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Motivating Millennial-generation Employees



Millennials are completely different from the Baby Boomer bosses who hire them, not to mention Boomer customers. In a special bonus lunch session, keynote speaker Bob Phibbs gave INSTORE’s Cool Stores advice for creating a work environment that motivates Millennials and keeps the Boomers comfortable.

The key to motivating Millennial-generation employees (those born after 1980) is to catch their interest by engaging and empowering them and offering them stimulating work and new experiences.

First, for best results, recognize who they are (tattoos and all) and do what you can to allow them to express their creativity and intelligence. If you force them to “leave their personalities” at the door, they will become completely disengaged.

It’s a challenging proposition to bridge this particular generational gap, says Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, who addressed a lunch audience of America’s Coolest Store owners during the Smart Jewelry Show in Chicago on Saturday.

“The good side of it is that they keep you on your toes,” Phibbs says. “You want to be learning as much from them as they learn from you.”

Recognize that Millennials are completely different from the Baby Boomer bosses who hire them. They are so different they may as well be from another planet, Phibbs says. They also differ from your Boomer customers — who expect to be recognized and respected for their potential spending power in your store and who want to be greeted by a sales person who can “make their day.”


Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts and a speaker at the Smart Jewelry show, advises retailers to give up on the notion of hiring “mini-me’s.”

“Our clients look at younger people and they think their work ethic is not the same,” she says. “They see a generation of people who have come up with a different set of expectations, a different set of social skills, and a sense of entitlement. We have to adjust our approach and our expectations to get the best out of people coming in the door. We have to quit expecting people to behave like we did. It’s never going to go back to that.”

How are millennials different?

According to Phibbs:

  • Millennials are extremely frugal.
  • They are hopeful, by nature.
  • A third of them don’t have driver’s licenses.
  • If they consider your product to be too expensive, they are hesitant to sell it.
  • Their mantra is to be useful, and so they are inspired by cause marketing.
  • They are much more likely than preceding generations to still live at home with Mom and Dad, throughout their 20s, and they have very close relationships with their parents.
  • They respond better to teamwork and collaboration than to linear management structure.
  • They value experience above all else, so that if the experience in your store is the same day in and day out, they will likely move on to the next experience.
  • As Phibbs puts it, their “party” is virtual and much of their interaction is in cyberspace. You need the “party” to be in the aisles of your store.
  • They aren’t interested in working 80 hours per week in the hopes that their loyalty will pay off with a gold watch 40 years from now.

Andrea Hill, author of “the How to Hire Handbook for Small Business Owners,” in an interview for an article about hiring in the May issue of INSTORE, says that while Millennials have the rap of being entitled, what a lot of people describe as entitlement is really just expecting to work normal hours and to have a life. “They saw their parents kill themselves at jobs that didn’t really pay them in any meaningful way…. They also expect that they will “bring their brains to work.”

Remember that change can be positive, particularly for store owners who feel mired in the old ways of doing things and who need a jolt of creative or technological energy. “Previous generations were raised to be compliant at work, but compliance doesn’t bring innovation,” Hill says.




Wilkerson Testimonials

Wilkerson Helped This Jeweler to Navigate His Retirement Sale Despite a Pandemic

Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

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