Everybody by now has heard how millennials are different than the generations that came before them.
They grew up with cell phones and shelves full of participation trophies. They were both more exposed to the world through social media and more sheltered thanks to their helicopter parents.
So how are dealers supposed to manage today’s employees? Do they need to replace all their desks with foosball tables and all the chairs with beanbags?
Chuck Bonanno, national director of Twenty Group operations for the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, said millennial employees definitely differ from older employees.
“It’s a different set of values as far as what’s important,” Bonanno said.
He said millennials are very intelligent and connected to the world. But they want more of a work-life balance.
“We need to understand what are the incentives that are going to make them happy, what is the culture that is going to make them happy,” Bonanno said. “It is our future. We can’t fight it.”
Dealers can’t cave on everything, but they need to have some flexibility.
This might mean allowing more telecommuting for non-sales staff. That is something old-school dealers find especially difficult to come to terms with, Bonanno said.
They want to know employees are working, but today’s employee doesn’t like somebody looking over her shoulder.
It’s most important to have transparency for rules such as how employees can use their cell phones at work. Millennials are willing to follow rules, Bonanno said, as long as they understand them.
The interactions between dealers and their young staff need a different approach, as well.
Millennials want constant feedback and coaching rather than training, Bonanno said. And they want re-enforcement along with a paycheck.
They also often value their time more than money. A PwC survey of college graduates finds millennials place flexible working hours ahead of cash bonuses when ranking benefits they want from an employer.
That creates a problem for dealerships used to working 12-hour days and selling a lot of cars on Saturday.
“They’re interested in things we’re not interested in them being interested in,” said Ingram Walters, owner of several dealerships in North Carolina.
“Maybe the way we sell cars is going to change.”
The challenge for dealers is that if they don’t give young employees what they want, other companies will.
Brent Carmichael, a Twenty Group moderator with NCM Associates, said some dealers are finding they need to accept 80 percent from an employee. This means adding more staff than before.
Personnel expenses have gone up a little as they hire more people to do the same job, Carmichael said.
One option many dealers are looking at as a result is investing more in technology rather than people.
Young employees bring opportunities along with challenges.
The most obvious is that they better understand today’s customers.
These customers come to the store with information on all aspects of the process, from vehicle to financing, Walters said. Dealerships will need to set themselves apart by selling an experience as much as a vehicle, Walters said.
“The world of their future is going to be customer service,” he said.
Young employees understand this. They also understand how easily the unsatisfied customers can affect business.
“One voice can impact your business far greater than they ever have before,” said Steve Hall, president of Driversselect in Dallas.
The louder voice of millennials –a combination of attitude, technology and sheer numbers – is the biggest difference from past generations, Hall said.
In the end, much of what millennials want is what older employees have also wanted – more transparency, more work-life balance, etc.
“We’re not going to change it,” Bonanno said. “It’s a shift in society. We’re just going to have to manage.”