Architects, Contractors & Professionals

Millennials and the Workplace

The Millennial Generation in the workplace, has become a near constant topic of discussion for anyone in the position of hiring employees. For good reason; most of the individuals being hired today are considered of the Millennial Generation. This generation is generally considered to be anyone born from the early 80s to the early 2000s. Many industries have struggled to come to grips with the traits of the Millennial Generation and our industry, the golf course industry, seems dead set on the idea this generation is not able to cut it in our business. They are too soft, they don’t know what we knew at their age, and they aren’t willing to put in the time we were willing to put in when we were their age. Statements such as this generalize the argument against Millennials, but the general idea of their limitations as employees is well known. As a nine year golf course superintendent, I would agree most of those statements can be true, but I would also say, get used to it. This generation isn’t going anywhere and whether we like it or not, for the foreseeable future, we are going to sink or swim with them as our workforce.

I would venture to guess that every time there has been a generational shift in the workforce, the “hiring” generation has had complaints about the “upcoming” generation. No matter your age, you were once the “upcoming” generation, and the people who initially hired you would probably be shocked to hear you have made anything of yourself. This might be overstating things, but you get the point. The next generation has always been “less than” the previous generation and yet we continue to exist. As golf course managers, we have two choices, we can continue to speak ill of Millennials and look to hire others, or we can work to understand what makes them tick, hire them and reap the benefits of what they can offer our operations.

While researching for this column, I came across a blog on In this post,”10 Millennial Personality Traits That HR Managers Can’t Ignore”, author Shankar Ganapathy, writes about using the traits of Millennials to your advantage. The following takes each of the 10 traits and explains how as a golf course superintendent, you too may use a Millennial workforce to your advantage.

1. Motivated by meaning:
As golf course superintendents, we crave employees who want to do good work. When we get an employee who “gets it”, we want to wrap them up, clone them and keep them forever. Millennials, want to know their work has meaning, which I will admit can be difficult to create in our industry, but it can be done. What are we doing at Hazeltine to create a meaningful workplace? First of all, we trust our employees to do good work and we respect their opinions about the work they are doing. In addition, we ask them to give input on the operation and when they give us a good idea, the idea gets implemented, or at least built from. When a golf course employee comes to work each morning, what is going to provide more motivation; knowing they are going to be a contributor to the betterment of the operation, or knowing they are going to be told what to do, how to do it and for how long? Providing a workplace of trust, respect and enjoyment is how we create meaning for our employees.

2. Millennials challenge hierarchical structures:
Golf course superintendents are not a group who enjoy having their authority challenged. This likely comes from working for a clientele who has the tendency to “question” what and how we are doing our jobs. Millennials have no issues challenging the status quo. They think nothing of walking into the golf course superintendent’s office and asking us “why?”, or telling us a better way. Golf course superintendent’s specific roles differ as much as the facilities they manage. Here at Hazeltine, my role is to oversee the entire operation, to know what is happening, determine why it is happening, then make the proper decision. I do this hundreds of times per week, I walk and drive the golf course constantly, and I feel very in tune with all areas of the operation. Yet, I am physically and mentally unable to see and know everything happening within my purview. I must rely on the eyes and ears of my staff, many of whom are millennials. Having employees who desire to ask questions and challenge the status quo, gives me a great deal of comfort. I have a small army of inquisitive employees buzzing around the course, unafraid to bring something to my attention. I never take offense to an observation or question from an employee; it is exactly the reason why we actually employ them.

3. Millennials want a relationship with their boss:
As a boss, I have always tried to have a level relationship with my employees and I offer myself to them with humility and vulnerability. I have never minded letting my employees see I am “one of them”. An embarrassing story about yourself, a five minute recap of a heated Xbox game the night before lets your employees know you are a person. In my mind, this does not change the fact I am their boss, but it allows me to have a relationship with my employees that feels even. This type of relationship makes them even more likely to come to me with an idea or an issue.
Don’t worry about creating a lack of respect. If you are a strong leader, making decisive decisions, your employees will respect you regardless of the level on which your relationship with them exists.

4. Millennials are tech savvy:
Once again, an area our industry typically sees as a negative. “My employees are more concerned with texting and tweeting than with actually doing their work.” I would counter by saying you might need to re-read item number 1. The only manner in which we as a staff communicate with each other is through our phones. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a problem with an employee and a mobile device. Our employees post pictures to social media often. If I see it, I will often share their photo. Its free marketing, not just for your facility, but also your operation. We do have a social media policy and we expect our employees to follow it. However, it does not limit them from posting pictures reflecting the pride in their work.

5. Millennials are open to change:
The golf course industry has a very dogmatic approach to how we do things. We believe certain things to be absolutely true, because it’s how they have always been done. Millennials have no problem challenging the way things have always been done. They embrace change, technology and a better way of getting the job done. Again, see item number 1 on this list. Allowing our employees to suggest a new way of doing what we do, allows them to feel they are meaningful to the operation.

6. Task, not time oriented:
In my opinion, our industry’s number one problem is the feeling that we can never work enough hours. 80 hour weeks are fairly normal in our industry, especially at top clubs. I am sorry, but this is ridiculous and your employees think so too. Obviously our industry differs from others in that, we actually need to be at work to complete our tasks. An open work day doesn’t work in our industry, but what about a consistent work day?

In my opinion, there is nothing more deflating than finishing your task(s), feeling good about a job well done, only to be told “there is still daylight, get back out there and do something else.” Can a task be completed tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then that’s when it should be done. Of course the retort I always get is: “what about those of us who have to babysit Poa surfaces in the heat of the summer?” My answer: you know this is going to be the case, correct? Why can you not develop a shifted system, in which those employees trusted to babysit only have to babysit during a consistent shift? Babysitting ends at 6pm and takes four employees; why not have those four employees start their day at 10am? “That’s not the way we’ve always done it. “That’s not the way I was brought into the industry.” See item number 5.

We provide our employees with a consistent schedule, almost all of the time. Of course things come up and the day gets extended. However, when that happens, our well rested and highly motivated employees deal well with the adjustments. Employees working a consistent schedule are going to be happier, more highly motivated and perform much better. I am aware of many operations in which the desire of a young turf intern/graduate to finish work at a regular time and do “something” with friends, is seen as a sign the individual is not cut out for the business. Why should this matter to us as superintendents? Let your employees enjoy their time away from work. They will be better employees because of it.

7. Have a hunger for learning:
Millennials want to know why they are doing what they do. When an employee comes to you and asks “why?”, we need to view it less as an annoyance, and more for what it is; them wanting to learn more about what we do. Author Simon Sinek has written a book titled, “Start With Why”. Have 45 minutes? Watch his TED talks on what makes great leaders. When our millennial employees understand why we do what we do, they may just inspire you with their thought, their feedback and their effort. They want to learn, we’ve brought them to our facilities to help them do so. When they ask “why” remember it’s their way of learning.

8. Crave constant feedback:
We’d all be better at our job if we looked for more feedback. I know that I often avoid asking for feedback because I am afraid it may not be positive. Take advantage of your employee’s desire for feedback and give it to them with regularity. Have an employee who just doesn’t seem to be making the grade? Don’t wait for an annual review to tell them they weren’t cutting it and should look elsewhere next season. Give them feedback on what it is they are doing wrong. What you may find is a very solvable reason for their poor performance.

9. Want recognition:
This is an area in which I know I need to be better. I can go from day to day, week to week and month to month without making a big deal of recognizing employees. It’s not a hard thing to do, it doesn’t take a lot of time, but it needs to be a part of your successful management of all your employees. They deserve and they will perform better when they know you appreciate their efforts. It doesn’t take a lot; a post on your blog, social media account, or the Club’s monthly newsletter. All of these small things go a long way towards making your employees feel their efforts are being noticed and are worth their time.

10. Want to have fun:
What does having fun at work mean to you? Is it the stuff you get to do, or the way your feel about the environment? The relationships, lunch breaks with friends, or the laughs shared that can make even the worst tasks seem like a pretty darn good way to spend a day. A fun workplace isn’t really about the stuff, or the things you get to do at work. It’s about the atmosphere you get to wake up and be a part of every day. Millennials want to work in an enjoyable atmosphere and they are not going to put up with one that is not enjoyable. It is really very simple, if you are losing employees on a regular basis, it may not be them who doesn’t get it.

Millennials are going to be our workforce for the foreseeable future. Casting them off as not cut out for the job is not going to work for you as a manager of your facility because the next person you hire is quite likely to have the same traits. When we are managing our courses, we constantly work with and adjust to the environment. Do the same for your employees and you are bound to find they will help you to be as successful as want to be.

Chris Tritabaugh is the Golf Course Superintendent at Hazeltine Golf Club, host to the 2016 Ryders Cup

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