Customer Experience Articles

How to Motivate Younger Employees

You’re a manager who has paid your dues. Over a lifetime you’ve learned how to honour your commitments, interact with others, and make a positive contribution on the job. To you it seems like common sense. That’s the problem. Those high performing habits that are second nature to you can be completely foreign to today’s younger employees. Here are three reasons managers are becoming increasingly frustrated with younger workers, and how you can motivate them to provide exceptional service for internal and external customers.

1. Participation Medals

Need I say more? Years ago when my daughters were 4 and 6 we enrolled them in the local community soccer league. The idea was to give them some exercise and teach them about teamwork (if a cluster of 22 kids hovering around a ball – including the goalie – can be considered teamwork). Then at the year-end wrap-up everyone was awarded with a medal. Huh? If anyone, it’s the parents who should’ve receive medals for driving the kids to games and practices.

Kids raised receiving medals just for showing-up – rather than for their performance – will eventually face the harsh reality that at work more is expected than simply arriving on time. There’s no second place award for simply participating. You either earn the customer’s business, or if they do business elsewhere, the company loses 100% of those revenues.

2. No more ‘F’ Grades

Many school boards are now prohibiting teachers from issuing zero grades to students who fail to turn-in assignments. Instead, teachers are required to issue the average of the student’s previous grade without the assignment. Pardon? So later at work… “Sorry Boss, I didn’t get around to ordering those critical parts. Can’t you just give me credit for the ones I ordered last year?”

3. Anti-social Media

Put two strangers together at a bus-stop or park bench and chances are, you won’t get a conversation about the weather; you’ll get at least one person pulling-out a smart phone and scrolling. The art of small talk is fading fast. And without exercising those conversational muscles, they atrophy. At work, the habit of tuning-out strangers can translate into customers being ignored. That’s a problem for employees of all ages. It just happens that younger employees tend to be more engaged online and are more prone to develop the dismissive habit.

There is Hope

The good news is there is a simple solution. In a word – training. But not just training to develop technical skills. Employees also need to learn communication skills with particular emphasis on how to earn and keep trust with customers and co-workers.

Fortunately, today’s young employees are amazingly fast learners, especially when you involve them and engage them in the training. For example, in my Trusted Advisor seminars where I talk about interacting with customers, I ask participants how long it should take to acknowledge a customer who enters your establishment. Everyone agrees that a 5 minute wait is far too long. We eventually settle at 30 seconds. Then I ask them to imagine walking into a restaurant, waiting to be seated. I set the stopwatch and we all wait for 30 seconds. People are shocked when they realize how annoyingly long 30 seconds feels while you’re waiting to be noticed. Employees quickly get it, and they become curious and anxious to learn more tips to help them earn trust, and ultimately gain more respect.

Bottom line

Chances are, as a seasoned manager you learned a lot about commitment and social skills growing-up. Society’s approach to teaching and parenting was different then. There’s no point in lamenting that younger workers may not share your work ethic or social graces. Rather than being discouraged by younger employees, consider being a mentor and arrange for them to receive the kind of training they really need.


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