IBPSA Founder Carmen Rustenbeck on CBS This Morning
April 17, 2019
Building the Team You Need to Grow Your Pet Care Business 
May 15, 2019

Millennials Bring Fresh Talents to Your Team

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

By Carolyn C. Shadle, Ph.D.

The millennials are coming! The millennials are coming!

Remember the 1775 cry, “The British are coming! The British are coming to every Middlesex village and farm!”? But now we can say it’s abundantly clear, “The millennials are here,” and what a marvelous addition they are making.

Richard Fry of the Pew Research staff suggests that some 73 million U.S. millennials will surpass the number of baby boomers in the population. This cohort, so named, passed into the millennial year and are sometimes called “Generation Y” or “Generation Me.” They are usually defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, coming to your workplace in their twenties and thirties.

A professor at San Diego State University, Jean Twenge, Ph.D., who researches generational characteristics, has noted that the millennial’s world view focuses more on the self and less on social rules. Hence, the name, “Generation Me.”

That may sound pejorative and a hasty generalization for such a large and varied age group. This is similar to the broad-brush characterizations made about other groups, such as children of the depression, pre-and post-WWI and WWI babies, Generation Xers, and Boomers. They may be generalizations or even myths, but they are worth noting.


 Critics have enumerated a number of negative views. Consider these nine points. They say that millennials:

(1) Prefer to live at home, “playing video games” and depending on their parents (so says Erik Hurst, a microeconomist and millennial expert at the University of Chicago).

(2) Do not want to work hard (noted by Jean Twenge in her book, iGen).

(3) Must be supervised constantly, lest they get distracted or slip off the job (so states Bruce Tulgan, founder of the management training consultancy, RainmakerThinking).

(4) Prematurely expect promotions and rewards for every little thing.

(5) Feel entitled to a job.

(6) Distrust authority and are ready to criticize authority.

(7) Are undependable, frequently calling in sick.

(8) Fail to listen, addicted to the smart phone.

(9) Do not dress professionally.

If these characteristics make you think that hiring millennials is a big risk, read on. Some of these criticisms turn out to be myths, many are overgeneralizations ignoring individual differences. Some have a flip side that turns out to be a positive. A closer look enables you to see the positive traits that can be leveraged in your workplace.


Today we have evidence of the great contributions millennials are making in the U.S. workforce. We are correcting old stereotypes and initial perceptions. Consider these ten features:

(1) Millennials are hard workers. As Dr. Erin Epperly, a millennial herself and associate veterinarian at Peak View Animal Hospital in Fowley, Colorado, puts it, “We have a strong work ethic. We can work hard on the job and play hard when we’re not on the job.”

(2) While millennials do want a life outside of the work environment, their recognition of the importance of balance in their lives is a positive—something we can all learn to do. We have in the past looked at the classic work/family balance with childcare in mind. Couple that with other major factors important in the life of millennials, such as good health, advanced education, and staying fit, and we may all benefit by the new balance millennials are advocating.

(3) Personal fulfillment is important. Kelly Services, the employment company, conducted a study of millennials and found that this generation is less interested in the size of the paycheck and more focused on personal fulfillment in a supportive and encouraging work environment. Is your business poised to provide just such a work experience?

(4) Millennials are good team players. Most worked in study teams as they pursued their education. Hence, they know about teamwork perhaps more than earlier generations. They may look askance at some senior colleagues who forget the teamwork that has contributed to business successes.

(5) Millennials bring ambition and new ideas to the organization. A survey by Bentley University, in Waltham, Massachusetts, found that 67% of young people want to start their own businesses. According to Professor Fred Tuffile in Forbes magazine, “Millennials are realizing that starting a company, even if it crashes and burns, teaches them more in two years than sitting in a cubicle for 20 years.” Their initiative and entrepreneurial spirit can be a great asset to any business.

(6) Millennials speak up. Joan Niemen of Essential Pet Consulting notes that millennials are not afraid to challenge protocols if the logic and reasoning are not sound. They were taught to speak their minds. That can be seen as a real positive to keep the business moving forward with integrity. Their realism and honesty can be an asset.

(7) Millennials have a passion for service. Wendy Hauser, DVM, owner of Peak Veterinary Consulting, loves millennials’ passion for improving the world, and their commitment. She describes a book fair organized by the Cold Creek Veterinary Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, where the money raised was used to house the pets of abused women who could not take their pets with them to the local shelter for battered women.

(8) Millennials are multitaskers. Though they may appear to be inattentive, they often communicate in non-traditional ways. Even though a tablet or smartphone is distracting to some of us, or you may be irritated by a lack of direct eye contact, this does not mean millennials are not participating.

(9) Millennials will force you to see beyond appearances. They are often nontraditional in their appearance, but the positive side is that they set new standards for the present and the future. They signal that it is important not to be disarmed by their informality of dress, even flip-flops!

(10) Millennials can help your business with the use of technology in a number of ways: 1) to remind clients of engagements by way of email or texting; 2) to alert clients when or if items are left behind; 3) to send updates and photos while your clients’ pets are in your charge; and 4) to design and maintain your website and other social media posts.

Change is coming

Will millennials change your organization, or will your organization change your millennials?

Chances are your organization will change as more and more millennials come flooding into the animal care profession. As millennials move on to take leadership roles, many everyday practices will change.  Here are some possible ways:

The employment interview will be different. Management consultant, Jay Deragon, suggests seven questions millennials will bring:

  • How diverse is your pet care business?
  • What impact are you having?
  • Do you have a sense of community?
  • Are you flexible?
  • Will I be able to grow and learn?
  • Will you encourage me to build my network?
  • Do you have an open and understanding workplace?

Interviewers need to prepare themselves for these kinds of inquiries if they don’t want to lose good millennials. Be careful though not to answer glibly. Millennials need to appreciate the rationale behind your policies and protocols.

They are unlikely to accept a suggestion that “this is the way I see it, so accept it because I say so.”

Technology is likely to increase. You will need your young staff to help understand new technically-advanced equipment. Millennials will be in the driver’s seat to help you adapt software to help clients make appointments on line or to order materials. Staff, more comfortable with computer apps, can help the evaluation process, enabling clients to provide feedback and reviews on sites such as Yelp and other online services.

Both teamwork and a group-projects approach may change your organization. Millennials usually will welcome opportunities to work with their teammates and learn from them. The team approach often makes the workplace more exciting and fun, as well as more effective.

More flexible schedule planning may be a consequence of millennials’ influence on the organization. Everyone wants a fair workload and a fair schedule. It is not so easily done granting vacation, unforeseen sick leave, family leave, etc. However, if the team can help decide who must fill in for others, it is less likely that one person should be the target of grumbling and blame. A working team can help with these decisions.

You are likely to see changes in the organization’s communication. New communication skills may be necessary to make these organizational changes work. The new organizational culture will not be dominated by “top-down,” “one dictator” styles. No longer will the culture likely accept one chief who makes all the decisions about who works, who gets paid more, when and where each person works, or how they work and do business. To the contrary, the new culture will see more shared decision-making and team practice. This means staff members will need to be skilled in listening and skilled in giving back. Because many are willing to step up and share, it is important that they have the skills that enable them to speak up with care and control—to know “I-messages,” as contrasted with “You-messages,” to know how to integrate their listening skills to solve problems. This new organizational communication is likely to require more all-staff meeting time and planning time, as well. The benefits will pay off in the long run: better understanding, better cooperation, fewer mistakes, greater staff satisfaction, and less staff turnover.

It’s going to be a great new day with the millennials!

Carolyn Shadle, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and trainer, serving the veterinary and pet services industries.  She earned her PhD. at the State University of New York at Buffalo.