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Millennials: We’re Not The Enemy

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There are a lot of articles out there right now talking about my generation, mostly about what’s wrong with us. We’re called spoiled, lazy, entitled brats. I’ve even heard us referred to as the “Lamest Generation.” I hope you will forgive me if I leave the job of pointing out our flaws to the experts who are obsessively studying us, and talk to you instead about what we have to offer.

The Kids These Days…

“…are all special little snowflakes.” It’s a punchline – millennials are the generation of self-esteem, taught to believe that we are all special, unique individuals. Here’s the upside to that: it makes us more likely to see your customers as human beings, with individual needs.

“…aren’t willing to work their way up a ladder.” Consider this: when I was little, I had a Fisher Price record player. My youngest brother never even owned a cassette tape. We have never known a world that progresses in incremental steps. The upside to you is that we are ready and eager to take on new roles that fill needs outside of the traditional linear structure.

“…think they’re entitled to a secure future.” This is one of the cruelest statements people make about my generation. Even the oldest of us were told before we graduated high school that there would be no Social Security and no pensions for us, so we had better get into our 401(k)s as early as possible. Then, less than 10 years into our careers, we learned that the bottom can fall out of those, too. And just in case we had any doubts about the precariousness of our lives, we as a generation are divided sharply down the middle into those of us who remember when we could fly without removing our shoes, and those of us who don’t.

Working Together

Millennials aren’t a foreign species, and viewing us as a necessary evil to replace the “real” workers who are nearing retirement sets employers up for a lot of missed opportunities. On the other hand, companies that draw on the strengths of their younger employees, such as the one I am fortunate enough to work for, are able to expand their impact on current and potential customers.

In my own area of expertise, social media marketing, we are able to build relationships with our customers and become a trusted resource. All of us in the HVAC industry know that we have a very small window of opportunity where a customer is actively thinking of their home comfort systems – usually the time between noticing something is wrong and the time the door closes behind the technician who has fixed the issue. Companies like Oliver that leverage social media are expanding this window by becoming a part of a broader conversation about the home. Our social media team, primarily millennials, serves as a friendly, accessible resource for customers on all things related to their home from decorating and organizing to, of course, the major systems that Oliver is available to service.

It’s also worth noting the benefits of millennials’ notorious desire for flexibility. In an industry where customers place continually growing pressure on providers to accommodate requests for evening and weekend service appointments, having a new generation of employees who largely don’t expect to work 9-5 Monday through Friday is a golden opportunity. The best way to miss that opportunity is to expect the firmer structure of the old system to fit neatly into the more fluid lines of the new. Companies like Oliver are working with employees to develop schedules that meet the customers’ needs for expanded evening and weekend service and also meet employees’ needs within their own families. “I don’t mind working later into the evening, because I also get to spend longer weekends with my family,” Chris Ofner, a residential HVAC technician and a millennial, told me.

Chris and the other Oliver technicians who sat down with me to talk about the generation gap in our industry had some comments that may surprise you. Jim Niven offered: “I think that some of the older guys think that because we have an easier time with the tablets that we think we know everything. But we don’t, we know we’re just starting out with these HVAC systems and we still have a lot we need to learn from them.” Kevin Lamey agreed with Jim. “People expect us to be good at all technology because we have smartphones, but it doesn’t always translate.”

We’re a new generation, and we know we were raised in a world that is very different from the one our parents and grandparents lived in. That may make us seem strange, even baffling, but it doesn’t make us the enemy. It may even make our industry better.

Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Opinion

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