Feeling challenged by your younger employees? Here’s how to make the most of their valuable and untapped talent.
Oh, millennials. For years, many of us have derided the so-called Generation Y-ers (people born between 1982 and 2000), accusing them of being self-absorbed and irresponsible. Now, however, there’s a good chance they’re either working for you or will be soon. According to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, these “youngsters” comprise 36% of today’s American workforce.
Like any generation, millennials come to the table with a unique array of skills and attributes. Some of these are assets and some are liabilities, but most of the latter can be worked through, if not outright capitalized upon, by managers who understand how to work with this generation. DAYSPA spoke with a few professionals in the spa industry to learn which traits they see most commonly in their millennial employees, and how they’ve adapted their strategies to more effectively manage Gen Y-ers.
Asset: They’re tech savvy.
When asked to identify the No. 1 asset of millennial employees, business experts are unanimous: it’s their superb command of technology. This group has grown up with technology as part of their everyday lives and seems to have a near-instinctive ability to understand and use it, often highlighting a sharp contrast with older staff members. Sometimes this contrast creates tension between the generations, especially when Y-ers become frustrated with what they perceive as their elders’ lack of knowledge and slow pace when operating technology.
Tech savvy is a skill set employers shouldn’t be afraid to exploit in millennials because in general these employees want to put their new media knowledge to use. When Gen Y-er Stephanie Texeira began her job as an office supervisor at Avalon Medical Spa in New Bedford, Massachusetts, she quickly proved herself a valuable resource by establishing an online presence for the spa and utilizing social media to generate free advertising. Since taking on millennial employees of her own, Texeira has assigned to each of them specific digital media-related tasks. Today, Avalon Medical Spa has transitioned to a paperless business, thanks in large part to a young staff that was able to adjust and thrive using alternative technologies.
Leslie Lyon, president of spa consultancy Spas2b, believes that spa owners who don’t keep up with or implement technological advancements probably shouldn’t bother to hire millennials in the first place. “They want to work for a company that can provide digital tools in a digital age, so they probably wouldn’t be the best fit for you,” she says.
Liability: They’re “unprofessional.”
Millennials have developed a more relaxed way of speaking—with peers and with elders—that doesn’t lend itself to the respectful tone you want to establish in a business setting. Although many young employees are sharp enough to know to turn that side off and put their best foot forward at work, some require specific training. “I’ve noticed that many of the younger generation need much more coaching on customer service behaviors,” says Texeira. “We’ve had to coach some of them on verbiage, because they’re used to talking to friends rather than clientele. They can sometimes be a bit too casual.
“Unfortunately, we’ve even had to fire a few millennials who just couldn’t adapt to a professional environment,” Texeira continues. “Some were talking or texting on their cell phones in front of clients, or even having inappropriate conversations with clients. We try to use these moments to teach them how to grow into professional adults, but if they aren’t willing to learn, it isn’t worth it.” However, Texeira is quick to add that she has also had mature millennials on staff and is pleased to have invested time in them.
Rather than fight the cell phone culture millennials bring to the workplace, California day spa chain Burke Williams chose to adapt to it. Realizing that text messaging is the No. 1 way this group communicates, the spas’ managers now use texts to quickly and effectively relay messages to their staffs.
Asset: They’re adaptable.
While some bemoan millennials’ lack of traditional work experience, smart managers use it to their advantage. Because they’re still malleable, these workers can ultimately become the type of employees you desire, with the right training. Understanding this, Burke Williams instituted a mentoring program for new hires.
“It helps to bridge the gap between long-time employees and new staff,” says Marlena McGrath, director of employee engagement. By the time the 18-month mentoring program is complete, millennials feel like fully integrated members of the team, ready to take on any workplace challenge.
Training and mentoring shouldn’t be overly specific where it doesn’t need to be, however. Giving millennials room to solve problems and adapt on their own affords them the challenging work and feelings of confidence they crave. Lyon recalls a time she asked a young assistant to reconfigure her business’s financing program. Initially, she inundated him with lots of minor requests, which confused the task at hand. He finally had to ask her to step back to let him figure out some of the issues for himself. Lyon reports that this Gen Y-er thrived once he “had the flexibility to do what he does best.”
Liability: They’re easily bored.
Millennials are inherent multi-taskers who prefer to engage in a variety of activities. This makes sense when you consider that this generation grew up with an unprecedented number of things to see and do. “They don’t tolerate boredom,” Lyon confirms. “If you don’t provide them with ongoing challenges, you’re at a greater risk of staff turnover.”
Overly simple jobs just aren’t going to hold most a millennial’s attention. To address this issue, Burke Williams has gone so far as to create a role specifically designed for millennials: spa coordinator. “This role works within management development, customer service and inside the spa to meet the immediate needs of guests,” explains McGrath. “It gives the employee a chance to be hands-on in multiple workplace environments each day.”
Asset: They have a youthful outlook.
Millennials tend to be full of opinions on how things can be done better. Admittedly, this attitude can be annoying to co-workers, particularly veterans who have the work years under their belts to understand why things are set up as they are. “My experience is that millennials believe that baby boomers are missing the boat a bit these days,” says Lyon. “They feel that since their opinion is much more current, it should overrule the tried-and-true, ‘dated’ experience.”
The truth is, a lot of these employees’ suggestions provide opportunities to modernize your business. Plus, the more you demonstrate that millennials’ suggestions are valuable, the more committed they’ll become to their jobs. After all, as Bruce Schoenberg, owner of Oasis Day Spa in New York City, points out, “It is the youth that shapes the future of all industries.”
A bonus for the spa industry is that clientele often skews older, so bringing millennials into the fold is a good way to spread the word about your business to the younger set. “We count on them to be our marketing team amongst their peers—that’s how you build new customers!” says Schoenberg. He also makes sure to get their input on what kind of services are likely attract a younger client base.
Liability: They’re not loyal.
Prone to jump from job to job every few years, millennials are often regarded as disloyal employees. However, this may be less a character flaw than a sign of the times. The days of working for one employer, or even in one field, for many years at a time are all but over, and have been replaced by a more variable model. “Millennials want to experience many different career options and don’t see themselves as tied to a particular job, industry or region to live as much as their counterparts from other generations,” explains Schoenberg.
Even as a millennial herself, Texeira acknowledges that some of her youngest employees don’t seem to view their spa jobs as the first step toward a permanent career.
This isn’t to say that younger employers aren’t ambitious; it’s simply that they’re determined move forward at a pace that’s consistent with their lives. In other words, quickly. So, a good way to keep younger employees around longer is to cater to their ambitious side.
“They want to know how to get where they are going right now,” says Lyon. “I believe it’s very important to let these employees know the potential and pathway to their career growth, regularly and consistently.” This way your young staff members will regard their jobs as more than just stepping stones to their next place of employment—and become the loyal employees you want.
–By Kevin Mathews