About 10 years ago, I wrote an article entitled Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, appearing in the February 2006 edition of RER Magazine. The article addressed the image your company portrays (consciously or unconsciously) to your customers and the outside world. Though that theory remains pertinent today, a decade of change has proved the Mirror, Mirror concept has imminently deeper roots: the image your company portrays internally, to your employees. In my 2006 article, I state, “Image is the sum of a number of small factors that add up to create a perception — a perception that operates on an emotional level, far from the tangible......” 

Let’s think about that statement as it applies to your employees. When I graduated from college in the 1980s, the conventional wisdom was the employer was the “boss” and employees should be happy they have a job and a paycheck. Today, many of the rental store owners I work with are in their 50s and 60s, and came into the workforce when the “boss” mentality was prevailing. 

A question I often ask managers and owners is, “Why do your customers deal with your company vs. the competition?” The answer is routinely something to the effect of: “We provide better customer service” or, “It’s my people.” Customer service is a direct result of responses from your employees to your customers. However, the major issue at question still prevails: What are you really doing to motivate, train and retain “your people.”

Somewhere along the line, especially as younger employees become a larger part of the workforce, the paradigm has shifted from the “boss” mentality. Millennials (roughly those currently in their late teens to early 30’s), will comprise 40 to 50 percent of the workforce by the year 2020. Considering those employees were not even born when I graduated college, it’s not surprising they have different expectations of what their relationship with an employer should look like.

First and foremost, employers should embrace the capabilities and perspective of younger workers. Keep in mind, just as many of your employees come from a different generation, so do your customers; not only have employee expectations of a business changed but, so have the expectations of your customers and therefore, your younger employees are likely your best bet to help you connect with a younger customer base.

Leading the paradigm shift of employee/employer relations have been high tech companies such as Google. A Google spokesman stated their goal was, “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world,” offering employee perks such as massages, free snacks and child care. Now, I can see the eyes of most rental store owners rolling and I’m not advocating such costly and high level perks; however, I am advocating keeping aware of and improving your image with your employees. Remember, a number of small factors add up to create a perception. Just like Google, your goal is to attract, motivate and retain the best managers, counter people, sales people, mechanics, drivers and administrative personnel: the very people that create the image of your company with your customer base.

Interestingly enough, more companies are finding exotic or unusual perks such as massages at work are not really all that important to employees. What’s really important are things that, ironically, are no-cost intangibles and really only require an open mind and open communication. The “my way or the highway” mentality is no longer effective with your workforce. Employees want to feel that business and policy decisions are made together, in conjunction with management, and including their input. Such decision making helps them feel a part of your company’s success and vision and that you care about them as a person. It can also give your business a family feel and give them a sense of importance. Let’s explore a few of these points in more detail as it relates to a rental business: