheath of irony at all times, this kind of earnest display of enthusiasm makes me uncomfortable. But it’s clearly working: the young’uns at Kounta all seem to view themselves as equally important parts to a whole, and that whole is something they believe in. If you can’t find something about your business that makes an impact beyond satisfied customers, it might be time to rethink some things.