Not long ago I had a conversation with a manager in the amusement business. When the conversation turned to employees, I was shocked by his primary concern. It wasn't theft, turnover or wages -- though I have no doubt they play a part in his management role. What concerned him was motivation. As he aptly phrased it, "You have to get them to 'buy in.'" What he meant was getting them to value the job beyond the weekly paycheck.
He understood that most of his employees were young, many in school, and would assuredly leave, after working for him a short period of time, for college or another career with better opportunities. For many of his employees, his business was a brief stop along their career paths that would likely vanish from their resumes and LinkedIn profiles in very few years. What's more, they understood this, too. Yet, they were the primary contact with his customers. If they sleepwalked through their shifts doing the minimum, his customers would likely have a less than great time. They needed to "buy in" to the business and be made to feel that they have a stake in a customer's experience.
This concept is no small thing; neither can it be easily codified for a manual. Young employees are particularly cynical. Raised on satirical comedies like "Office Space," in which enthusiasm for a job is ridiculed and indifference rewarded, they don't have to read too many headlines to have that view reinforced. Company loyalty, however noble, would also seem to play less of a role these days. For better or worse, young employees see themselves as in business for themselves. Not bound by the kind of obligations that likely come later, such as mortgages and children, they are largely footloose and fancy-free agents with notoriously short time horizons.
Given these not altogether pleasant realities, the task of motivating young employees requires a large dose of creativity. As my recent acquaintance put it, "You have to make them feel they have a cool job." While their friends may be flipping burgers or serving coffee, they're doing something with more social caché among their peers.
This is not a new concept. Having spoken to many family entertainment center owners and managers over the years, I've noticed that quite a few of the more savvy offer "cool perks" and rewards to employees. These can range from limited free play for younger siblings or significant others to gift cards for local businesses. Over the years, I have also met FEC operators who run regular game competitions among employees, during which they allow the employees to curate the music.
Another way to get young employees to buy in is to solicit suggestions for the business itself. It's important to note that suggestions have to be solicited. Managers have to ask. What's more, those suggestions that are implemented -- and frequently they are good suggestions -- should be rewarded in some fashion. For those operators hiring employees soon destined for college, it should also be noted that implemented suggestions could be included on school applications and résumés to indicate business experience.
None of these concepts is new, least of all the idea of getting employees to buy in. What may have been forgotten is the value those young employees bring to a business. The challenge for managers has not changed all that much. But bringing out the best in employees requires managers to bring out the best in themselves.