Running a Shop Human Resources Managing Shop Staff

Motivating Millennials

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You may have no idea what your shop will look like in five, 10, 20 years, but one thing is for certain: Millennials are taking over the workforce.

The Pew Research Center reports that in 2015, the population consisted of 75 million millennials and 75 million baby boomers. By 2028, boomers are expected to fall to 65 million. Just eight years later, boomers will decline further to 50 million, while millennials steadily rise to 81 million. Throughout it all, Generation Xers will be on a steady slope downward.

It presents a unique challenge for shop owners, as millennials are vastly different in so many ways from baby boomers and Generation Xers, say Adriana and Sabrina Indomenico, co-owners of Santostefano Auto Body. And as millennials themselves, they’re in a unique position as their peers have recently taken over two of three technician positions from veteran employees at their Middleton, Conn., shop.

“We’re all in the same age bracket, so it’s interesting being their boss,” Sabrina says. “We probably have a different approach than most other bosses do because of that.”

Charlie Robertson, chief operations officer for the Collision Career Institute, co-presented on “The Millennial Takeover” at the 2016 SEMA Show and understands the daunting difference millennials present to shop owners in terms of management. But if you shift your mindset a bit, he says, you’ll see that when you start implementing the following practices and motivate millennials to succeed, they won’t just prosper because of their best qualities—the entire shop will.

“If you’re scared of millennials, you’re doomed,” Adriana says. “In the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see so much change, and the millennials will be on top of it all. They’ll be so efficient and so good with the technology.”


Share your vision. 

Robertson says you need to adapt the way you think, speak and act about millennials. They tend to value work they find fulfilling and meaningful, so your leadership is everything.

First and foremost, be sure to clearly share your mission with millennials and how the service you provide enhances the lives of others. A full 90 percent of millennials want to use their talents and skills for good, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Speak about your vision often at meetings, and post your values throughout the shop. Robertson says millennials prefer visions that have high ethics and values and focus on team-building—a community involvement program is generally attractive to them, for instance.

In addition to responding to high moral values, Adriana says her millennial employees have more easily bought into the sisters’ plans to bring more technology into the shop and change up some of the processes.

“Boomers tend to fear change. And it’s fair, because they know what works,” she says. “But millennials are risk takers, adaptive to change, look at things as an opportunity. If they see a problem, the first thing they think is, ‘How do we get past it?’”


Develop a learning culture.

You’ve probably heard about it ad nauseum at this point, but in preparing for the millennial takeover, it’s more important than ever, Robertson says; you must make training and development a crucial component of your shop culture.

For the Indomenicos, this has come much easier over the past year with their new millennial employees. They’re much more open to training than the veteran employees, the Indomenicos say, and have worked with the owners to form a training plan.

“The younger generation wants to get trained, they want to do the right thing,” Adriana says. “Now it’s just about getting everybody on board at the same time and working together as a team. It’s easier to convince the older guys when the millennials buy into it.”

Regularly speak about learning and training opportunities at meetings and while conversing with employees, she says. Make your employees’ development your most important task.

The best way to do this, Robertson says, is to provide constant feedback. The days of semi-annual or annual reviews process are over. Millennials are always looking to improve their work, so it’s important to develop a culture of continuous improvement at your shop.

“You have to be giving them constant feedback,” he says. “You’ve got to give them status reports on regular basis, and you need to be specific about what they’re doing.”

Don’t create any formal schedule or try to plan it out—as you’re walking the shop floor, look for moments to offer positive accolades that commemorate good work.

“Even if it’s small stuff they’re doing,” he says. “‘Hey, I like the way you did that. That panel was prepped perfectly for paint. Nice job.’”

Robertson says millennials also respond very well to constructive criticism, but will turn on you the second your feedback becomes overtly negative.

“If they’ve done something that needs improvement, they will not stand for being yelled at or berated,” he says. “They’ll hit the door. We need to learn how to best provide them with critiques.”


Create a clear career path.

While a technician shortage is plaguing the industry, retention is just as big of an issue with millennials—if they don’t see a future of development and growth at your company, they will not stick around for long, Robertson says. 

Gallup found that 60 percent of millennials say they’re always open to different job opportunities—15 points higher than non-millennial employees. In addition, 87 percent of millennials say professional development is very important.

Robertson recommends building a pay plan that marks increases at two, three, four and five years of employment. Throughout those years, they’re expected to achieve industry certifications and grow in their capacity and knowledge. Each time they achieve a certification, they get a bump in pay.

However, if they fail to meet a certification, they’re put on probation and experience a pay freeze. Then work with them to best solve whatever is holding them back.

Robertson says millennials thrive on constant feedback, and if they know doing well will result in a bump in pay, they’ll reward you.


Respect their work-life balance.

When ranking what’s most important to them at work, an overwhelming amount of millennials in a Deloitte study placed a healthy work-life balance at the top.

Work is not life to millennials, Sabrina says, as opposed to baby boomers and Generation Xers, who will put in extra hours to finish the week’s workload.

Millennials are often motivated by flexibility with work schedules. While it may seem implausible to allow an employee to stay late on Thursday to leave early Friday—with how scheduling works at a body shop—Robertson says lending that flexibility could actually improve shop culture.

The resulting changes benefit everybody, Robertson says. Everybody enjoys a little extra free time, and there would be no direct conflict from boomers or Generation Xers by adapting your processes in this way.

“If you build an environment where everybody is learning, growing, and working together for the common outcome, everyone—not just millennials—will benefit from it,” he says.

Millennials tend to value vacation and overtime pay over perks older generations valued, Robertson says. Revise your employee development, compensation plans and employee manuals to appeal to their interests.

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