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Hiring in the 21st Century

Make a list of everything you think new college graduates want when they start looking for a job.

Now compare that list to ours.

In the following story, we take a look at the millennial generation, generally described as those born between 1977 and 1997. We’ll study what they’re looking for when they set out on a job search.

To help us understand the demands of the millennial generation, we interviewed Jeanne Meister, co-author of the book “The 2020 Workplace,” Forbes columnist, and co-founder of Future Workplace, an organization that helps companies prepare for the next generation of workers; Nate Seigel, general manager of Mifflinburg Lumber in Mifflinburg, Pa., who is actively creating ways to attract younger employees; and Doug Kooyman, owner of Kooyman Lumber in Pella, Iowa, who has developed an extensive hiring process that has reduced employee turnover.

As an employer, do you have what millennials want?

We Care About Company Values

For younger employees, the paycheck is no longer the ultimate objective in a job. In a survey of students by Net Impact, 58 percent said they would be willing to take a 15-percent pay cut to “work for an organization with values like my own.” In the same survey, nearly two thirds of the students surveyed said having a job where they could make a social or environmental impact was “very important or essential to my happiness,” ranking only lower than financial security and marriage.

Give It to Them

Develop Your Brand

“The younger generation wants to be part of something significant,” he says. “Your company should look and act hot. Do you have a website? Is your brand a household name?” Get your brand in all the places young employees already are, such as social media sites. Everything from your advertising efforts outside the store to your in-store marketing projects an image of your business and affects how potential employees see you as a desirable employer.

Get Involved in the Community

Make it clear that your company values corporate social responsibility, whether it’s giving back to your community or to a national cause. When you donate money or resources to a non-profit or community organization, let employees know about it. Find ways to give back that include your employees’ participation so everyone feels they have not just a job, but also an outlet for making a difference in the world around them.

We Move From Job to Job

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ latest numbers, you can expect an employee in the retail sector to stay at his job about 3.3 years. Job hopping is the bane of every retailer because it’s costly to hire a new employee. It’s also the new normal, Meister says, especially among younger workers.

Younger employees have shed the stigma long associated with frequent job changes and are more concerned with upward mobility and job satisfaction. Don’t take that as a sign of instability or a lousy worker. “Before dismissing a scattershot resume, consider the context; it may demonstrate ambition, motivation and the desire to learn new skills more than it shows flakiness,” Meister says.

Give It to Them

Offer Advancement

Offer plenty of opportunities for advancement. While you may hire an individual for a specific job, make it clear in the interview process that there is room for growth. Clearly show what training opportunities you can offer and how those opportunities can lead to new responsibilities in the company. Also, find out if they have any skills or abilities beyond or outside their current position and find ways to utilize and build on those skills. In fact, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a top contributor to engaged and satisfied employees, regardless of age, is using their skills and abilities on the job.

Encourage New Ideas

If employees don’t feel they are part of an environment that wants new and innovative ideas, and where their ideas are important, they’ll look elsewhere. “We love new ideas from any of our employees. It gives them ownership,” Seigel says. “Go out of your way to thank them after they have shared their ideas. More ideas will come.

“The younger generation also seems less tolerant of mediocrity and very willing to help brainstorm or make improvements, which in turn keeps our entire business sharp.” If you don’t push forward with progressive ideas, you may lose employees to someone who does.

We Blend Work Life and Home Life

Millennials redefine the home life/work life balance. The Multiple Generations @ Work survey Meister conducted revealed that, while earlier generations sought to balance work life and home life, millennials see the two intertwined. One respondent said, “work is part of life, not separate from it.” Millennials seem to want more input into when and where they work.

Give It to Them

Family Life

Be flexible when it comes to adjusting schedules so employees can fit in their personal lives. Use online scheduling tools to send schedules to employees. Some software programs even allow you to text message reminders to employees. And invite their input. Also, foster the work life/home life blend by getting to know your employees’ families. When you host an employee appreciation event, invite families too.

Life Skills

The Multiple Generations @ Work survey also revealed younger employees want a job that develops not only their career skills, but also their life skills. According to the study, training in financial planning was a priority for 23 percent of those respondents. A recent graduate facing down student loans, for example, may appreciate counseling in managing a personal budget. A wellness program, an investment club, nutrition classes or a workshop in buying a first home can all be part of your effort to develop your employees’ life skills.

Fun at Work

Don’t underestimate the value of creating a fun workplace for keeping younger employees motivated. Celebrate birthdays and store anniversaries. Allow employees to have a hand in planning the holiday party and be open to creative ideas. For employees that sit in a back office, allow them to have a little music while they work. A relaxed work environment shows employees you trust them to be professional.

We Are Connected

Millennials have grown up being able to communicate and get information instantly, wherever they are, using social media and mobile technology. They are also used to sharing their ideas freely on social networking sites. In the Multiple Generations @ Work survey, 58 percent of millennials said they “are likely to select an employer based on the availability of the latest tools and technologies at work.”

On the job, millennials also want to share those ideas with all levels of management. In the SHRM study, one top contributor to employee satisfaction in a job was their relationship with their immediate supervisor and communication with senior management.

Give It to Them

Allow Ownership

Employees will feel connected if they feel like they have ownership in the company. “Allow younger employees to spearhead their own projects, like a seasonal endcap or front of store display,” Seigel says. “Embrace them as part owners—not necessarily financially, but they need to see that the input they have is helping grow your business.”

Allow Access to Management

Build bridges between upper management and the rest of the company. Doug Kooyman, owner of Kooyman Lumber in Pella, Iowa, for example, schedules a time, twice a week for two hours at the close of the workday, when he will be in his office. “I don’t take any calls during that time,” he says, “and employees know my door is open and that I’m going to listen to what they are going to say.”

Constant Communication

Employees today want constant feedback on how they are doing. Part of being connected is having a constant line of communication with their employer about how they’re performing on the job and what’s happening in the company. They also want opportunities to share their own ideas.

Seigel believes every employee, both part- and full-time, should have a mailbox. He recently switched to using email to send out information.

“Every employee in the company has a work email address,” he says. “I’m using that as a way to constantly stay in contact with them. Young people today want to know what’s going on in the company.” Keep employees informed of major business decisions and help them understand how the changes will affect them. Reinforce the fact that they are integral to the company’s growth.

Redefine Work Guidelines

Ultimately, flexibility in the workplace is built on trust and respect. Mobile devices present a challenge. You don’t want employees spending all their time on Facebook when they should be helping customers. However, don’t make them stash the phone in a locker before hitting the salesfloor.

Seigel admits he’s a bit liberal when it comes to allowing the use of social media and cell phones on the job—he doesn’t reprimand them if they slip in a Facebook post or text while they’re at work. “I want to create a culture of respectfulness,” he says, “but I also expect my employees to be respectful of my business.” He reminds them that it is unacceptable to be on their cell phones in front of a customer, but also lets them know he values social media, not just as a way to connect with friends but also talk about the store. “I tell them, if you’re on Facebook, you better mention Mifflinburg Lumber in your post.”

About Jesse Carleton

Jesse Carleton has visited independent hardware retailers, conducted original research on the industry and written extensively about the business of hardware retailing. Jesse has written for more than a dozen of NHPA’s contract publishing titles, all related to the hardware retailing industry. He also was instrumental in developing the Basic Training in Hardware Retailing courses now used by thousands of retailers across the country.

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