Tips for Managing Millennials and Zoomers

Many of the “old-timers” in our trade are baby boomers; they were likely born after World War II ended and before the mid-1960s. These people grew up in a different time than today’s millennials (Gen Y) and zoomers (Gen Z).

As those old-timers continue to retire, our trade needs to start attracting, recruiting, and managing the younger workforce. Although millennials and zoomers have had different life experiences, they share some commonalities. Moreover, they both have radically different attitudes towards work than the baby boomers and Gen X before them.

Kalos employs a bunch of millennials and even some zoomers in a variety of roles. After doing some research about age demographics and having some firsthand experience managing these people, I’d like to share five tips for attracting, managing, and retaining millennials and zoomers in the HVAC trade.

 

Understand what shaped their attitudes towards work

Context is critical when we look at generations. If entire groups of people grew up or entered the workforce during a recession, then that would surely affect their attitude towards work and financial stability.

For example, college tuition became significantly more expensive for millennials and zoomers than it was for the previous generations. Even though many of the older millennials have gone to college and turned away from the trades, there are still some younger millennials and zoomers who could find a vocation in the trades.

Zoomers are questioning the value of a college education more than previous generations, and they’re also more likely to value work-related skills. In fact, ACHR News reported a trend that suggests that more zoomers are open to working in the skilled trades due to their skepticism towards a four-year college degree.

Millennials: Growing up with a great economy… until it wasn’t so great

Many millennials grew up when the economy was doing well. In fact, barring the Persian Gulf War period, the economy boomed from 1982 to 2001. 

However, many millennials entered the workforce before or during the Great Recession. They saw their hardworking baby boomer parents and Gen X colleagues get laid off after many years with a company through no fault of their own. What message did that send? 

Job loyalty isn’t a reliable form of financial security.

That isn’t to say that millennials are disloyal, but they learned that being loyal to an employer won’t ensure security. As a result, millennials tend to be job-hoppers. They also see their work as a means of purpose and personal fulfillment, and they’ll leave if they feel like just another cog in the wheel.

Zoomers: Waiting for the next thing to turn life upside-down

On the other hand, zoomers grew up during the Great Recession, and many of them felt the economic impact through their parents. Watching their parents struggle motivated many of them to seek security when thinking about jobs and investments.

Like younger millennials, zoomers also experienced some turbulence when they entered the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic struck when some of the older zoomers were just getting their footing in the workforce. 

Due to witnessing or experiencing mass unemployment and financial hardship, zoomers tend to be on the wary side; they want to know that their employer will be able to weather the next storm. They also tend to be more fiscally conservative than millennials and see more value in benefits than cold, hard cash.

With the introductions and context out of the way, here are 5 tips for managing millennials and zoomers:

 

1. Be authentic and don’t make inflated promises

Television became widespread during the baby boomers’ childhoods, so all of the generations currently in the workforce have been pretty heavy targets of advertising.

However, that’s especially true of millennials and zoomers. Their world has been saturated with marketing since they were old enough to watch Sesame Street on cable TV. They’re used to flashy colors in their faces, onomatopoeias and interjections in all capital letters (POW! WHOA!), and super-cool demonstrations of products. 

The actual products were rarely ever as cool as they were portrayed on TV. Millennials and zoomers have learned to be skeptical of exaggerated marketing early. In turn, they’re likely to be skeptical of over-the-top leaders and promises that seem too good to be true.

That doesn’t mean that millennials and zoomers DON’T have lofty ambitions and high expectations. They certainly have those ambitions and are willing to work hard to meet their goals. However, they DO need honesty from their leaders to keep those dreams in sight. If they feel that their leaders aren’t being honest, they can lose faith in their leaders’ vision. They won’t hesitate to nope out of your company if they can get an equal or better opportunity with a more transparent employer. Authenticity and clear communication are key to cultivating a workforce that trusts you.

2. Don’t dictate details

There’s a fine line between structure and micromanagement. One of them is good and necessary, and the other is a morale killer. That line is exceptionally fine with the youngest generations in the workforce.

 

Giving young people room to think outside the box is critical. They’ve also seen so many “rule-breakers” succeed because those rebels have gone against the grain and taken risks. On top of that, these younger generations are highly individualistic. That’s a recipe that may lead them to test your rules if they feel that the rules are too limiting or arbitrary. 

You’d be wise to watch and listen to them when they do things their way (as long as they don’t attempt to defy the laws of physics); you could probably learn something from them. A company culture that suits the younger generations is one that offers enough guidance to teach these individuals but lets them be independent and innovative.

 

It’s also worth noting that millennials and zoomers are used to having information at their fingertips. They’re likely to make greater use of online apps and resources than previous generations. However, some individuals may also feel less obligated to memorize facts because they can access that information at any time. That’s where we can focus on making sure we give them access to good just-in-time education.

3. Prioritize development with short-term achievements

Millennials and zoomers tend to think of themselves as the controllers of their long-term personal development. They are in charge of achieving their dreams; their employers are mere instruments.

So, it stands to reason that young people aren’t as reliant on their employers to fulfill their long-term personal and professional goals. If they feel stagnant or like they’re not achieving as much as they want in their current workplace, they’re likely to seek a better opportunity elsewhere.

To work with that sort of mindset, leaders can give employees something to work towards in the short term and offer small rewards for meeting those objectives. Those objectives could be running X amount of service calls independently per month, completing a class, or something else related to training or performance.

The point isn’t to shower them with rewards and validation; you merely want to give your employees a path of progress and nurture their development step by step. If you do it right, they may be more inclined to trust you and stick with you to meet longer-term goals for BOTH of you. 

4. Don’t whine about “kids these days;” look for real solutions

It seems like every generation disapproves of at least a few things about the following generation. Baby boomers and Gen X gripe about millennials and zoomers, and millennials and zoomers will whine about the next generation.

However, grumbling about “kids these days” doesn’t do anybody any good, especially in the workplace. Millennials and zoomers ESPECIALLY hate stereotyping, and that’s essentially what you’re doing when you label them all as “lazy” or “entitled.” Those people exist in every generation; the behaviors might just be a bit more overt or jarring in young people.

Are some younger people entitled and lazy? Absolutely, but there’s no need to paint all of them with a broad brush. You’ll find many loyal, hardworking employees who care a lot about their work; you don’t want to discourage them or push them away by creating a negative atmosphere that doesn’t value them.

I haven’t addressed one of the most common “kids these days” complaints, though. It’s probably what most of us are thinking, too… 

“Those darn kids can’t stop looking at their phones!”

Sure, smartphone technology can be a nuisance in training classes. But instead of banning or griping about smart devices, find a way to make them useful. If you’re training a group of techs, make them use measureQuick or the built-in calculator. (Shameless plug: the HVAC School app has several calculators, including ones for recovery tank fill, adding charge, and more.) If you can turn smartphones into tools for engagement, you can be sure to keep their attention on you and the task at hand.

 

5. Recognize what they want (at work and elsewhere)

We need to understand what young people want in an employer. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse one yet, and zoomers want to join inclusive workplaces so that they can feel safe and valued. Stating that you’re an equal-opportunity employer on your website and job listings can go a surprisingly long way. Making the effort to mention it can make your company more inviting to people who have been underrepresented in the trades and worry about harassment. 

ACCA recently published a blog post about why and how to make the HVAC/R trade more diverse and inclusive, and it might just hold one of the keys to closing the skills gap.

We also have to think about what young people want outside of work. For millennials and zoomers, the American dream is no longer about having a 3-bed/2-bath home, two or three kids, a golden retriever, and a white picket fence. The younger generations prioritize authenticity, doing what makes them happy, and having the freedom and security to make the most of their lives outside of work.

Notice how I said “doing” what makes them happy, not “acquiring” it. These younger generations find more value in experiences than things. So, work-life balance is important for millennials and zoomers, and paid time off is an important benefit that we can offer them. Paid time off allows people to travel and do what they want, but it also increases productivity over the long term and prevents burnout. 

The younger generations value freedom and don’t have the same priorities that many of the baby boomers and Gen X employees did. The world is simply evolving, and it’s up to us as business leaders to create an environment where millennials and zoomers can grow, feel secure, and live their purpose.

In a time when the skills gap is a very real threat, we would be foolish not to do whatever is in our power to attract, train, and retain young workers. There’s a lot of talent out there, and we need to do our part to make the trades a welcoming place that allows those talented young guns to live a good life by their standards.

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