Meet the Millennials


Are you a misunderstood member of the youth culture or a frustrated manager? Learn how to work together in harmony. (Hint: Millennials want more than a paycheck.)

In the last few years I've noticed a shift in the makeup of my team. Have you noticed it too? I've carefully navigated my way to managing a team of pretty terrific young people. It's also been a long and trying time, filled with some very dark periods, getting to that point. Here's what I've learned so far that's made our workforce work for our practice-and helped us adjust our workplace to work for the younger workforce. 

My generation:

Mature/Silents: Born 1927-1945

Korean and Vietnam war generation

Defined by: 

> Discipline

> Cautiousness

Common traits

> Newspaper readers

Loyalty to their job and workplace for life

Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964

Often called the “me” generation

Defined by:

> Optimism

> Self-centeredness

> Career climbing

Non-violent protesting

Common traits

> Buy it on credit

Two-income households, with more mothers working outside the home

>  First divorce generation

A quick aside: Any generational conversation begins with generalizations and assumptions. Some-or all-of these may not hold true for you or for your employees. Use this advice to open conversations and dialogue instead of labeling individuals in your practice.

Our hiring approach used to begin with the following assumptions for entry level employees: 

My old assumptions

Most new employees start at or near the bottom of the pay scale. 

Employees should pay their dues. Then slow and steady promotions in responsibility and pay may occur. 

We will pay back loyalty to the business with increasing rewards. 

Employees understand that they are fortunate to have a job and react accordingly. 

Contrast this with the assumptions some team members of the next generation possess: 

The Millennial's assumptions

They expect to earn the same wage on their first day of employment that anyone else in the same job is receiving. 

They expect to experience their first consideration for advancement the very same day they do their job without making a single mistake. 

We are fortunate to have them interested in working for us. 

You can see we're starting with a breach that needs to be filled.

Read on to see how to get started:



My generation:

Generation X: Born 1965-1980

Defined by: 

> Individualism

> Entrepreneurship

> Self-absorption

> Skepticism

Common traits: 

> Latchkey kids

Commit to themselves vs. organizations

Late to marry and quick to divorce

> Many single parents

Generation Y/Millennium: Born 1981-2000*

Defined by: 

> Respect for authority

> Assertiveness, with strong views

Common traits:

> Nurtured by helicopter parents

> Schedule everything

> Prefer to work in teams

Seek relaxed work environments that offer handholding and frequent pats on the back

* Exact dates for this generation still vary

Mark these traits


Many members of the youth culture come with built-in benefits you should appreciate: 

1. They're wired for technology. Computers and electronics are second nature to Millennials. Their generation was simply wired for technology.

2. They can connect with clients in new ways. They bring an often unjaded approach to customer service, allowing them to reach clients in ways we haven't explored. 

Shifts from money to time

Since I started working for our practice, we've always had one or two college students who were so hungry for money that they happily volunteered to work all of the shifts that were outside of their school schedule. This included the evenings that we were open later, our half-day Saturdays and the responsibility of taking care of admitted patients over the weekend. Our Saturday shift includes an hourly pay bump of two dollars an hour, and our weekend kennel attendants are paid overtime and a minimum of one hour per visit. For more than 10 years, we enjoyed a steady group of employees who worked every Saturday, and a few employees who worked almost every weekend. 

About five years ago, the Saturday group mounted a collective revolt. They felt it was unfair that they had to work every Saturday and miss events that occur on weekends. We are only open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. We long ago determined that most of our clients aren't conflicted with other obligations early in the day on Saturday and are more willing to schedule an appointment for their pets. To address our need, we placed our entire team-everyone, including myself-on a rotation of working Saturdays and taking care of our kennels over the weekend. The change made some of our team unhappy, but the fact that it affected everyone equally made it hard for anyone to be too upset. At this moment, it was clear to me that this new generation cares far less about their earnings and far more about their personal time.

Read on to see how we managed to bridge the gap. 



Don't forget to make room for the Millennial doctors

It's worth noting that we now have Millennial doctors in the workplace. Though I'm delighted with our current veterinarians, we have had associates in the past who quietly told our receptionists to stop scheduling appointments for the day so they could get home earlier, and others who would intentionally overstate the time involved in a procedure to keep their schedule light. I even had a doctor come into my office to renegotiate her time off after just two weeks on the job. 



Stay flexible with your team


We've all experienced the seasonal fluctuation of business. Before the economic collapse of 2009, we would occasionally have a slow afternoon and elect to lighten our payroll for the day. I dreaded the decision, as no one was excited about losing a couple of hours of pay and it was often a process of who drew the short straw. We tried to keep a running list of who may have been asked to go home early to make sure we spread this evenly among our team members.

Quick service tips for Millennials

1. Mind the customers. Your natural inclination may be to schedule conservatively and be quick to say the schedule's full and the doctor and can't see a patient until the next day or later in the week. In this economy this can be a death wish. The one habit consumers have developed in the past few years is the expectation of immediate service, because so many businesses are hungry enough to deliver it. So are we, and we need our entire team to demonstrate this interest to our clients. 

2. Boost your tolerance for difficult clients. Are you quick to close the door and shut off all the lights as soon as your practice closes? Opening the door to sell someone a bag of needed dog food after we close is more valuable than any amount of advertising. We did this for a client a few years ago and I've lost count of the times that she has told the story in our community. In this day of social media communication, one good deed that someone posts about can return huge dividends.

While the economy in our area has mostly recovered, one lingering change is the unpredictability of business. We can no longer explain why a Tuesday is slow but the next day is crazy busy. In short, we now have more frequent opportunities to finish the day with less than our full team and still be able to handle the flow of business. It's no longer an issue finding someone who's willing to go home early.

It's the rare day when no one has approached me before 10 a.m. to let me know that they would be willing to leave early if it's a slow day. A survey of our employees last year confirmed that 14 out of 15 list time off as their priority-well above earning potential.

The lesson: As you tweak your schedule and look for ways to balance responsibilities, be aware that your team may value their personal time above the extra money they make on weekend shifts. Another thought: If you're looking for a way beyond pay to reward an exceptional employee, you might look to schedule accomodations in lieu of money. These schedule adjustments and an extra awareness of their values might be the steps you need toward forging lasting connections with those new members of your team.   

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon.

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