Five ways to get the best out of Generation Y employees

Since the arrival of Generation Y in the workforce, service-industry employers from restaurants to retail have tried to devise the secret formula to attract, engage and retain this youngest generation. Does Generation Y have unrealistic expectations about work? Do they want it all too fast? Do they just need to grow up?

Service-industry employers in restaurants, convenience stores (c-stores), and hospitality and retail businesses will be depending on Generation Y employees for years to come. As easy as it is to talk about "these kids today," a more realistic strategy is to figure out what makes these men and women tick, engage them and develop them into employees who will stick around and make businesses more profitable.

But before we discuss the best ways to hire and engage them, let’s talk about who these workers are and how they are unique.

Who is Generation Y?

Generation Y goes by lots of different names—the Millennials, the Internet Generation, Generation Next. This generation, which was born between 1980 and 2000, is sometimes called the Echo Boom. This title is quite apt, because it links them directly to their parents, the Baby Boom Generation. And just as the Baby Boomers have molded the American workforce since the 1960s, Generation Y should reshape the working world in the first half of the 21st century.

What do service industry employers need to know about Gen Y? Let’s start with the positives:

  • They're optimistic
  • They work well in teams
  • They can multitask
  • They are tech savvy

However, this generation is also dogged by stereotypes, such as:

  • They need to be coddled
  • Their moms will call you to find out why they didn’t get that raise
  • They can’t focus
  • They spend all day on Facebook

To make matters worse, research from big consulting firms such as Accenture and Deloitte shows that young people today aren't really that interested in service industry jobs. Also, declines in education worldwide are bringing many members of this generation into the workforce without the skills they need to succeed.

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What is the secret to motivating this generation?

Gen Y'ers value career progression, accelerated learning and a work culture that matches their values—relaxed, results-oriented and wanting responsibility.

As Eric Houseman, president and COO of Red Robin restaurants explained, the young employees that make up a majority of the servers, hosts and hostesses at the casual-dining chain "are proud to wear [the company's] values on their sleeve. Responsibility, accountability—all of today's workers love that; people love that."

Another big factor is technology. Bill Carmichael, director of training at Memphis, Tenn.,-based Back Yard Burgers Inc., the operator and franchisor of more than 160 hamburger units, says Generation Y workers require training techniques that are more relevant to their age group.

So here are some steps for success that service-industry employers should take when it comes to Generation Y:

  • Hire the best: In today's economy, most employers are buried under applications and résumés—most from unqualified applicants. Because of education shortfalls, serious skills deficiencies exist in today’s workforce. Don’t let the recession lull you into a false sense of security. It is still just as hard as ever to hire quality workers.
  • Bring them onboard the right way: First impressions matter with Generation Y. If they can have a great first day, you are taking a big first step toward retention. And make no mistake, turnover is expensive.
  • Give them opportunities to learn: Because Generation Y is tech-friendly, craves structure and is achievement-oriented, workplace education opportunities are perfectly suited to their style. If you can tie these three elements together, you can help them feel supported as they learn how you want things done. Do that and you’ll hit the sweet spot for engagement.
  • Show them you care about their career growth: Dead-end jobs won’t do for this generation. They need to know that they have a career path and that you will give them a structured environment in which to grow. And, who knows, you might have found your next manager.
  • Have a little fun: This is a relaxed, upbeat, positive-minded generation. Loosen up and have a little fun. You’ll find that this will help bring out the best in this group.

(Excerpted from "Getting The Best Out of Generation Y," published by PeopleMatter.)

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