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February 2017

Generation Meh

generationmeh.jpgBy Trent Bouts

Guiding a millennial workforce that becomes disengaged in the wrong environment

Babyboomers were raised to do as they were told. Millennials, well, not so much. As kids, they were led to believe they were special, each and every one of them. They could do anything and be anything they wanted to be. And, lo and behold, they believed it.

Small wonder then that some of today’s managers—invariably babyboomers—are struggling to captain this generation of 20- and 30-somethings with its own opinion on how life on the job should go.

They’re less inclined to do things the way they’re always done. Instead of asking how high when the boss says to jump, millennials are likely to ask why, especially since there’s a ladder nearby and they can text someone to help set it up.

They’re easily bored. Michael Shoun, McConnell Golf’s vice president of agronomy, says: “If you put them on a mower all day, every day, you’ll drive them insane.” They reject traditional hierarchies based heavily on years of service. “Millennials don’t think that way,” says De Sawa, a client relationship executive with TriNet. “They value results over tenure… They want career advancement much quicker than older generations are accustomed to.”
They tend to blur the lines between work and home, looking for a work-life blend less than the work-life balance some of their parents struggled to achieve. Gone are the days when personal phone calls were frowned upon. Smart phones and social media mean friends and family are constantly hovering.

The younger generation also wants to be treated as individuals. “We were taught to behave ourselves, especially in the workplace,” says Lyne Tumlinson of Lift Coaching. “But millennials aren’t going to behave themselves if they’re tasked with something that doesn’t speak authentically to who they are.”

Those traits, coupled with Gallup’s findings that more than two-thirds of American workers are already “disengaged” in their jobs, could make us shudder. Twenty (20) percent “have bosses from hell that make them miserable” Gallup chairman and CEO Jim Clifton says in his foreword to “State of the American Workforce.” Those employees “roam the halls spreading discontent.” Another 50 percent are “just kind of present,” inspired neither by their work nor their managers.

Those disengaged workers cost the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually, Gallup’s research shows. “If your company reflects the average in the U.S., just imagine what poor management and disengagement are costing your bottom line,” Clifton says.

With millennials set to make up nearly half of the workforce by 2020, golf course operators looking to except themselves from that malaise will need to engage these self-confident and technologically empowered young employees in ways that would make Henry Ford roll in his grave.

But there’s good news in all this, says Tumlinson, who’s more babyboomer than millennial. “If our generation would learn from what they are, we could get further faster,” she says. “They’re great with technology. We shouldn’t take that away. We should use it.”

The key, experts say, is for managers to communicate—truly communicate—which demands a two-way dialogue. Young employees want to be heard and they want to hear back. “They want to feel like their opinions count,” Tumlinson says. “And they want to know how they’re doing.” Lip service won’t cut it. “They don’t want a participation trophy.”

At Billy Casper Golf, Tom Reilly, himself closer to a millennial at age 35, has the title of talent manager for a company responsible for more than 7,500 employees. He concurs with Tumlinson and Sawa. “If you ask for feedback and you don’t act on it, then the quality of the feedback will erode over time,” he says. “You have to act on it. We train our managers to have meaningful conversations.”

Company-wide Billy Casper conducts regular employee experience surveys and uses the data, Reilly says, to inform “actionable decisions” to increase engagement and satisfaction. “We’re not just talking about putting a ping-pong table in the break room,” he says.

More significant, he says, are survey trends. “People want to be in a collaborative environment. They want to share ideas and innovate. They want to know what their career growth will look like.”

McConnell Golf’s Shoun says the prospect of growth and advancement matters to millennials, which is why the company that owns or operates a dozen facilities in the Southeast encourages rotation of duties and strives to promote from within.

Of note is Reilly’s earlier choice of the word “people.” “The easy way to label some of the challenges in today’s workforce is to say, ‘Oh, it’s a millennial thing,’” he says. “Typecasting people and putting them in buckets is unfair and not that productive. Whether you’re new or you’ve been in it 40 years, it’s important to know what matters to an employee.”

One of the summary statements out of that Gallup survey spoke to that point: “To win customers and a bigger share of the marketplace, companies must win the hearts and minds of their employees.”

To that end, Billy Casper also performs frequent performance reviews. “We have a lot of mechanisms to create touch points,” Reilly says. “We focus on ways to facilitate these conversations.”

That’s something Sawa says resonates, especially with younger employees. “Unlike the past where people received annual reviews, millennials want to know how they’re doing more regularly,” she says. “Give them honest feedback in real time.”

“How you communicate matters, too,” Tumlinson adds. “The best way is to show curiosity. Try, ‘So, I’m curious. I want to understand where you’re coming from.’ A good follow-up is ‘Can I give you a suggestion?’”

At Tokatee Golf Club in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, general manager Mark Giustina says young employees do well when they feel they’re part of something larger. He says superintendent Ty Patton consciously “creates a culture that everyone’s in this together.”

“He puts young employees together with older employees, and that breaks down stereotypes,” Giustina says. “He reminds them they all have their role in putting out a better product, which leads to more play, increased revenues, higher budgets to help make their jobs easier, and better salaries and hourly wages.”

Tokatee may be remote geographically, but that sense of belonging to a larger cause has similar currency with the younger generation everywhere. It’s a seeming contradiction, given the label of the “me-generation,” that younger people have a heightened sense of social responsibility. When Bentley University surveyed 1,000 millennials, 84 percent said making a positive difference in the world was more important than professional recognition.

By that measure, golf operations stand to gain if their employees understand golf’s positive role in the community as an economic driver, as urban green space and as a platform for bringing people together. As Tumlinson says, “Millennials are interested in building community and doing good things. In golf, they may be more likely to be engaged if they don’t think of the game as a way for rich, white guys to blow their money.”

Trent Bouts is a South Carolina-based freelance writer and editor of Palmetto Golfer magazine.

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