Hiring Generation Y

March 31, 2010
Written by Andrew Hind
Students, whether enrolled in high school or college, make up a large and important part of a garden centre’s retail workforce. Enthusiastic and energetic, readily available during the vital summer months, and inexpensive compared to full-time employees, they are indispensable to a garden centre.

 That said, there’s no doubt that young workers have special needs and cannot be treated in the same manner as one would adults. Their age, experience, state of emotional maturity, and employment goals are all different from those of mature, full-time employees.

 Learning how to manage youth workers effectively is the key to successfully integrating them into a garden centre’s workforce. It’s harder than one thinks, because most managers/owners are separated by a generation, or two, from the youth workers of today. The gap between attitudes and values is immense, and where most managers/owners fail is in the vital step of determining how to relate to today’s youth, and then engaging. To succeed, you need to understand the mindset and values of the current generation.

 “Gen Ys, today’s young workers, were raised by guilty, work-obsessed parents who made their kids’ feelings and success their hobby, worshipped at the altar of promoting self-esteem, and tried to make up for their lack of time spent with them by lavishing them with travel experiences, clothes, and electronic toys,” explains Barbara Moses, PhD, a work/life expert, bestselling author, and president of BBM Human Resources Consultants Inc. in Toronto. “As kids, gen Ys were told they were brilliant because they could program the VCR. They were given the vote on everything – the family vacation choice, the colour of the family car. It’s not surprising they believe their feelings matter and should be able to express themselves.”

This sense of entitlement and self-confidence, which perhaps borders on cockiness, makes managing young workers a delicate, often patience-testing proposition. But it’s important to remember that, despite their self-assuredness, they are still kids and both they and their parents are entrusting you with their well-being – emotional perhaps more so than physical – during their time at work.

 That’s why communication is critical: write out store policies and responsibilities expected of your employees, and if possible use formal agreements and contracts. The clearer you can be, the more secure and content your young staff members will be.

 Often, young people don’t know their rights. They can be intimidated and therefore do things they might not be comfortable with, or on the other hand they might feel their age entitles them to certain special considerations or exemptions. Young workers and store managers alike are encouraged to do research into what the law requires they do in the workplace. The less ambiguity there is, the happier everyone involved will be (for information on laws pertaining to young workers, go to www.labour.gov.on.ca ).

It’s helpful to have a younger manager or senior associate, someone not far removed from the high school or university phase of life, act as an immediate supervisor to youth workers. They’re able to communicate better and relate more easily to their charges, and young staff tends to consider them more of a peer than an authority figure. Ironically, young workers tend to be more motivated working for someone closer to their own age then the person who writes their paycheques, simply because employers are associated with “The Establishment” – parents, teachers, etc. – who set the rules that govern how teenagers live.

“Young workers can be important assets to a retail environment, if you take the time to understand them and accept that managing them requires special considerations,” explains Moses. “This generation is not inferior to predecessors but it is different, and we need to know how to motivate them if we are to succeed in the modern retail environment. You’re not going to be able to change teenagers, so instead you need to change your management style to suit them.”

 Here are eight tips for successfully managing youth workers:

1. Hire the right people
It’s more important than ever to do due diligence when hiring young staff. You need to find individuals with positive attitudes, who are motivated, hard-working, and able to blend in with the culture of your workplace. Read books and attend seminars on recruiting, interviewing, and hiring.

2. Accept young workers
Let’s face it, without young, part-time staff most garden centres would quickly close. Learn to appreciate them for the valued services they do provide, and then show your appreciation. 

3. Don’t baby them
Young people are a frustrating dichotomy. They want people to care about them, but they also demand to be treated like adults. It’s a fine line to walk, but one you have to learn to walk.

4. Set ground rules
In many ways, while at work, you serve as a parental figure to teenaged staff. You need to set ground rules and enforce them, just as you would your own children.

5. Set an example

Of course, rules must apply to you as well. Act as you expect your staff to act, and eventually they will follow suit.

6. Reward and recognize

If someone goes above and beyond what is expected, be sure to recognize it in words or actions, and reward them appropriately. Most importantly, make sure the rewards are meaningful to them.

7. Foster strong team environment
It’s essential that you foster camaraderie between yourself and your staff, that you maintain a positive atmosphere, and that you keep a finger on the pulse of store morale. Young people have stronger allegiances to one another than their employer, and as a result if someone is treated badly they all react to it.

8. Make work fun
Find ways to make work enjoyable. Keep the mood light, don’t have unrealistic expectations of which tasks can be accomplished on a given shift and arrange fun staff outings. The reality is that young workers value fun over money and responsibilities.

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