Managing Millennials In The Workplace

Amber Elenbaas is the general manager of American Auto Parts in Omaha, Neb. She worked her way up to the general manager position of her family’s auto parts business, Pete’s Auto Parts in Jenison, Mich., before joining American Auto Parts in 2012.

Hiring and inspiring Generation Y is a challenge for most salvage yard managers. Often referred to as the Millennial Generation, this group is currently 15 - 30 years old and is known for social media-inspired narcissism and entitlement. Many “Gen Ys” are living in their mom’s basement, have serious credit card debt and are casual to a fault. These millennials are outspoken and they question everything. You may read these disparaging traits and wonder where the future of our industry is going, but I’m actually excited about hiring millennials into my work force. These people don’t just expect change, they thrive on it! This generation is technologically savvy, they embrace education and learning new skills, and they are happy to be pulled in a lot of different directions. They may not have technical training, but many are lacking real role models in their lives and they thrive when working with older team members who teach them, so long as they get feedback and earn respect. Your employees can make or break your company, so it’s of utmost importance you find, train, and retain the right ones.

Market To Millennials

When you are putting ads out on Craigslist or other online job sites, make your company stand out and reflect the atmosphere of your business. If you have a fun working environment, get cheeky and sarcastic! “Lazy people need not apply,” or “if your tools all come from Harbor Freight, you probably are not the person for this job.” The tone of your ad will affect who applies. If you want to hire a superstar, you should be prepared that they will probably be arrogant, so play into that to find that person that outperforms everyone else. “If you think you are smarter than most people, you may be the right fit for this position.” If you want to hire a “Steady Eddie” you can set that tone, too. Attracting the right kind of team member is the first step.

Adapt Training Techniques

Training a Gen Y team member should also be different. They are fast paced; they learn quickly and are ready to move onto the next thing! If you suffocate them with repetitive work, they will grow bored and appear lazy, when really they just need a challenge. When training millennials, it’s helpful to have a schedule (similar to a college course syllabus) so they know the direction they are headed. I also like to give new hires a list of questions each day for their first week, and send them off to find the answers on their own. Questions like “Why are core charges important to American Auto Parts?” and “at what point should a damaged door be deleted, and what else should you do when deleting a door?” This method works well for the independent nature of the Gen Y and jumpstarts learning from coworkers.

Managing the new workforce should really be renamed to INSPIRING the new work force. You are dealing with a generation that rapidly grows bored and switches jobs; they may not have a family that depends on that paycheck so they have the freedom to do so - if you are going to keep them, you have to raise the bar. Make their job more challenging, and more rewarding. These workers are often fresh out of school and they want report cards. Give them feedback in writing using weekly audits, monthly KPIs, and annual performance reviews. These need not be lengthy, but they must be written indications of success, issues, or failure. Research suggests Gen Y is the most entrepreneurial generation that America has ever seen - photographers, web designers, Millennials love to be in charge of their own future, and are well suited to performance based pay. So give them a chance to show you how much the new generation can bring to the table, but make sure you are ready to give them the support they need!

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