Feature Article - April 2003
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Staff Strategies

How to hire, manage and keep great employees despite the generation gaps

By Margaret Ahrweiler


Team building

Soak City's Rehnborg agrees, saying that his biggest misconception as a manager was that money was most important to employees. Instead, he found that his under-25 set wanted to be part of a team, to belong to something with a reputation for excellence. As a result, he created a strong team atmosphere and the opportunity to excel. All employees belong to teams, complete with their own flags, which are raised every day. The staff earns points for their teams through an array of ways, as each group competes against the others.

For his lifeguards, Rehnborg promotes the staff as an elite corps. Only 75 percent of those hired pass rigorous training, which ends with a graduation ceremony. Next, Rehnborg uses the Ellis and Associates certification program as a standard, holds weekly training sessions to hone skills, and offers both an in-house Olympics and a chance to compete in the regional and national lifeguard championships. (The Soak City team placed fourth last year.)

Problems, problems, problems

Next, employers must be ready to address problems, especially those unique to the Millennials. This means creating clear, written policies; discussing them when hiring; and sticking to them no matter what.

For example, many employers of Millennials complain about the youths' use of personal electronics on the job: cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players and pagers. Younger employees may frequently show up for work late, or not at all. And most frequently, managers report problems with parents interfering.

The only way to prevent such problems, those in the field report, is to create clear policies and stick with them no matter what. This means written policies prohibiting cell phones and other electronics at all times. This means clear consequences for tardiness. It means firing employees who don't live up to standards.

When it comes to disorganization and problems with schedules, rec supervisors also must understand that this group has let parents program and oversee personal schedules, so the teens may not yet have developed those skills. Miller suggests working with problem cases one-on-one, "coaching, rather than managing" to help them build these skills. She also reports that mentoring, especially with older, retired workers, seems to work well.

Empowering a disorganized group by asking them to work out a schedule has proven effective for Laguna Niguel's Dittmar as well. But when trouble occurs, parents lurk.

"I've released employees because they don't come to work on time and I get calls from their parents," Dittmar recalls. "I have to tell them this isn't high school, it's a job. You can't go to the principal. And it's not your job, Mom or Dad, it's theirs."

These overly concerned adults can cause additional strife if they use the facility where their child works, Wendover says. To solve this dilemma, he suggests explaining to both employee and parent that, because of privacy laws, you cannot discuss their job with parents and cannot permit parents calling.

"You may lose a few kids along the way, but they may be the ones who would have given you the most grief," he says.