By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
For some business owners, millennials are a challenge – whether they’re hiring them or trying to retain them as loyal, productive employees.
Employers are looking for employees who will work hard, come to work on time and conform to workplace rules – values that some millennials don’t understand. On the bright side, employers value millennials’ fresh ideas and adept use of technology.
Even some employers who’ve had some disappointing experience with millennials say it’s wrong to make generalizations about employees of any age – young, old or in-between. Millennials’ needs are often similar to those of older employees. These business leaders say workplaces need to adapt, providing employees with a clear career path and offering flexibility to accommodate employees’ personal needs.
“You can’t lump all millennials in the same boat,” said Robert Hoffmann, president of Hoffmann Brothers Heating, Air Conditioning, Plumbing and Electrical. “Some come in and want to work eight hours and leave. Others are willing to work all kinds of hours. Some are good about being on time, and other don’t understand the importance of that.
“You need to respect their personal needs,” Hoffmann said.
Keesha Irving, director of technical workforce management for field operations at Charter Spectrum, has seen the percentage of millennials in Charter’s field technical staff grow to 70 percent from 34 percent in 2013. It’s a trend other employers have been told to expect as the work force ages.
Irving attributes Charter’s success in hiring millennials to the company’s clear path for employees to progress through the ranks by taking advantage of company-paid training and other opportunities to learn about and move to new jobs.
“It’s not just a job, it’s a career,” Irving said. When employees see the opportunity to move up, they’re more likely to stay with the company, she said.
Irving started as a customer service representative, then worked in marketing and project management before moving to her current position, where she supervises about 90 dispatch and workforce representatives. Their job is to make sure field technicians make it to customers’ homes or businesses on time with the tools they need to install, trouble-shoot or repair the product or service.
Charter offers employees the opportunity of job-shadowing in a related or different part of the company. She has one dispatcher that first shadowed a door-to-door sales representative, then decided to try it in another department, where he eventually transferred.
Charter also offers competitive pay and benefits, Irving said, and many employees like the benefit of getting Charter products and services at a nominal fee.
“That’s what people are attracted to in coming to work at Charter,” Irving said.
Scott Schaefer, senior vice president of Schaefer Autobody Centers, says the company has millennials at all levels in the company. The company has made few changes to accommodate them, but it does try to provide a company culture where employees are paid well in a “fun environment where they can be creative.”
Millennials “want the workplace to almost be like their family,” Schaefer said. “We give them a lot of say in how they get things done and encourage them to contribute their ideas.” The company provides a lot of feedback and helps them determine a career path.
Schaefer said the company offers some promotions and community involvement that young people have responded well to, such as allowing them a say in how Schaefer spends part of its budget for supporting charities.
Both Schaefer and Hoffmann expressed frustration with trying to find young employees who want to learn a trade. Hoffmann said many high school students don’t realize that they can get their training paid for and make good money doing construction work. Too often, they come out of college without the skills they need to land a job.
“Most kids don’t go to school to work in an auto body shop,” Schaefer said. The company has participated in career days and job fairs to try to attract the talent it needs to run the business.
Hoffmann says he’s become more flexible on maternity leave and on employees’ needs to work from home for a few hours if they’re expecting a service call, for example. But he doesn’t see work-from-home as the way to run his business all the time.
Hoffmann has added some fun to the workplace to please his staff. He said he doesn’t understand it, but some of his female employees really like days when they’re allowed to wear yoga pants. Other workplace celebrations include a holiday party or trips to ball games. Once a year, the entire company goes to a casino, and the company provides a hotel room for the night.
“Some of our employees have told me that it’s the only vacation they have,” Hoffmann said.
Dennis Harter, field operations manager for Streib Co., said he believes the company’s family culture has helped it attract and retain millennials. Streib also makes it a point to have celebrations that can involve employees’ families as well as smaller celebrations for meeting goals, such as 100 days or more without a lost-time injury.
“It’s really, really difficult to have millennials accept that they have to put in the hours to get where they want to be,” Harter said. “By building an esprit de corps” and celebrating successes, employees learn what they need to do.
Streib also has counseling statements for each employee, which are reviewed every six months. An employee and his or her boss sit down and talk about where they are, where they want to be and how to get there, Harter said.
“You give them a path to take to success,” Harter said.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of BBB’s Torchlight magazine for Accredited Businesses and Accredited Charities.