How to Deal with Millennials as Employees

Rob Bishop Headshot
Health club owners and AB contributors Rob Bishop and Barry Klein offer up their advice on working with younger employees.
Health club owners and AB contributors Rob Bishop and Barry Klein offer up their advice on working with younger employees.

You know, when we were young, we were expected to work for a living.

When did we become our grandfathers?

Over the years, on these pages and at various conferences, we have talked about the challenges and rewards of hiring and working with the Millennial Generation. But maybe now we need to divide them between the Old Millennials and the Young Millennials.

The older ones, who are in their late 20s and early 30s, seem to understand that working, while a necessary evil in life, is nonetheless necessary. These young men and women have reached an age at which they are being given more responsibility and management authority, and many of them are thriving. This is great for us, since we and our longtime management team are now, well, old, and our younger managers are the same age as and growing with the majority of our members.

But, for anyone younger than, say, 25, we have started wondering if they know that money is sort of a useful thing and a job is the means by which most people make said money.

By way of flashback, we'll admit that there was a time when we didn't totally get it. We were in our early 20s, and we thought we were, you know, important as individuals and that our outside interests were worthy of other people's concern. We thought we were grown-ups.

When one of us — Barry — worked in the software industry in the early 1990s, the whole notion of "flex time" was becoming popular and the Family Medical Leave Act was coming into being. There were employees at the software company who came in at 7 a.m. and left at 2 p.m. in order to share childcare duties with a spouse.

There was one woman who divided up all of her work so that she could be out for months of maternity leave, who then came back to pick up where she left off — only to leave several months after that for another round of maternity leave. That just seemed, shall we say, annoying and unfair.

The younger staff would grouse behind closed doors. "Why can't we leave early for our softball games while Sally comes and goes as she pleases to have babies? Why do we have to pick up the slack? Maybe we'd like to take a few months off to go exploring the country, and wouldn't it be nice to have our jobs waiting for us?"

Fast-forward 25 years, and this generation thinks that its own outside interests should somehow matter to us, even when those interests impact their jobs and our business. And for a generation whose members have been known not to trust employers as they have seen their parents laid off and perhaps treated disloyally, they sure do know how to transfer the disloyalty. The personnel trends we are seeing, and their potential impact on our business and the fitness industry overall, are alarming.

Communication skills and respect for authority, which have been longtime complaints we've had with Millennials, are getting worse. We have taken to doing in-person interviews with nearly anyone who can send an email or a resume with no typos or grammatical errors. That's how far our bar has been lowered.

For those we do hire, everything seems more important than their job, which, given the nature of our business, has become especially problematic with the many hours we need to cover. Weekend staff — who are hired to work, you know, weekends — seem to think that every family get-together and friends-going-to-a-concert event is worthy of taking off. "But we made it clear that you were expected to work every weekend." "But this weekend, and the last one, and the upcoming one, are really important."

Dogs appear to be a problem. We've had more "my dog is sick" or "I'm taking care of my parents' dog and can't leave" excuses than we ever thought possible. We understand that there are real pet emergencies, but we never remember not going to work, or our parents not going to work, when the family pet was under the weather. Nobody can come check on the dog in a few hours? Our entire business has to be disrupted because you're not responsible enough to have both a dog and a job?

Recreational athletics also have become an issue. "I play football at night" has been used as a reason not to help cover a shift. We'd have preferred, "I'm sorry, I'm just not available" rather than the honest answer. You play football at night? And as an adult that's more important than your relationship with your employer? Hey, it's your free time, so go for it, but don't be disappointed with the answer when you ask for a raise.

The younger generation also has a lot of rules for what they will and won't do. We have suggested in the past — much to the disgust of some AB readers — that we expect everyone on our staff to pitch in when needed, and sometimes that can be unpleasant. But if a toilet needs to be plunged, then someone has to do it, and that means you if you're the one who happens to be there.

We intellectually understand the objections that some in our industry may have with such janitorial activities. But how about wiping down equipment? We have hired young staff members who are offended at the age-old practice of trainers taking care of the fitness floor by doing light dusting and maybe some vacuuming. That was too much for them. They didn't go to college for that.

Naturally, parents are a big part of these behaviors, not only in terms of how they have raised their kids but also their expectations of them. Working "at a gym" is not good enough for some parents, which has led some of our staff to quit to find other work — only to be unemployed for an extended period after leaving us.

We have had staff members whose parents have given them guilt trips regarding not working in the family business or whose parents wanted their children back at home so that they, the parents, could pursue whatever interest they had. It is easy to see how the apples have not fallen far from the trees.

It's been remarkable to witness and try to manage. But that's the real secret behind why we are grooming our Old Millennials to take on more responsibility. It's their generation, so we'll let them handle it. We don't think our stories about walking to school in the snow — uphill both ways — are going to help.

More From Rob and Barry:

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Grandfatherly Advice."

AB Show 2023 in Baltimore
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov 1-4, 2023
Learn More
AB Show 2023
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide