Managing Millennials: Understanding the Next Generation of Salon Professionals

Originally printed here by Tina Alberino

If you still believe Millennials to be spoiled, entitled, self-obsessed teenagers — it’s time for you to get a reality check. As an elder Millennial myself, I’m happy to deliver.

First, let’s dispel the myths most people have been fed by the media about what Millennials are “really like,” starting with the times in which these stereotypes of the “lazy, entitled Millennial” were first introduced and how that portrayal was unjustified and unfair.

Myth One: Millennials Are Young, Self-Obsessed, And Entitled

Millennials were born between the years of 1977 and 1992. The youngest among us are nearly 30. The oldest of us are in our early 40s. The Millennial stereotype began circulating during the early 2000s, a time when a good chunk of us elder Millennials were enjoying our peak “teenage idiot” years. While our teenage idiot behaviors may have manifested differently than our predecessors (due to the technology we had at our disposal), Boomers, Gen X, and even The Greatest Generation behaved similarly in their teens. While their angsty rants, pubescent narcissism, and acts of defiance weren’t published online for the world to see (and comment on), to argue they didn’t behave the way all human people do at that developmental stage in their lives is completely laughable.

Excluding the rare exception, all teens are spoiled, entitled and self-obsessed.

Don’t believe me? That’s fine. Read an article. Or two. Or three.

Myth Two: Millennials Are Lazy And Don’t Want To Work

If you participate in the workforce in any capacity (as a professional or a salon owner), it would benefit you to immediately educate yourself about the shared experiences that shaped our generation so you can better understand our worldview and how that influences our behaviors and attitudes about work.

Millennials grew up in the aftermath of Columbine, 9/11, the BP oil spill, and the Boston Marathon bombing. For many of us, the horrific, brutal murder of Matthew Shepard was our first exposure to modern-day hate crime. While prior generations had fire, tornado, and nuclear drills, we were taught to “run, hide, and fight” shooters during unannounced “active threat” drills. We are the first generation to see the effects of climate change and plastic pollution as current issues that will affect us (and any kids we may have) in our lifetimes.

If you’re among those who believe many Millennials are more conscientious consumers, sensitive to social and environmental justice issues, you’re absolutely correct.

Millennials came into financial independence during economic crisis and have only known a job market in which it is difficult to find quality employment and nearly impossible to find positions willing to pay them enough to earn a living, let alone pay down their substantial student loan debts. We saw legions of workers lose their jobs to automation and overseas outsourcing.

We experienced the housing crisis and watched as those responsible went unpunished. We saw America’s largest corporate employers fight our efforts to raise the prevailing wage while cutting hours, eliminating benefit programs, and distributing massive CEO salaries and bonuses.

As a result, many Millennials distrust employers and are opting out of the traditional workforce, choosing instead to follow their passions and live more simply. (For proof of this, you only need to look to the popularity of minimalism, digital nomadism, #vanlife, and the tiny house movement.)

Millennials grew up in highly diverse communities, watching the world burn, and it ignited something in a good deal of us. These key events shaped us during critical times in our upbringing, leaving indelible impressions that inspired many of us to seek out more meaningful work opportunities we may not have sought otherwise. It’s not hard to see how those shared experiences have manifested in our work choices and lifestyle decisions. While everyone loves high wages, they aren’t everything.

Millennials want stability, support, recognition, a healthy work/life balance and to do satisfying work, just like every generation that came before them.

Millennial professionals want benefits — health insurance, employer-sponsored retirement plans, and opportunities to learn and evolve both personally and professionally. If we can’t get those things from an employer (which we often can’t), we become our own employers. According to Inc.com, 54 percent of Millennials either want to start a business or already have started one.

Thanks to the technology we’ve grown up with, we know we don’t have to rely on employers.

We’re the first generation to have the ability to turn our passions into successful small businesses with relative ease, and many of us take full advantage of that. (Hi there! I’m Tina Alberino, self-made Millennial who turned a cosmetology license and an internet connection into a lucrative, stable, and satisfying career.)

Most Millennials aren’t lazy, we’re just far less likely to compromise our values or our quality of life in the service of a paycheck. Fortunately, salon owners (when compared to other trade business owners) have a significant advantage because we offer work that can be very creatively and emotionally satisfying.

Myth 3: Millennials Aren’t Loyal And Don’t Value Prestige

While it is true that many Millennials will quit well-paying jobs that don’t accommodate their needs, they are far from disloyal and it’s inaccurate to perceive them as “the highest flight risk.” The 2017 State of Employee Engagement Survey found that 86 percent of Millennials are more inclined to stay at their current company if they’re given access to quality training and development. That’s higher than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers (62 percent), who are less likely to stick around even when they are given quality development.

As for “prestige,” Millennials absolutely do value it, but unlike prior generations, we tend to define workplace prestige differently. We prefer perks (like flexible schedules) and benefits (like health insurance) over inflated job titles.

How can salon owners and managers leverage this knowledge to their benefit?

Treat your business like a business. Classify employees properly, comply with prevailing wage laws, and develop engaging employee development systems. Show employees that you’re trustworthy and care about their welfare. Introduce perks and benefits.

Challenge your professionals routinely. One Millennial stereotype holds a bit of water — many of us get bored easily. Those of us who feel that itch a little more acutely than others benefit tremendously from special projects and assignments that push us out of our comfort zone and give us the ability to put our competitive, industrious, creative spirits to work. If you have some boredom-prone Millennial professionals, give them some goals (and a timeline). Put that energy and enthusiasm to good use.

Be transparent and genuine. Millennials largely show a preference for a work culture of community and transparency. Superiors who apologize, admit mistakes, and show humanity and compassion will likely be trusted and more respected by Millennial professionals than stubborn, shut-off, authoritative types. (While that management style may have been popular fifteen years ago, Millennials expect modern leaders to do better.)

Give feedback. Like every person ever born, Millennials need feedback. Everyone likes to have their work recognized, but Millennials tend to expect feedback (both positive and negative) to be given more frequently. No, we don’t expect participation trophies, just tell us what you need and keep us informed about our performance — good or bad.

Implement routine performance reviews and host periodic one-on-one meetings. Try to deliver feedback immediately instead of sticking to arbitrary quarterly schedules. Managers should already be having multiple positive engagements with employees daily. If you aren’t, make it a top priority.

It takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. If you focus on delivering praise and positive reinforcement as part of your standard protocol during every employee engagement, you’ll never have to worry about that ratio being knocked off balance when negative interactions are necessary, nor will you have to worry about your employees (whether they’re a Millennial or not) feeling adrift.

Millennials tend to get in trouble for their choices — preferring to live life on their terms, even if that means taking a non-traditional approach to homeownership and work — but if you pay attention, you’ll see a generation that prefers experiences to material goods and the freedom to spend their time doing what they want. We’re often lambasted for being “lazy” and “entitled,” but really, we’re just using the technologies and resources available to us so we can live our best lives. Without question, a good deal of us are very much over the modern workplace and the employers who have failed, in a substantial way, to earn our loyalty.

As our industry becomes less and less employer-based, it’s absolutely critical that employment-based salon owners adapt and create workplaces worth pledging loyalty to. The better you understand the shared experiences that shaped Millennials, the better you’ll understand their worldview and their values. The better you understand Millennials as people, the easier it will be for you to attract, manage, and retain them. If you plan to have a successful business — or any business at all — don’t ignore us, or the generation coming after us. If you thought us Millennials were hard to hire and retain, take a peek at those right on our heels.

In our industry, employers are feeling the squeeze, especially as post-Millennials demonstrate even more radical attitudes towards employment. You can call them Gen Z, Xennials, the iGeneration — whatever — but these industrious, resourceful individuals born between the years of 1995 and 2010 grew up watching freakin’ Shark Tank. Many have been branding themselves and building online businesses from the time they were old enough to hold a smartphone and pronounce the word “influencer.”

While it’s too early to form a broad profile, their adaptability, social consciousness, unwillingness to accept mediocrity, and their relative lack of Gen X and older Millennial pessimism might have them better positioned to manifest change together. They very well may be the generation that revitalize employment, creating an ethical, employee-centric companies in the next decade…companies that will crush old-fashioned competitors that can’t keep pace. Keep your eyes open and be prepared to make long overdue, radical changes.

As Gen X approaches retirement age, Millennials start making up the majority of the talent pool, and entrepreneurial elder post-Millennials begin launching industry-disrupting enterprises, salon owners who hope to thrive will need to pivot — fast.

Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept. For more information www.thisuglybeautybusiness.com