Managers must set example for Gen Y ‘kidployees’

Expert: managers must set example for Gen Y ‘kidployees’

Robin Lee Allen

KISSIMMEE, FLA. — More than decades separate today’s youths from their older employers. Raised in an environment where choices abound and technology and material goods are plentiful, today’s youngest workers are wired completely differently than the older folks who hire them, making these “kidployees” difficult to manage unless they are understood, according to an authority on people born after 1980.

In a keynote address sponsored by The Coca-Cola Co., Eric Chester, author of “Getting Them to Give a Damn: How to Get Your Front Line to Care About Your Bottom Line,” suggested that employers need to set a strong example, hire the right people and think like a member of so-called Generation Y to motivate them. Chester spoke before 750 attendees of the Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference recently held here.

To get inside the heads of Generation Y, a population numbering about 68 million and also called “echo boomers” and “boomlets,” employers need to appreciate the vast differences between Gen Y and the generations that preceded it, Chester said.

One of the most notable differences is the plethora of choices Gen Y members have always bad before them, Chester said. While baby boomers had three television networks to choose from, Generation Y has numerous networks and cable stations beckoning. The same proliferation has occurred with grocery products–like coffee and even crackers, now available in different sizes as well as in low-salt and low-fat varieties–and with jobs as “Help Wanted” signs now dot the landscape.

Such abundance has wired Gen Y to view life as a series of infinite choices with immediate results. In contrast, baby boomers learned that select choices paid off in time. For instance, they believe working hard now leads to future promotions, while boomlets will question why they have to wear a uniform and why they can’t have a raise after three days. Such inquiries prompted Chester to call the age group “Generation Why.”

“We think linearly,” Chester said. “We think like a VCR. They think like a DVD.”

Gen Y, which has more material goods than any preceding generation, has grown up with the attitude that to get rich, you just need to get noticed, he said. For them, work does not define who they are; it is a means to buy more stuff.

Despite these differences, kidployees can be great employees if they have leadership that inspires them, Chester said.

First, he said, managers need to be the example. Because this generation has seen their parents downsized, they do not expect longevity and they rarely see passion. Thirty to 40 percent actively are looking for new jobs, and 30 percent are looking passively, Chester said. But an inspiring leader can win their loyalty.

Chester also noted that employers must hire the right people versus the best people. To do this, employers need to create a profile of their outstanding employees and hire similar personality types. He pointed to Centennial, Colo.-based Tokyo Joe’s, an 11-unit fast-casual chain, as an employer that has done this well with its motto “The few, the proud, the pierced, or whatever.” Chester said that Tokyo Joe’s places table tents with the motto and the cell phone number of the hiring manager on its tables. The manager responds immediately when called.

In addition, employers need to get inside the heads of Gen Y, Chester said. “Gen Ys would rather be injured than bored,” he said. “This generation wants to break predictability…. You need purposeful change to re-engage the disengaged.”

Chester pointed to Pal’s Sudden Service, a Kingsport, Tenn.-based quick-service company with 19 units, as doing a masterful job of training its kidployees by teaching general managers to think like them. Meanwhile, kidployees know that they will be held to high standards–for instance, they must show up to work 15 minutes before their shifts start–but they also know that their managers believe they can meet those standards.

Most important, Chester said, employers must foster relationships with their Gen Y employees. “If you want them to care, you must care about them,” he said.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group