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By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor
Facilities Management Article Use Policy
Millennials are often maligned as narcissistic job-hoppers, but data gathered by the Pew Research Center argues that might not be the case. In 2016, 63 percent of workers 18-to-35-years old had been at their current job for 13 months or more, and 22 percent had been with the same employer for 5 years or more. This nearly matches the stats for Gen X in 2000, which in fact had slightly briefer tenure lengths at the same point in their careers. Regardless, the perception has been baked into the popular culture, and it’s something high-performing young facility managers have to actively work against.
“Certainly, when I walk into a conference and they realize who I am and what my title is they are very surprised,” says Amanda Krok, executive director of facilities operations at Washtenaw Community College in Michigan. “Then automatically comes the judgment of what the older generations have put on the Millennial age group: That I’m inexperienced and a job hopper and all these assumptions. That’s just the generational gap in society.”
Krok has a Master of Architecture degree and started down the path to facility management when she realized aspects of a nursing suite she had designed were not working for the end operators. Over her career, her focus has shifted from conceptual design to management of existing facilities to now focusing on what really gives life to structures — the people and the functions the spaces were built for, she says.
Though working to overcome perceptions based on her relative youth, Krok says she uses the generation gap to her advantage. With her boss, for example, she can learn from his years of experience in the field and deep institutional knowledge. “I have a completely different background and I am much, much younger,” she says. “With him being here for a couple more years, it gives us a great opportunity for a couple year overlap where I can influence him with new ideas, concepts, ways of doing business, and then he can fill me in on the history, past business practice, and his experience. What we’ve been able to do is blend our two perspectives and create a new direction moving forward.”
On the topic of retention, recent design thinking gravitated to a kind of gamification of the workplace in order to attract and keep qualified young employees. However, the true secrets to retention might be a bit more meat and potatoes. For Lackner, part of what keeps him with his current employer are the great benefits that speak to work/life balance such as tuition reimbursement, a good company 401k match, and every other Friday off.
Channels for frequent and honest communication in the organization are another valued asset. “The way to connect with Millennials is to keep the lines of communication open,” says Mewengkang. “Having meetings with them and having conversations on what they want and expect out of their career. I strongly believe that to retain your best talent you should have these conversations.”
Listening to and valuing the employee is something Krok both looks for from her upper management and works to cultivate with her own team. “The most important thing I can do is listen,” she says. “Listen to what they have to say and ask them for what they want.” She looks for ways to develop the skills or provide the opportunities to engage in experiences that her team is interested in, with the hope that, if she can encourage employees’ passion for what they want to do, invoke their interest, and really value them, she’ll be able to keep them long term.
Opening doors for younger professionals to try out other facets of the job ties into retention because “as a generalization, young people want to get involved with everything and have the opportunity to see what we’re really good at, what speaks to us,” says Scholnick. Cross training is a strategy facility managers can execute internally with their younger team members, but Scholnick also suggests externally exposing staff to professional networking organizations as well. Some might balk at that, thinking it creates an opportunity for good talent to walk out the door, but Scholnick sees it as a way to develop in-house resources. It builds points of contact for young professionals who might need help in a particular situation and provides an opportunity to learn from peers.
This ties into a point Horton makes that another aspect of retention is making it clear that upper management is invested in the success of younger team members. It’s a balance of elements: providing challenges, creating room for young people to make mistakes, letting them have a voice in the conversation, and giving them support and education. “Mentor us,” Horton says. “We’re looking for mentors. We have a thirst for mentors.”
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