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.
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:
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.
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.
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.