Pool and spa companies need motivated employees. A productive workforce, though, doesn’t happen by accident: Your business must create an operating environment that inspires its people and gives them the tools needed to succeed.
If the tools vary with the times, lately the times are all about Millennials. These employees, ranging in age from roughly 25 to 40, now make up the largest component of the workforce. Hard on their heels is the fastest growing labor segment: Gen Z, aged roughly 15 to 25. Both groups tend to job hop more frequently than previous generations — all the more reason for employers to make the right moves now, so best workers don’t jump ship for the competition. (Because they share many characteristics, Millennials and Gen Z will be combined in this article unless otherwise noted.)
“Millennials can be very loyal employees and can bring important talents to the workplace,” says Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics, Austin, Texas. “However, businesses must take the time to understand their priorities and recognize how to best meet them. None of this is about spending more money, but about understanding the Millennial mentality and then building a work environment that reflects common ground.”
So what do Millennials need? It all starts with a connection between work and life outside the shop. “While everybody wants to do meaningful work, it’s much more important to Millennials than to previous generations,” says Jack Altschuler, president of Fully Alive Leadership, Northbrook, Ill. He describes the Millennial mentality this way: “If all I’m doing is putting a screw in a widget on the assembly line, I’m not going to be motivated. In fact, I’m going to be out of here as soon as I can fi nd something else.”
Millennials need to know their work activities contribute to society. They want to see how their efforts enhance the lives of customers. Furthermore, they want their organization to be involved in community affairs. The expectation is for the employer to be a good corporate citizen, actively supporting causes not just through money but also with action.
“Millennials want their employer to participate in such things as charity events, rallies, walkathons and runs,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in Metropolitan St. Louis.
But there’s a second level of meaning that’s crucial to this age group: the connection between their work and organizational health. Managers must communicate how employees contribute to the bottom line. One way to show the connection between employee actions and profit is to explain how quality work and service create loyal customers.
It’s important to involve Millennials in decision-making. If that sounds like a bottoms-up approach to business management, that’s because it is. “Millennials want somebody to listen to them,” says Randy Goruk, president of The Randall Wade Group, Scottsdale, Ariz. “They have ideas and opinions. They may come up with a technique for changing an installation process so it’s easier, faster or safer. But they are going to need someone to give them permission. If the boss isn’t listening, they see it as a problem. They may leave for another company where they can share their ideas.”
Professional development is more important for Millennials than for previous generations. “Millennials need opportunities for learning on the job,” says Dorsey. “They feel that they have to keep developing their skills in order to have more security in their careers.”
There’s a special reason for the long-range view of this age group: Their experience with the nation’s economy. “Millennials feel like they’ve been book-ended with significant negative events,” says Dorsey. “On the front end was the great recession, which led to unemployment and wage stagnation. On the back end is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to job losses and a slowdown in career progression.
That’s not only because of restricted job opportunities, but also because the generations preceding them are staying longer in the workforce.”
Given this background, Millennials realize they need to lay the groundwork for their future security — and they expect their employer to provide guidance. “Just training Millennials for the work they are doing currently is no longer sufficient,” says Avdoian. “They expect employers to help them enhance their skills for positions they may take in the future.”
Successful employers communicate a personal interest in Millennials’ future. “Take the guesswork out of advancement,” suggests Lauren Star, a business consultant based in Bedford, N.H. “Create a career path for Millennials where training is offered, coaching is provided by skilled individuals, and transparency is intact.” Depending on the proclivities of each employee, the pathway can include expansion of job duties, the introduction of management levels and even progression into leadership positions.
Feedback is the flip side of professional development. And Millennials concerned about job stability and advancement need to know how they’re doing more frequently than older workers. “Millennials need interactions at least once a week from their direct boss, or supervisor, in order to feel that they’re doing a good job and their position is secure,” says Dorsey. “It could be a text message, a Zoom session or an in-person discussion.”
RELATED: Millennials Tell it Like it Is
Saying the wrong thing can set back an employee, in ways that are not favorable to performance. “Make sure that whoever is providing feedback has been trained on how to do it well,” says Goruk. “There are ways to inspire, empower and engage people with your feedback. And there are ways to be destructive.”
FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY
As the above comments suggest, Millennials tend to look beyond the walls of the shop when they plan their lives. “Unlike previous generations, Millennials don’t identify who they are by their job,” says Avdoian. “They are looking for flexibility in their daily work schedule.” Some are juggling work and children, while others are holding down more than one job. Because they have a variety of serious interests which they want to pursue, the usual 9 to 5 expectations may require modification.
Are You Millennial-Ready?
Does your work environment meet the core needs of Millennials? Find out by taking this quiz. For each question score 0 for “Never;” 4 for “Seldom;” 8 for “Often” and 10 for “Regularly.” Then, total your score and check your rating at the bottom of the chart.
1. Do you explain how your business improves customers’ lives?
2. Is your business involved in community affairs?
3. Do you involve your employees in decision-making?
4. Do you show how employee actions contribute to the bottom line?
5. Do you provide opportunities for professional development?
6. Do you provide regular performance assessments?
7. Have you established flexible work hours?
8. Does your benefit mix reflect employee preferences?
9. Do you solicit employee feedback about your workplace environment?
What’s your score? Over 70: Congratulations. You have a Millennial-friendly workplace. Between 55 and 70: Time to retool your organization to better motivate your employees. Below 55: You need to improve your Millennial IQ.
The same mentality that values long range planning and work-life balance also puts a great deal of importance on benefits. “Healthcare is very important to Millennials right now,” says Dorsey. He adds that this is one area where there is something of a split with the younger generation. “While benefits are very important to Gen Z as well, health insurance does not seem to interest them as much as retirement matching. That is very, very important to them, which is surprising given how young they are.”
Interestingly, Gen Z is showing a pronounced preference for what’s called ‘earned wage access.’ Earned wage access, as the name implies, means giving access to wages earned before they would typically be paid out on payday. In practice, it means employees receive half wages at the end of every shift. It may keep some employees from utilizing more costly options like payday loans, helping them take better financial steps overall.
This article has highlighted characteristics common to a Millennialfriendly workplace. Perception, of course, can differ from reality. While an employer may feel a workplace meets the needs of Millennials, they may have a different opinion. The good news is that they will offer constructive advice if asked. Indeed, the wise employer will recognize the desire for organizational involvement by Millennials and will reach out for feedback before the high performing ones depart for greener pastures.
A structured approach can work wonders. “I suggest scheduling regular meetings with employees to understand why they are staying with the company,” says Avdoian. Encourage Millennials to answer questions such as these: What aspects of the company or your job excite you?; What motivates you to succeed here?; What would make your job more satisfying?; Are you pleased with how we are recognizing and compensating employees?; Are you happy with your work-life balance?; What training would you benefit from?”
The answers to such questions can help any employer better understand the Millennial mindset and create a workplace responsive to employee needs. “What gets measured gets done,” says Goruk. “Companies which systematize their feedback process will continually improve because they are measuring what they are doing. And when they determine they’re not doing as well as they could, they can make refinements that will help them achieve greater success in the future.” (For an assessment of your own workplace, take the quiz in the sidebar, “Are You Millennial-Ready?”on page 36.)
The end result of a properly reengineered business environment will be a highly motivated workforce and a more robust bottom line. “Millennials and Gen Z are bringing tremendous value to the workplace,” says Dorsey. “Rather than seeing them only as young employees, see them as a generation that brings different strengths, perspectives and a desire to make a difference. We think it is a very exciting time for employers who choose to recognize this and act on it."
This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.