At many businesses I visit, I hear about the difficulty in finding and keeping good employees. That’s usually followed by complaining about the next generation of workers — millennials … usually said with a scowl. The reality is that millennials, or people born roughly between 1980 and 1996, will likely make up half of the workforce within the next decade. It may come as no shock that they’re geared a little differently than previous generations. The sooner you can understand their different goals and tendencies, the better for your business.

Experts say that millennial employees tend to value and require three things from their careers: Meaning, challenge and flexibility. It may be easier than you think to accommodate these needs in your dealership. Let’s discuss all three.

Making it Meaningful

How do you establish meaning in a job when the employee is trying to find a deck bearing for a zero-turn mower? It actually starts much earlier than that task. The first step is to ask this question: What is the true meaning of your business and what is your vision? Write an honest mission statement and refer to it repeatedly as you communicate with employees. This will help articulate your dealership’s purposes, goals and philosophy. It is also the foundation for helping all employees, not just millennials, better understand the value of their roles.

Establishing meaning for a position helps millennials understand how important each task is in relation to that big picture and to the success of the dealership and your customers. It may involve explaining the concept of absorption rates to young technicians; discussing inventory turns with parts counter personnel; and explaining realistic margin goals to new salespeople. It’s the process of explaining not just “this is your job,” but how the job relates to the success of the business and to serving customers.

This practice will require more transparency on the part of the owner and manager, but doesn’t require any investment beyond that.

Offering a Challenge

Offering millennials a challenging job may be one of the biggest annoyances we face and yet it can be easy to correct. Millennials may expect to move up the ladder more rapidly than their predecessors. Look at it as an opportunity for you to outline managerial duties and offer them the challenge of expanding their responsibilities so they can gain the practical experience necessary for the next level.

“Millennials will likely make up half of the workforce within the next decade …”

For instance, if you have a millennial working at the parts counter and you represent multiple lines, give them limited responsibility for orders, stocking rates and turns for a lesser product. Trying doing this first during the off season.

Outline goals, how you will analyze their progress toward those goals and when you will meet to discuss their performance. You’ll have to watch how they’re doing and spend time discussing their successes and failures. Adding to their responsibilities provides the challenge they desire — and you benefit by seeing who might make a good manager someday.

Being Flexible

Finally, flexibility is a trait that we tend to undersell in the dealership world. If your business has seasonal peaks and valleys, as most do, you can turn that to your advantage and make it a selling point. If an employee is able to work around seasonality, it may be possible to accommodate them while benefiting the bottom line. For instance, many dealerships could work their staff nearly double-time from March through July, and lay them off in December, January and February. If you need extra staff part the year, but have trouble keeping everyone busy at other times, ask certain employees if they would be open to a schedule that offers periodic breaks.

The flexibility requirement may force us to add to the number of employees on staff, while not adding to the hours paid overall. In other words, if the parts department requires a total of 6,000 hours a year to operate, that may have to be divided among four employees instead of three.

We can’t roll back time to when our employees were just content with a job and didn’t question the meaning of their job. Most of us don’t like change, but to attract and maintain new employees at our dealerships, we need to adapt our management styles to the tendencies of the next generation. In the end, it may just involve improving communication and adaptability and most of us can live with that.