They are about 70 million strong, depending on the birth years you count, and are unlike any generation before them in their social attitudes and power to drive consumer trends. No, they’re not baby boomers, but rather the so-called echo boomers or Gen Yers that are now entering the workforce—including real estate sales—in force.
As boomers retire and Gen Xers take their top management spots, this mass of young workers filling in behind them requires a new set of management tactics. “They look at things and value different things in a different way,” says Nicki Joy, a real estate sales guru based in Rockville, Md. “The common or typical incentives no longer resonate with them.”
As if builders and real estate agencies didn’t have enough challenges in the current housing sales slump, adjusting to a generation of associates that expect immediate rewards and recognition, seek responsibilities with minimal oversight, are naturally skeptical of authority, and want to be treated more like customers than employees might be asking too much. “It’s difficult for previous generations to accommodate them,” says Joy. “But you have to consider and incorporate their needs” if you want to cultivate the next generation of successful sales agents, she says.
Or to simply ensure a fully employed office in the years to come. Despite record employment rolls and trade association membership, the real estate industry remains dominated by older workers. The median age for Realtors is 51, according to the National Association of Realtors, and a 2007 Deloitte Research study indicated worker shortages in coming years.
Enter Gen Y and its mature grasp of technology, 24/7 access to information, and job-hopping nature—all of which builders and agencies need to leverage and integrate without allowing the inmates to run the asylum. “It’s a fine line,” says Joy.
Here are a few tips for getting along with the younger set:
Reinforce them. Having grown up in an era where everyone gets a trophy, Gen Y workers are used to constant and instant reinforcement and recognition, even for menial tasks. Short-term goals, immediate rewards, and daily reports will sooth their anxieties and stroke their egos.
Leave them alone, in teams. The next generation of workers wants autonomy and responsibility, sometimes beyond their capacity, but are far from lone wolves. Used to teamwork, they thrive in group dynamics, appreciate being consulted about company decisions, and respond to expectations and standards if they are allowed to help create them.
Give them a break. Echo boomers are loyal to their personal interests more so than any employer and feel entitled to negotiate work hours that enable those pursuits. Employers thus need to consider incentives such as short work weeks or work hours and midweek days off. That attitude translates to the work environment, too, where comfortable “hang-outs” for work and downtime within the office layout seem to inspire better performance.
Tap their technology. Kids aren’t looking in the paper for jobs, but rather on Craigs-list and Monster.com—and your Web site—and probably using their smartphones to do so. In addition to finding them in their own realms (rather than yours), leverage their comfort with technology to connect with younger home buyers, many of whom rely on and want instant and electronic communication that this generation understands and comfortably executes.
Keep them happy or lose them. It’s not a seller’s market anymore, in housing or for housing employers, and Gen Y workers are content to move on if there’s no clear path for career advancement. A recent study found that two-thirds of them believe they should spend no more than two years at an entry-level position. “We’re moving toward a market [of] employees who will move between jobs with impunity,” says Dave McCaffrey, president of Predictive Resources, an employment consultancy in Elmhurst, Ill.
It sounds like a scenario in which the tail appears to be wagging the dog, but Joy insists there is a middle ground. “Don’t give into them at the expense of poor performance,” she says. “Set the vision, values, and goals for the organization, and don’t be a pushover.”