Running a Shop

Tips for Managing Millennials

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​It often takes Joel Eagles a while to relate to millennial employees. 

But, once he does connect, Mike’s Collision Center often receives solid production from those young workers. 

“Millennials, they’re different, in that they’re slightly harder to motivate,” says Eagles, the general manager of the aforementioned Bloomington, Ill., shop. “But, once you figure that out—how to motivate them—then they work very hard. 

“The younger generation likes a lot of praise. I mean, they get it constantly on Facebook and Instagram. They’re looking for ‘likes,’ looking for a thumbs-up, and looking for responses constantly.” 

By providing frequent feedback, Eagles has helped ensure that the 12 millennial employees under his supervision contribute significantly at Mike’s Collision, a $3.2-million-per-year facility. 

While Eagles has largely experienced success with his youthful staff, frustration with millennial employees is a fairly common refrain at some body shops these days.

“It seems like some [millennials] have to be taught work ethic,” says Roger Hutcheon, the owner of Basin Collision Repair in Vernal, Utah. 

Millennial employees—those born between 1981 and 1995—are a major part of the workforce: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, within two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be made up of millennials. By 2025, that number will approach 75 percent. 

As millennials overtake the workforce from the likes of baby boomers, shop owners will need to shift leadership styles to make accommodations. Even Hutcheon, despite a few poor experiences, appreciates the fact that millennials tend to be financially motivated. He notes that millennial employees often, for instance, prefer a 50 cent raise over an extra week of vacation. 

Eagles, meanwhile, has observed that millennial employees simply want to feel like their opinion matters within their workplaces. 

As a result, when he addresses young employees each morning, Eagles says, “‘Let’s look at the cars you have today; what are your plans for the order of the work you’re going to do?’ Then I’ll just tweak it a bit, and I’ll tell them the reasons why, [such as], ‘I talked to this customer, and they’re in a hurry.’” 

“If millennial employees have a say in it, and they believe in what they’re doing, then they work a lot harder,” Eagles adds. “Older generations, they would go to a factory, be told, ‘Do this,’ and they just did it. But it’s just not that way anymore. It’s really important to the younger generation that they believe in the work they’re doing.” 

EXPERT OPINIONS 

Chip Espinoza has been immersed in millennial culture for years. He’s a dean at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa, Calif., for starters, plus he has authored three books about the generation. 

He has studied millennials in their native habitat, if you will. And, after exhaustive research, he insists they’re nothing to fear. 

Yet, Espinoza admits there’s undeniable distance between many millennials and their bosses. Communication might be the biggest challenge that prevents employers from seeing eye-to-eye with today’s 24- to 38-year-olds. 

“The biggest explanation for the differences has to do with technology,” says Espinoza, the author of books like MILLENNIALS @WORK. “Millennials are the first generation that has not needed an authority figure to access information. It’s a game-changer. 

“As a matter of fact, the last place [millennials] will go for information is to an authority figure.” 

That behavior is often misinterpreted as a young employee being disinterested in their job, or acting like a “know-it-all,” Espinoza says. 

“That’s not what’s going on at all,” he explains. “They simply learn to look everywhere for an answer before they approach an authority figure. 

“Subsequently, many of them don’t know how to communicate with authority figures.” 

And that creates obvious issues in working environments like body shops. Because 

millennials have largely grown up in the age of the Internet, they’re used to being able to access information easily, often at their fingertips, via smartphones. That lends these young employees a self-assuredness to which previous generations simply can’t relate. 

Millennials, Espinoza says, “will be far more direct with questions, or even consider their opinion to be equal to that of their bosses or managers. The power distance traditionally had been to work for a couple years and then you can talk in a meeting. Well, for [millennials], they’re equipped with information that they’ve went out and researched, and they come to a meeting and expect, fully, to speak. 

“So that has created this breakdown in relationships with authority. That’s why you see organizations really struggling with onboarding these young professionals.”

Espinoza, who provides consulting services for businesses hoping to develop young talent, 

admits that today’s young employees often need to work on issues like relationship-building and not acting entitled. 

But, he also knows that business operators won’t improve their relationships with millennial employees without making their own efforts to improve as leaders. 

With that in mind, Espinoza offers these tips for managing millennials effectively:

BUILD A RELATIONSHIP. According to a recent global survey of millennials by Deloitte (which considers millennials to be those born between 1983–94), 49 percent of those young adults would, if they had a choice, quit their current jobs within the next two years. To remedy that issue, Espinoza suggests bosses focus on building a relationship with their young employees.

After all, when young people recall the authority figures that they’ve appreciated in their lives, it’s usually those who got to know them personally, like their youth basketball coach, a high school band teacher, or a lovable uncle, Espinoza notes. Those types of authority figures are usually appreciated because they’re perceived as being supportive. 

“So,” Espinoza explains, “when millennials walk into work, their baseline expectation is that their manager or boss is there to help them get where they want to go. So their boss looks at them and says, ‘Why are you so self-centered? I need you to do this job for me.’” 

“In order to build a relationship with these younger workers and not be put off by their behavior, you need to suspend the bias of your own experience—meaning, ‘The way that we did it when I was growing up is the blueprint for everybody else.’” 

DO CHARITABLE ENDEAVORS. Finding meaning in one’s work has been valued by most generations. But millennials especially find value in being able to “self-express” through their work, Espinoza explains. 

Today’s young workers “are more into experiences than things,” the author and consultant says. “In other words, a company that they’re going to choose to go work for, they’re going to make sure is not only profit-minded, but they’re giving back to the community.” 

ALLOW FOR WORK/LIFE ‘BLENDING.’ Yes, millennials might fire off the occasional text to a loved one during their work day. But, in Espinoza’s experience, they also have few issues with answering work-related emails after hours. 

“They don’t mind accessing work during their personal lives,” he says, “but they want to be able to access their personal lives during work hours.” 

Because of that observation, Espinoza feels it’s important that business leaders like body shop owners incentivize productivity among their employees more so than the actual amount of hours they work—a trend he’s starting to see in multiple industries. 

OFFER PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK. In his work at Vanguard University, Espinoza has noticed that students demand to promptly receive their project grades. And, if they don’t receive those grades in a matter of a few short days, they start peppering their professors with inquisitorial emails. That’s symbolic of today’s young workforce, Espinoza says. 

“They need a lot of detail about what’s expected of them, moreso than the generations before them,” he says. “A lot of times, managers don’t take the time to give detail. And, it ends up being a disaster, because the millennial will walk away, won’t ask a question, and won’t get it. Managers don’t take the time to give feedback and evaluation unless something goes really wrong—so then, all of a sudden, the encounter is more confrontational.” 

FOCUS ON CAREER DEVELOPMENT. In Espinoza’s experience, millennials place great value on being able to envision their ideal career path, and how they can chart a course to eventually achieve their professional goals. That’s why he feels career development must be explained during businesses’ onboarding processes. 

“If you don’t have a plan for [millennials], or can’t articulate how you’re developing them, you cannot expect to keep them,” he says. “That career development is a huge piece.” 

GIVE THEM A VOICE. Millennial employees—like any worker, really—want to know that their employers value their opinions. That’s why Espinoza suggests, for example, occasionally asking young shop workers for their input when creating new processes. 

“It’s bringing them into problem-solving with you, rather than just telling them what to do,” he explains. “And that’s something that [millennials] love, because they’re learning, and being developed, and have marketable skills that way.” 

MILLENNIAL PERSPECTIVE 

December Moneyhan bristles at the stereotypes associated with her generation. During her time working at Joe Hudson’s Collision Center in Homosassa, Fla., she hasn’t seen any lackadaisical millennials. 

And she certainly hasn’t seen any lazy ones. 

“The term ‘millennial’ has been viewed negatively,” says Moneyhan, a shop manager and nine–year veteran of the collision repair industry. “People say millennials are lazy, but I’ve been privileged to work with some millennials that aren’t that way; they’re some of the best techs and painters.

“Right now, millennials are one of the larger parts of the workforce—40 or 50 percent. I think that stereotype will hopefully be phased out as we make up a larger part of it.” 

Moneyhan, 30, feels her generation has been misunderstood, and is largely a product of the environment that many of its members grew up in.  

“I think our generation, our parents raised us to be more or less overconfident,” she says. “Our generation grew up with parents telling us that we could do anything we wanted, I think more than previous generations. That has a lot to do with it. 

“I feel like we’re a little bit more outspoken, and we don’t hold back as much as other 

generations who were a bit quieter.”

Moneyhan feels millennials could better meet expectations if their employers reassessed how they do things. For starters, she says, body shop facilities could benefit from more of a familial culture, one in which the staff occasionally takes part in charitable endeavors or group outings. 

In short, she believes most millennial employees seek a “close-knit” work atmosphere. 

When Moneyhan recalls her favorite bosses, they all seemed to share a similar trait: they took an interest in their employees’ lives outside of work. 

“The most important thing,” she says, “is you need to make sure that person wants to come to work. 

“You can’t goof off all the time. But you definitely don’t want to have an employee driving into the parking lot everyday dreading that the people they work with are going to be in a bad mood.” 

Moneyhan will acknowledge that her generation largely cringes at the thought of being micromanaged. But she feels many body shop leaders need to search for a middle ground with their young employees. 

Offering incentives like employee of the month T-shirts never hurt, she says, but allowing for scheduling flexibility truly resonates with 24- to 38-year-olds. 

“Here, we do have that flexibility,” she says, “and I think that’s important. [Millennial employees] want to know that, if they have to leave work to pick up their child, they can.”  

More than anything, Moneyhan feels business leaders need to sell hope to today’s young employees. If that happens, she’s confident that most millennials are likely to approach the productivity of any coworker, regardless of age.  

“One of the positions we look for frequently is detailer,” she notes. “And, with the detailers, 

going into that position, it’s not all they want to do; that person generally wants to learn how to paint or do body work. And I always tell them, ‘It’s hard work, but if you stick with it, you will make good money.’

“There’s no one coming into these trades, so we really try to let them know what opportunities they can have.”

COMING SOON: PREVIEWING GENERATION ‘Z’

Ben Varquez is a partner with Whistle Work, a company that offers recruiting solutions. As such, he has become an expert on not just millennial employees, but the next wave that’s behind them: Generation Z. 

Generation Z comprises those born between 1996 and 2014—a group that includes, in part, those that are currently 18–23 years old. Varquez recently spoke with FenderBender and noted some of the unique elements of Generation Z. 

That generation’s young adults are extremely tech savvy, considering they’ve never known a world without the Internet. As a result, they demand that their employers are fairly technologically-savvy. 

“Gen Z-ers,” Varquez says, “require employers to integrate technology into their workplace. … There are elements of technology that can be integrated into their everyday lives that they really look for, [like] with dynamic scheduling via an app. They really look to submit HR requests, or time-off requests, via technology. 

“When you’re talking about recruiting, they expect a fairly seamless, smooth process. So, the days of having to upload your resume, then input the same information that was on your resume on an application form and repeat all the information in a second and third interview? That, to a Gen Z-er seems ludicrous.”

Members of Generation Z also value open, transparent communication within the workplace. 

Generation Z members, Varquez says, “are not afraid to ask for exactly what they want. And, it sometimes goes past asking and becomes demanding.” 

That said, many of Generation Z’s work demands aren’t all that different from previous generations, the hiring expert notes. Among current 18- to 23-year-olds’ biggest requests with regard to their jobs: 

  • Solid earning potential
  • Skills training
  • Job flexibility 
  • Somewhat flexible scheduling

  Today’s youngest professional workers also value diversity. Not only do they expect to work for employers that strive to hire every form of gender or religion, Varquez says, but they also value working for businesses that value the diversity of varied life experiences. 

“They desire to work in a place that reflects the diversity they see in their everyday lives,” Varquez says. “And a lot of employers, in my observation, are still playing catch up. … Today, millennials, and Gen Z specifically, are defining diversity differently. They want diversity in thought—in an outlook on the world. 

“They want every pocket of society as a representative in the place they work.”

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