CHICAGO — If you believe the crop of kids born since 1981 are violent, drug-addled sourpusses, you are in for a surprise.
So says Todd Woodruff, corporate training director for Main Event Entertainment. The Texas-based chain, which features bowling, laser tag and other activities, depends greatly on a workforce comprised of the youngest generation. And to help bring in the best of them and keep turnover low, Woodruff undertook to understand their traits and what motivates them.
Woodruff made his remarks in a session at National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show, going on now through May 20.
"Originally Millennials were thought of as Gen Y, which implied they were an extension of Gen X," the generation of children born between 1965 and 1980, Woodruff said. Closer examination, however, showed they are too different to be tacked onto their forebears.
Instead of the Gen X's Seattle-tinged emotional morass of gloom and self-absorption, Millennials are, quite literally, putting on a happy face. Woodruff says one of their two most popular emoticons on MySpace is the smiley. (The other one shows optimism.) Teen violence is down 20 percent in the last 20 years, and their DUIs are down 14 percent. They are socially conscious, pro-recycling and enjoy family time. The No. 1 hero cited by Gen X was Bono. Millennials point to their fathers.
One shortcoming: "Their communication skills are less refined than those of previous generations," Woodruff said. "They can't stand up and articulate thought." He cites text messaging as a culprit.
Millennials on the job
Woodruff said he surveyed employees to understand what he calls the "brand of the employee experience." Just as a business owner is concerned with the customer's emotional connection, he or she should also worry about the employee's emotional connection to the work experience.
The responses showed how traits of the Millennial generation can be used to create an appealing workplace, and how to get them on board initially.
Tell why, not just how. Woodruff said Millennials need to understand not only the methods but also the reasoning behind tasks. "It's not enough to teach them how to make fries," he said. You have to teach them why you make fries.
Involvement, fun on the job. Millennials want more than a good paycheck. They want to enjoy what they are doing and to help make decisions.
Praise. Woodruff said offering praise is "more important than a paycheck." Millennials need constant positive feedback, in part owing to an upbringing for most that was child-centric and self-esteem building. "The most iconic symbol of the Millennials is the baby-on-board signs," he said. Millennials believe they are special, and need to be treated that way.
Immediacy. Woodruff said his company does payroll every week instead of every two. Doing so helps keep funds fluid for a generation that likes everything right away. A side benefit, he said, is that it helps reduce shrinkage, since an employee who runs out of cash is more likely to skim the register. Also, the highly important praise needs to be doled out right away. Consider reviewing employees and giving any bonuses twice a year instead of once.
While finding good employees from the Millennial generation isn't so different from others, Woodruff said employers should act quickly to stop candidates from taking another job. "Their need to have things right away can cause them to accept another job just down the street after applying with you." He suggests doing the interview on the spot, as soon as the application is filled out. Check the references right away, and be prepared to offer the job the next day.
Another tip: Look for a positive attitude in the interview. Woodruff tells his managers to pass if the candidate doesn't smile within the first two minutes of the interview.