LAS VEGAS—They're not committed to you or any company. They may, or may not, show up on time, if at all. They're all about immediate gratification, not only in their paychecks but also in the form of fun around the shop. They're independent and will brush you off or are offended if you decree, "It's my way or the highway!"
And by 2005 (if not already), you'll be fighting tooth-and-nail to hire these "Generation X-ers" to work your bays and counters.
Welcome to the "X files"—a.k.a. contemporary employment reality. This human resources sea change was part of the picture presented at the seminar, "Finding and Retaining Quality Employees in Today's Hot Job Market" during the SEMA Show/International Tire Expo.
In her second year covering the hiring and recruiting bases for the Las Vegas trade conference, Shelley H. Hadden, a senior consultant with Smithers Scientific Services, an Akron-based tire industry consulting firm, gave her audience a well-organized package of employment do's and don'ts.
However, the tips on dealing with Gen X (ages 18 to 32) seemed to strike a chord (discord?) with the crowd, who numbered about 50.
"They don't want to work for the money, and they want twice as much," bemoaned Judy Gula, director of operations for Electrodyne Inc., maker of automotive aerodynamics and styling items.
She said one Gen X employee's excuse for not showing up at the Alexandria, Va., concern was, "I had a fight with my girlfriend and can't come to work today."
Get over being mad and adjust to it, Ms. Hadden responded sympathetically. Coming to grips with this demographic group means employers have to understand the forces that shaped the generation.
"Commitment" doesn't have much meaning, because they've seen elders spend a lifetime at a job only to be downsized, Ms. Hadden said. Or they've witnessed their mother and father divorce.
They're also fiercely independent, having come home from school, retrieved the house key from beneath the door mat, then fixed thenselves a snack and played Nintendo or watched TV.
Since Gen X-ers will spend, at most, three or four years with the tire shop, the key is to keep them challenged and informed on where the company is going. "Your job every day is to make them see they make a difference," Ms. Hadden said.
Meanwhile, get them up to speed quickly in order to "get as much out of them as we can," the consultant added. "Keep them moving horizontally or vertically. Bring them something new and different and challenging."
But, she warned, they want coaches and cheerleaders, not bosses. "Managers are going to have to listen more than they want to," she said, advising that 90 percent of any feedback be positive and "specific."
Other hiring tips and techniques:
Finding good workers
It pays to run a display "help wanted" ad instead of a few lines in the classified section. The trick is to describe why someone would want to work for your company.
Turn to who should be your best source: your employees. Ask them, "Why are you here?" Their answers will guide the crafting of your ad.
Make sure the ad runs at least four consecutive days. Communicate your needs clearly so you don't waste time.
Establish an employee referral program that includes a modest reward. Most people won't recommend someone who makes them look bad. The reward could be $50 or a half-day off. At the end of six months you can use a "grand prize" concept.
Use personal networking. Successful tire dealers, such as Don Olson, have discovered great employees by chatting up the wait staff at restaurants. Motivation and the capability to learn can easily outweigh little or no experience with tires.
Use the Internet. Establish a Web site and list your products and job opportunities. Make sure your programmer puts in extensive keywords so search engines and portals can find you.
Make sure applications are always signed and dated. Include language that the application is good for 30 days. This can protect you from discrimination accusations down the line. Keep the applications on file for one year.
The application forms should address the following:
Personal references (at least three former employers)
Reason for leaving past jobs
Valid driver's license
Background checks are important. Employers can be found guilty of negligence in hiring if a worker has a criminal past and something happens in the performance of his job.
You must be able to prove you made a reasonable effort to determine the worker was "clean" before you hired him.
Criminal past means convictions, not just arrests, and the offense must be job-related. You can't tell someone, "I won't hire you." Try to find a reason to turn them down, such as you found someone more qualified.
You can tell the applicant to obtain the criminal background check, or, in some states where it's part of the public record, you can obtain that information at no cost.
You can also hire an agency to do background investigations, but be careful not to buy more services than you need. Such services can be obtained for $25 to $100.
In a tight labor market, you need to be professional and show interviewees you're prepared. Conduct the interview in private. Ask questions that help identify skills necessary for the job.
Some examples include: "Tell me about an extremely difficult customer. How did you handle them?" Or try the flip side: "When did you think it was necessary to go beyond, and please the customer?"
The job candidate should be doing 80 percent of the talking. And don't expect an instant response when you ask questions. Give it a little time and after awhile reassure the candidate, "We'll come back to that."
The job offer
Offers of employment must be in writing. It should include the location, salary, benefits, starting date and list any information that should be brought on the first day of work.
Drug testing must be done only after the job is offered, Ms. Hadden stressed. It's illegal to say, "We like you, but you need to take a drug test first."
If they haven't accepted, give them a deadline for their response.
First impressions count. Assign new hires a "buddy" for two weeks. The first week the buddy teaches. The next week, the mentor monitors the new employee's work. In-house training manuals and programs should be developed.
To have training at or near your place of work, contact your state or regional tire association or the Tire Association of North America's executive director Ross Kogel Jr. at (800) 876 8372 or (703) 736-8082.
Expressing your expectations and improving communications go a long way. Don't give a "pat on the back," but sincere praise using phrasing such as "I really appreciate how you handled Mrs. Smith's concerns and that you took the time to explain why we had to order that dealer-only part." Even better, follow up with a commendation letter.
Be flexible. Sometimes employees have to leave early. Let them, but strike a deal that they'll show up earlier than usual the next morning to finish their duties.
Hardly anything is worse than management policies that are not enforced. Today's workers won't stand for favoritism. Make sure discipline is fair and consistently applied.
Don't overlook the "Fun factor." It boosts morale. Examples include Halloween costumes, making Fridays "Pizza Day," or letting shop people play their favorite music, as long as it doesn't interfere with work. Ms. Hadden told of one client who has put someone in charge of morale boosting.
An extensive list of such "perks" is on the SESCO Management Consultants Web site: www.sescomgt. com/50_morale_boosters.htm