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The next generation: Four tips for managing millennials in the warehouse

7 May 2018 / by Don White, VP Enterprise Solutions for Snapfulfil North America

It’s official: Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. A recent Pew Research Center study found that, as of 2017, 56 million millennials are either employed or seeking work, vs. 53 million Generation Xers. 

You’ve probably heard the horror stories about millennials: they’re lazy, feel entitled and are averse to critical thinking. You’ve also likely heard those stereotypes from frustrated employers unable to motivate their youngest workers. Sometimes, it does seem technology places a barrier between generations – most millennials, born in the 80s and early 90s, only have a fuzzy recollection of a time before the Internet. They communicate differently than other generations. 

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Now consider the warehouse work environment. Millennials crave work-life balance and enjoy the freedom to often work off-site. The former can be an issue during peak season, and the latter is virtually impossible. This already puts you at a disadvantage in the recruiting process. 

So how do you successfully hire and integrate a millennial into your warehouse? You certainly shouldn’t expect less out of them than any other employee – but you must re-evaluate your management style, as what worked for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers doesn’t work for millennials. Consider these four tips for a healthier manager-millennial relationship: 

Define their role

Millennials refuse to be paper pushers. Whether you’ve employed a millennial on the warehouse floor or in the office, you’ll find they want parameters for their job duties, and they want to know how their role fits into the larger corporate system. They’re looking for a sense of purpose both in their position and in the broader company – how does their business better the world? 

During onboarding, take a long lunch to explain your company’s history and values, and how your new employee’s role contributes to the final product. Lay out four or five achievable goals for the first six months; this gives him or her more structure within the role. 

Provide them a mentor

Millennials are more likely to look at their superiors as colleagues rather than bosses. It’s important to establish authority, but demonstrations of power won’t earn millennials’ respect. Instead, millennials crave managers who seek their input and take opportunities to grow their charges’ talents. 

Set aside 30 minutes a week for each new employee. During that meeting, discuss their workload for the week, but also talk about what tasks they enjoy and which are challenges. If one employee is struggling with packing, they might be better in replenishment or picking – but unless you give them a chance to speak up, you may never know. These meetings can ultimately increase employee efficiency, so for management, they’re a win-win. 

Providing opportunities for external career development can also have an impact. Encourage your millennials to regularly attend professional development events, or pay for their membership to a professional association. Help them understand that the skills they pick up outside the warehouse can have a positive effect on their work ethic inside the warehouse. 

Give them your ear

Warehouses are employing more tech in their pick, pack and ship operations now than ever before. This trend isn’t going away, and it’s understandable why this shift would cause anxiety. The good news: millennials, raised in a tech-focused economy, can be an asset in the transition. 

Millennials naturally look for ways to streamline processes. They’re adept at using technology to discover information, so as you move away from manual warehouse management tools, millennials can lead the way in synthesizing data collected by your WMS to improve efficiency. If you demonstrate a willingness to consider new approaches, millennials will feel more comfortable contributing to the team. 

Offer them feedback

For millennials, the once-a-year employee review isn’t enough. They’re used to constant feedback, either from their friends online or from their teachers and professors. You don’t need to review your employee every day, but do recognize they’ll be looking to you for approval more often than older generations would. 

You can provide concrete feedback in everyday conversation – i.e. “Great job working with the packing team. We had 10 percent fewer shipping errors this month.” – so they understand where they’re succeeding in and where they might need work. Consider also setting up a review once a month, even if its just 10 minutes, to review performance on current projects and set up goals for the next month. 

It’s all about communication

Breathe a sigh of relief: most, if not all, of the stereotypes you’ve heard about millennials are wrong. They’re just as motivated to contribute and improve your warehouse as older generations – they simply approach problem solving differently. 

As a warehouse manager, you may not be able to offer all the perks millennials are looking for, but you can outweigh any concerns by offering a culture that millennials feel comfortable in. By keeping your lines of communication open and considering their points-of-view, you can foster a work environment that will draw the best performance out of your millennials.