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How to hire and motivate millennials in optometry


I can’t afford to hire is a common refrain in consulting with the independent optometrist. And, it’s true! If you don’t have any expectation that your employees will produce for you, and by extension, pay their own salaries. It’s all in how you frame your fear, and structure pay incentives and advancement opportunities to mutual advantage.

“Millennials” or whatever word you want to use for any generation younger than you, whose work ethic seems to run counter to your own, have trust issues. It makes sense really. Parents, who today are in their sixties, were the first generation to be laid off from the workforce en masse. IBM pioneered this particularly damaging cost-cutting strategy to managing their loyal workforce back in the 90’s when they laid off my father. That was the beginning of the feeling of instability my generation was raised into. Then 9-11 shook our faith in, well, faith, along with government, travel, our very own safety. This life event forever disrupted the straight-line trajectory of anyone born between the years 1980 and 1995.

This generation was taught, not born, but taught to rely solely on themselves. This is the generation of “latch-key” kids. Teenagers were internet entrepreneurs, earning more than their parents before they graduated high school. “Must See TV” raised this generation while they ate microwaved Spaghetti O’s because their parents were all divorced, and both of them worked full time. There was no stay-at-home mom to help with homework. College was so expensive, many worked all the way through it. And, most importantly, this is the mobile generation. The median cost of homes in the cities that offer the most employment opportunities are a full 10 times the median salary, so this generation works remote. Their own parents rarely know where they are at any given moment and they won’t know until we delete their voicemail without listening to it and respond with a text.

All this to say that the vast majority of those deciding pay structures today, are of a generation of tradition. And the vast majority of those job hunting are of the generation of entrepreneurs, self-reliant, mobile, independent thinkers, who are less loyal but still motivated! They are just motivated by different things. Millennials have a need to succeed in their own eyes because they feel no one else is watching.

How then, do we motivate and reward, the entrepreneurial generation?

  1. Hire for purpose vs. skill
  2. Motivate through benefits vs. money
  3. Promote based on expectations vs. results

Here are some things that may be running through the millennial mind while you’re hiring them, motivating them, and promoting them.

Purpose vs. Skill

I already know what I can do, and I’ve been doing it since I could type, which was around the age of two. I read your job description and researched your company before I even applied. I know I have the skill to do the job, but what purpose would I serve? What new things would I learn to advance my career? What I want to know is what you can do and how my skill set will contribute to the whole, allowing my contributions to be recognizable and have an impact. Far from being complacent, what I actually need is to be able to see how my talents make me uniquely qualified to drive outcomes in this environment, allowing me to shine.

Benefits vs. Money

I made thousands by investing in the dot-com boom when I was a teenager, trading stocks on my phone, and I can’t afford a house anyway, so I don’t need your money to make me happy. What I need is a month-long sabbatical to travel through Europe or volunteer at Ellen DeGeneres’ new wildlife preserve, or whatever cause is trendy at the moment. I don’t care what you can pay me because I was taught from an early age that paychecks are not the road to lasting wealth when the bottom fell out just as I was entering the workforce. Instead, I care about how much time off you will allow for me to give myself what I value the most, experiences.

Expectations vs. Results

I have 500,000 Instagram followers and get paid an influencer salary with paid-per-click advertising on my YouTube channel. I’ve already proven to the world and myself that I can produce, what I need from you is a clear set of expectations for what my contributions need to look like and how I will be measured. Because while we were having this conversation, the outfit I picked to wear to my mid-year review got 50k likes and 200 click-throughs to these shoes that led to purchases. Tell me what you expect, and I’ll figure out how to make that happen, because it is the finish line that interests me most, and proving I will be the first to arrive.

Even in a small business environment, generally lacking in the boatloads of cash we think it takes to retain a staff, you can afford to hire, if you are flexible in your approach. You can afford to motivate your staff, if you treat your employees as individuals. And you can afford to promote, if you recognize ability over performance. Because at the end of the day, being under-staffed has an opportunity cost we can’t afford.

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Susan Daly

Susan Daly

Susan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. She spent the better part of her career working with large retailers: Anthropologie, Gap, Nine West, Aldo, and Zara, before shifting her focus to eyewear. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC. With a mission to support other small business owners, Susan is dedicated to optimizing your optical through inventory and sales analysis, evaluating staff performance, setting goals, and tracking and improving specific metrics.