“Lee, are you going to weigh in?” “Lee, what say you?” “Lee you need to help this girl!” “Lee, would you hire her?” My email has been lighting up over the last four days since 25-year old Talia Jane posted her “Open Letter to My CEO,” Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp, and then 29-year old Stephanie Williams posted her response. I guess this flood of emails is the price to pay for being known as the “Millennial Whisperer.”
In her post, Talia details her challenges living in the San Francisco Bay Area on the salary of her entry level customer service job at Yelp and reveals in that telling many financial and life decisions she’s made getting to this point. Her decisions might generously be called unfortunate, I will choose to call uneducated. She is clearly ill-equipped to be in the situation she is in. And more unfortunately for her, she’s chosen to live her frustration out loud for the world to see, and the world weighed in – ugh.
Calling her entitled is the lazy answer
So many issues are tangled in this conversation – a living wage, setting expectations for employees, training employees, providing life-skill training for people, mentorship, the growing salary gap between employees and their CEOs, the increasingly un-affordability of the San Francisco Bay Area, the shrinking middle class… I could go on.
The discussion that has in some places been good, you can read more here, here and here — and others not so productive, I won’t bother to share those. However, regardless of where you fall on any of these discussions, we can all learn at least five things from this particular millennial meltdown.
5 Learnings From Talia’s Story
1. “Entitlement” is the lazy answer. The majority of the countless stories (actually over 170,000 Google entries today) blame Talia and Millennials in general for her/their entitlement – in my opinion, that’s the lazy answer. Talia and millions of other young workers have graduated from college ill-equipped with the life skills they need to maneuver in our world. Bad or Helicopter parenting? A too-accommodating education system? Never being allowed to fail in a “trophy for participation” ecosystem – much blame to dole out on this one. However companies need to deal with the fact that their young hires may not have the experience or support they need to make it well. The company’s responsibility? No you might argue. As I’ve shared before, at Double Forte taking a candidate to dinner used to be part of the recruiting process, and we blackballed several good candidates because we found they didn’t meet our manners standard at the table. How stupid. We can teach dining etiquette, we can’t teach initiative. However, if we don’t get our people where they need to be and provide the education they sorely lack then we’re looking at a revolving churn door that is as costly as it is exhausting.
Training is the key to stopping costly and exhausting employee churn
2. This is not a “millennial” thing. I know many Boomers and GenXers who make poor financial decisions that then domino into poor career decisions. In the late 90s – early 2000s, how many of us listened to pleas for raises because “I’m getting married,” or “I want to live on my own” or “my lifestyle costs more.” Off the top of my head, I can name 11 general managers or department heads in that time who can share those stories. No conversation of value of the work, improvement of work product quality, increasing value to the organization – all raises demanded because of poor financial decisions. I know GenXers and Boomers today who continue to make poor financial decisions that impact their careers, including one man who insists on keeping his German car even though he can’t afford to keep it maintained, which has translated into him missing two interviews for positions he should have gotten.
3. Customer Service Should Not Be Staffed By Hangry People. Customer service should never be staffed by angry, hungry people, ill-equipped themselves to deal with angry customers. They are the face of your company to the customers you need to please to make your business sustainable. The role is more crucial and valuable than this salary suggests.
4. Employee Training is Paramount. Talia provides a look into the Yelp customer service process here (lesson: push for more coupons). More importantly for us she gives the hard dollars and cents impact of training — $600 in coupons in one month to make made customers go away to $15 over three months after training. Lesson here: start training day one and don’t let people start making money decisions until they’ve been trained. Also, reward good application of training. What if Talia had received $20 for every customer she talked off the ledge? The company saves money and reinforces training and builds continuity by valuing the work. As Erika Murphy talks about in her response to the story on Forbes, don’t view customer service as an operational cost, view it as a sales growth channel.
Hit Your Own Pause Button Before You Post
5. Living Out Loud on Social Media Has Repercussions. Stream of consciousness is not for our “Outside Voices” on social media. I hear snippets of Talia’s story every day on BART (train), in line at the food truck for lunch, walking down Market Street and in the gym locker room while getting ready for work. The difference is the complaint or diatribe in the air, not on social media – it’s not track-able, archive-able or amplify-able – it does not follow that person wherever they go.
So what to do? I think we’re all a bad day away from something like this happening to one of our people or our company. Conversations about expectations and how to really value a function’s contribution and then making adjustments where you’re exposed is a first step in helping our people – young and old(er) – handle reality.Read More »