CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA — If they haven’t hit your organization yet, they are on their way. Easily identified by their smartphone obsessions, tech savvy and attention deficit disorders, millennials are bombarding the recruiting offices — occupying all surrounding office and warehouse space.

In fact, last year, the Census Bureau stated that a quarter of the U.S. population is now made up of 83.1 million millennials, those born between 1982 and 2000.

During a session of WERC 2018 at the Charlotte Convention Center, conference attendees discussed how this specific generation is impacting the warehouse and logistics industry.

Moderated by Kathy Daugherty, materials manager at Ingersoll Rand, audience members offered a variety of views on what they believe makes this group tick as well issues they run into when managing what they believe to be, in comparison to previous generations, a group of individuals with very different ideas about work.

There was a clear consensus millennials need certain things to keep them engaged in the workplace. Unlike their predecessors, the millennial audience members made it clear this generation needs to be recognized and part of an overall plan at the organization — or on to the next job they go.

While it's common to see baby boomers and Generation X members stay in their job for 20 to 30 years and never leave, if millennials don’t feel a buy-in from the top, you have already lost their attention.

"The truth of the matter is this, if you don’t offer me some sort of pathway — I ain’t staying. But the reality is — I am probably not staying anyway," said one millennial discussion member.

Millennial turnover was a real issue for audience members across the board. According to the participants, millennials need benchmarks and a clear set of objectives they are working toward.

They don’t buy into the idea of coming to work and doing the same thing day in and day out — and expect to do that for the long term. But if that can’t be achieved immediately — that’s when recognition comes into play.

Millennials grew up with the idea that they can accomplish anything, and even when their team didn’t win, they still earned a trophy for participating. They are a feelings-oriented generation and need to know they are not just a number in the workplace — but treated as the individual their parents raised them to be.

"Believe it or not — hugs and free pizza go a long way," said one audience member. "You got to look at these guys as what I like to call tech hippies — those against conventional norms, but with technological savvy."

Many other audience members pointed out while these ideas translate well in the office environment, what does that mean for shift work in the warehouse? It was clear to many warehouse managers in attendance, that if you are driving the forklift or working the line, there are a not a whole lot of ladders for these guys to move up.

"I can give them high fives and free food all day long, but really all I need them to do is show up to work. This is a group that doesn’t even prioritize work, if they find something better to do," the audience member concluded.

The audience settled in on three key things they found to work for the warehouse members specifically:

1. Segmentation of roles

The group concluded that while all warehouse roles don’t really evolve unless they hit a supervisorial level, that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own internal ladder. Some groups offer different warehouse levels, all set with varying objectives and pay structures.

For example, they can begin at Warehouse Specialist 1, and work their way up to 4 — or however many necessary, to keep employees engaged.

2. Flexible hours/incentives

Millennials prioritize their time above all else. Offering them other opportunities to build a work schedule that works for them — rather than just for you — can pay dividends.

One organization moved to having warehouse employees come in for longer shifts, three days a week. They found that having four days off gave more reason for employees to hit all their shifts.

3. Continued transparency and technical feedback

Finally, millennials need to know they are part of the plan and have a seat at the table. Having closed-door meetings or making structure changes without it being clearly communicated will cause them to check out.

They shouldn’t think the only reason their manager ever speaks to them is because they did something wrong. Communicate with them regularly — whether it be about work or how their mom is doing. They believe in being people first.

Managing millennials doesn’t have to be a scary thing — as one audience member pointed out — they want to be loyal, you just have to give them a reason to be.