Lessons from the Retail Sector on Engaging Gen Ys

Image: Lessons from the Retail Sector on Engaging Gen Ys

What Other Sectors Can Learn From The Retail Sector

Even if you are not in the retail sector, many of the challenges that this sector faces are similar to the challenges that you may face in your industry or sector.

This is particularly true when it comes to understanding, responding to and managing the expectations of Gen Y employees.

The retail sector tends to have the greatest percentage of Gen Ys at the front-line level. Retail is also an interesting macrocosm of all organizations, because it is still common to have significant numbers of Traditionalists working with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in leadership positions.

Retention of Gen Ys – All for one & one for all

Many retail managers lament about their inability to retain younger employees. They may blame the economy or the apparent intrinsic disloyalty of Gen Ys. This parallels complaints we have heard across industries: Gen Ys appear to have a choice in employment options, and more often than not, they take it.

Among the factors that cause employees to leave, the top two are their relationship with their manager and a lack of challenging work. For Gen Ys, an additional  reason they leave an organization is because of the way other Gen Ys in the department/company are being treated.

Gen Ys are loyal to their peers in their ‘pack’ and base decisions on whether to stay, be engaged, be productive or leave relative to the way their pack is treated by the organization. They expect each individual to be treated equitably. We have had many retail clients give us examples of entire teams of Gen Ys who have quit on the same day. Sometimes they don’t outright quit, but behavioural indicators that their engagement levels are dropping are evident through increased absenteeism, lateness, shift switching, lack of active participation and poor performance.

It’s important that managers acknowledge the pack mentality of Gen Ys as an organizational risk and that they respond accordingly. Managers and supervisors should be skilled at performance management, team-based collaboration, and cross-generational teambuilding. However, the inability to retain and engage Gen Ys also has causal roots at home.

Happy parents – Happy Gen Ys

The percentage of HR colleagues, managers and supervisors who have challenges dealing with parents of Gen Ys increases yearly. One might argue that in retail this makes sense, since many of the employees are under the age of 18. However, in most cases members of the previous three generations did not have the same level of hyper parental involvement that Gen Ys do now.

It is important that employers communicate the value of the jobs that Gen Ys are performing. In an entry level position,  the value of the job may not be evident to parents or to Gen Ys themselves. This is why it is important that the organization communicate to Gen Ys the value their roles play in achieving team / organizational goals. Gen Ys (and their parents) expect they will have work that is valued and rewarding.

Do I work for you, or should you work with me?

Gen Ys expect work to fit into their life, rather than life adjusting to their work schedule. For front line supervisors, managing scheduling expectations of all employees is often a job in itself. In many organizations, the way a schedule is determined can also lead to team strife.

When Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers entered the work world they had to take shifts that no one else wanted until they got enough seniority to select the shifts they wanted. Many seasoned employees  are now irked that Gen Ys think that they can come in to an organization and demand that their needs be met right away. In non-retail sectors, this translates into expectations of flex-hours and flexible work arrangements.

It is important to be open to designing new scheduling processes with greater involvement from employees, whether those processes are determined through a democratic self-selection, a lottery system, or by rotational seniority. While more senior team-members may not initially be happy with these changes, if it means greater team engagement and less turn-over, then the new process will benefit them as well through a more engaging work environment.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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