Dealing with Multi-Generational Dealership Employees

Understanding generational gaps and differences is part of working on the business. How are you dealing with it?

A lot has been written about the differences in the work ethic between Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. Each generation has its own characteristics and outlook on life. Looking at generalizations, Boomers have worked hard and generated a lot of revenue and wealth, which makes sense, as they were raised by parents who had gone through a depression and World War II and had no choice but to work hard. Our generation all wanted to be rock stars anyway.  

Gen X is their children, and Boomers wanted Gen X to be more liberal and have a great childhood and good education, but a lot of the Boomer work ethic rubbed off on them. They seem to be great revenue generators but are not as good as others at being team players. Once on board, however, they are incredibly passionate in their occupations. Many Gen Xers wanted to be computer whizzes or programmers.

Gen Y, or millennials as they’re better known, are a different breed that seem to be more concerned with social issues. They were brought up in an era of technologies that constantly changed. As a result, they are more tech savvy than any other previous generation and spanned the change from analog to digital life. They were also told that they were princes and princesses and that they are fascinating no matter what they do or even how well they do it. They also seem to have a lot more problems with interpersonal relationships. Inversely, they are very concerned about many social causes and concerns about the world, but they mostly express that online. This generation inherently thinks it is special.

Gen Z is still finding its way, but they are more connected to others electronically, as that has been their world from birth: Screen time is natural and person-to-person is not. They are not as concerned as other generations about entrepreneurship. Rather, they all want to be influencers.

These, of course, are all generalities. There are lots of exceptions, and we could argue about the above observations forever. Each person is in some way different from his or her fellow peers.

Our problem, as employers, is finding ideal candidates and then figuring out how to motivate them once they are hired. Motivation has always been the key. Finding great employees seems to be harder every year. I’m starting to think, however, that it’s not that the “new generation” is lazy, stupid or self-centered. It’s that most Boomers do not understand where they are coming from, creating a true “generation gap” like the one we used to talk about in the ‘60s and ‘70s — and it’s getting wider.              

Why are they, whether X, Y or Z, working for you? Is it the reward of a job well done? Simon Sinek talks about the why in your life. He is referring to the why that motivates you: What makes you get up in the morning? What is the bottom line of your enthusiasm? In my case, it’s always been about sharing my love of powersports and helping others enjoy that passion. For others, it might be the social interactions. It might be the products that you are selling. Or perhaps a job well done.

Why are your employees there? Why do they stay? Is it just the money? Sometimes it is, but that’s not necessarily who I want working for me. Often, the ones in it only for the money are the ones who take shortcuts. Others do great work because they like the challenge, and money is just their way to keep track. In my opinion, that’s a bit better.

Being a Boomer myself, I have never had a problem motivating those who were brought up after WWII. Gen X will work hard and seems to need very little supervision. They’re a bit of a challenge, but if you can get them onboard to be dedicated to the customer experience, and you encourage them in their passion, the sky is the limit.

Gen Y seems to need constant encouragement and some hand holding. They have been called the me-me-me generation. Get them involved in problem solving. How about marketing and getting rides going out of your shop that can benefit local charities? Helping to find great riders to sponsor? Set them up to succeed by mentoring their efforts. Gen Y is very clever and can run with the ball if it sees a positive goal.

Gen Z is the TikTok generation. It still makes no sense to a lot of Boomers, which is our main problem. They are very social but mostly in online relationships. If you can get them involved in your digital presence, I believe they can do wonders for your profile. You obviously want them selling in the store, but many of them are amazing at getting a message out online. You do have to maintain some control (so your marketing doesn’t go off the rails and maintains the image you want). I am amazed at some of the creativity that they have. Imagine if they could help create a viral video about your store?

Again, these are all generalities, and people of all generations are individuals. We could debate about this forever, but think about your employees and how to approach their different mindsets. The “my way or the highway” sentiment is long gone and no longer works. Ultimately, we have to lead while maintaining a space for each generation to be itself.

Empathy is something that all shop owners must have. Examine all of your employees one by one. Are they doing well, not only as an employee, but personally? It will require a different mindset. I’m sure that you can figure out what motivates most of your staff. Sometimes it’s money. Dollars in their pockets is great, but quite often, that is not what keeps them there. Do you truly praise your employees for a job well done? Do you get to know each employee and know to whom they are married or what their children’s names are? Where they live? What their hobbies are?

Do you walk around the dealership every morning and touch base with each employee? Ultimately, no matter when they were born, if you get to know each one, it will become important to them that you appreciate who they are and that they are part of the dealership family. Every generation, whether X, Y or Z, wants to belong. That is the lesson here. Each generation is a bit different, but everyone gets goosebumps when you praise them. That’s the bottom line.

If they feel wanted and respected, they will let you know what motivates them. We have to always have our radar going to detect exactly what it is that will work for each person. It’s a lot of work and thought, but I can always tell how good the management team is just by walking into a shop and talking to the people out front.

It’s up to us to create the “aura” of our business. It’s up to us to create attitude amongst your staff that says this is the best place they have ever worked. If you can create that, your employees will want to be there and do well. We have to show them that they are part of the team and teach them how to interact with everyone. Understanding these generational gaps and differences is part of working on the business, but ultimately, it’s a huge part.

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