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

Finding them

The first challenge with this group is getting them to work for you, since it's a buyer's market.

"We're laying off software engineers, but we still need $8-an-hour chairlift operators," Wendover says. "They know they're very much in the seat of power."

Playing off the Millennials' affinity for the Internet helps attract workers, as many employers have found.

Since it began posting job opportunities on the Web and offering online applications, Johnson County Parks and Recreation has been flooded with applications, Miller says.

"Kids away at college can apply, and supervisors can contact them via e-mail," she explains. As a result, the district can begin hiring earlier as well.

And while recruiting, managers should not shy from high standards, notes Raul Rehnborg, director of the Soak City Orange County waterpark in Buena Park, Calif. He recalls that in the park's first year, he chose flexible personnel standards for fear of losing people, which resulted in the "hardest summer ever." The next year, he instituted the highest standards possible.

"If an employee was one minute late, he had consequences," he says. "If a guard didn't come in completely clean-shaven, we had a razor in the office."

It worked.

"We are left with an employee population that's so prideful, so conscious of their legacy, it's almost self-policing," he says.

Rehnborg also seeks the cream of the crop for his lifeguard staff of about 170. In January, he sends letters to the coaches of diving, water polo, swimming and surfing teams at 80 schools, offering schedules that accommodate scholastics and athletics and promising that by working at Soak City, team members will become even more responsible, well-rounded and disciplined.

Frequently, good potential employees are hiding right under your nose. Many facilities, especially fitness clubs and gyms, attract staff from their clients.

"We have thousand of members coming through our gyms every day, and we use this to our advantage to recruit," says Suzanne Berthay, human resources director for Venice, Ca.-based Gold's Gym International, which boasts more than 650 gyms worldwide.

Employers must understand the benefits they offer and be honest about the jobs they're posting, says the Houston JCC's Shenker.

"Every company ought to make a list of why it's a good thing to work there," he argues. "There's a family environment, you get lots of training, you provide all the hot dogs you can eat for life. It's no different than if you're selling widgets—you have to know your product."

And employers should never hide the negatives about a job—a common mistake, he adds, since it becomes obvious once a person starts working.

What's more, proper screening will help ensure a more qualified work force. Directors mustn't shy from rejecting poor candidates.

A few of the more interesting red flags Miller has encountered: One applicant took calls on her cell phone during the job interview. Another job seeker listed his qualifications as "cool" and "very cool."

Employers also must consider a wide number of criteria for each position, not only to ensure the best candidate but also to protect themselves from legal tussles later on, notes attorney Tex McIver, a partner with Atlanta-based Fisher & Phillips LLP, a national law firm specializing in labor law. Appearance, for example, must only be one of many criteria.

"It can include clean teeth, typing skills or a recreation-management degree, and they can be both objective and subjective," he explains, "So if a 300-pound lady comes along and says 'I was the best candidate, and you discriminated against my weight,' you can go back and say, 'No, we considered many criteria.'"

(Obesity, McIver notes, is on the cutting edge of labor law since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the EEOC—has taken the position that obesity is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Obesity-related cases have yet to begin working their way up the court system.)