The Mark of a Truly ‘Better Manager’

Overexerted, under appreciated and undervalued. That would be how many twenty-somethings in the job market today would respond to the question, “How would you describe your current position?” But there are ways to engage this valued, up-and-coming workforce when you can’t show them appreciation in the typical ways, ie: above medium-range salary for their field and talents, clearly defined and attainable bonuses, work spaces that invite higher levels of performance, reasonable work hours and enough paid time off to enjoy life outside of work.  Because the essential tenet for the younger generation is not ‘live to work,’ but ‘work to live.’

In today’s job market, the truly talented in the pack never have a problem finding work. Now some HR managers may  balk at that statement because of the still high unemployment rates, but through my years of job hunting, there has never been a time when I couldn’t find anything to do (and I graduated college at the height of the recession in 2008). Some of the jobs were not the most glamorous, or high paying or had the most prestigious title, but when you’re good at what you do, the work finds you. A colleague recently sent me an article titled, “Why Young Workers Should Rethink Working Long Hours for Low Pay” by Kate Rodgers. It basically states that for young adults looking for a full-time job it might make sense to accept any job offer, which probably means long hours, high stress and low salaries; an unfortunately common plight of the times, especially for the millennial generation.

A recent New York Times article quoted a hiring manager claiming companies are looking for a “22-22-22”: a 22-year-old willing to work 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year. According to the Labor Department, in the fourth quarter of 2012, workers nationally between 20 and 24 years old brought home a weekly average of $476 or $24,752 a year. During the same time period in 2000, that national age group made on average, $393 a week or $20,436 per year. But for many younger workers, the 22-22-22 paradox is extremely hard to swallow. The article suggests, and I agree, that to avoid being taken advantage of and stifling their career growth, young workers should set career goals with deadlines and if they aren’t being met, it’s time to move on and quickly. Loyalty from companies to employees and employees to companies seems to sadly be something of the past.

Today more than ever, employers need to find ways to keep their high performing workers happy, because it’s not a big deal anymore to move on to greener pastures. In fact, the average length of stay at any employer today is around two years. SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, estimates that it costs $3,500 to replace one $8.00 per hour employee when all costs — recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, reduced productivity, et cetera, were considered. Further research into the subject unveiled that it costs employers 30-50% of the annual salary of entry-level employees, 150% of middle level employees, and up to 400% for specialized, high level employees. In case you missed it, the bottom line is it costs employers a lot more to lose good workers than it would take to keep them happy in the first place.

So how can we, as managers, now just above the fold of the 22-22-22 frame ourselves, offer those developmental and career growth opportunities to help this younger generation of managers not only find enough fulfillment in the position to stick it out, but to get the necessary skills to someday break free from this lose-lose cycle? The key is recognition and teaching.

Younger people are especially hungry to both learn and to receive affirmation that they are doing a good job. And they are generally much more motivated by incremental education, skill-building and acknowledgement than they are by a modest bump in salary. Of course, the same qualities that make younger colleagues so responsive to the education and praise you offer may also make them susceptible to negative feedback, so be mindful of the context in which you offer “constructive criticism.” Be solution-based in your management style to help them evolve into the leaders of the company you want in the future.

The best managers of younger employees strive to teach, not just demand performance.  They prize helping others grow and tend to over-explain their reasoning for decisions, rather than assuming that twenty-somethings possess enough experience or perspective to read between the lines of their choices. An insightful post on Managing and Motivating Employees in Their Twenties on the Harvard Business Review site stated, “Three short minutes of explanation usually make excellent junior employees excited, since they feel the immediate benefits of gaining insight into decision-making processes. It also makes them better at working for you and your company, because it teaches them how you think.”

In my experience of being both a manager and being managed in past positions, the really excellent managers, those who became my mentors and friends long after I had moved on, were those who were inherent teachers. So I challenge all of the Better Managers out there to task yourself to not only demand greatness from your employees, but to reach into your knowledge and experience and share as much of it with your employees as you can. And then someday, smile as they move on and up to their next adventure. Because that’s the mark of a truly great manager.

Small side note: As this is my last post for Red Book Solutions I want to thank my mentor, friend and manager, Shiloh Kelly, for all of her teachings over this past year. I thank her for her grace and enthusiasm as I move forward to my next adventure.

By, Danielle Lafontaine, Marketing Communications Manager, Red Book Solutions | 5 Years – Digital & Traditional Marketing Copywriter with Ad Agency and Corporate Marketing Experience | Social Media Guru & Community Builder with B2B and B2C Chops

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