What millennials really want

Publish Date: 
May 23, 2011
By Bruce Steever

Search Gen-Y on Amazon and you’ll get over a thousand results, many of which aim to help employers understand and utilize the latest generation to enter the workplace. As a so-called “millennial” myself, I’ve been reading up on my cohort to see how my personal experiences compare to what the books and experts are saying about us.

While we young whippersnappers bring a variety of new challenges to the conventional workplace, one point all authors seem to agree upon is that to make the most of Gen-Y, an employer must be willing and able to engage us. We are infamous for turnover, whether it be simply quitting without warning, going to a competitor because the grass appears greener, or not being willing or able to satisfy the job's requirements.

Training and hiring costs money and time that most employers don’t have these days. But powersports employers can’t simply ignore Gen-Y, because millennials not only are the current cohort entering the job market, we are also the market that needs to be targeted to get bikes selling again.

Engaging Gen-Y is easier said than done. This engagement may come from a variety of sources (over 1,000 of them, depending on your point of view), but at the end of the day I believe the key to keeping a Gen-Y employee coming back to work is enthusiasm. For better or worse, Gen-Y doesn’t make a habit of just showing up to the workplace if our hearts aren’t in it… we simply don’t show up!

While banks and call centers may have a challenge creating enthusiasm for someone fresh out of high school or college, the powersports industry should have no such complaints; we selling fun products here!

I’m not going to try to summarize 1,000 authors' points here, nor do I intend to repeat what others have to say about the hiring process. Instead, I hope to drive home the point that after you hire someone because they have the necessary skillset, after they’ve proven some measure of reliability, the hardest part of keeping Gen-Y employees is keeping our attention and enthusiasm. This doesn’t mean we are a flighty and capricious bunch (well, some of us are), but, rather, that we live in an instant-on, right-now world. The end result is that many young employees are very much in the “what have you done for me lately” mode.

With that mindset, you can’t simply throw small raises at Gen-Y every other quarter or bother with employee-of-the-month B.S. In fact, I think it is fair to say that there are few things that an employer can do to fulfill that mindset. Instead, you have to foster enthusiasm so that the millennial in question is motivating himself or herself without constant carrot and/or stick attention.

We want to make a difference, we want to personalize things, we want to see our actions have tangible (although not necessarily quantifiable) effects, and we want to see progress towards bigger and better things. But when we get what we want, we know to come back for more.

Many Gen-Y employees would rather help redesign a storefront so we could show our riding buddies and/or potential dating partners instead of get a 25-cent raise. Of course, after we redesign the storefront, help with a new Facebook page, and organize friends to create a successful dealership bike night, we are going to want to talk about a raise for more than just a few quarters. But while we are working on those projects that we helped inspire and create, we will surprise you with the enthusiasm we bring to work each day.

 The point we’re after here is that Gen-Yers can be incredible employees that can create real changes in a business environment. But you’ll need to know how to motivate us, and most conventional motivators simply don’t matter to us anymore. Get it right, get ‘us’ right, and a good Gen-Y employee can make all the difference.