Tom Witta; Photo of Mary Anderson of Bon Ton

Tom Witta, Star Tribune

On the Job with Mary Anderson and Marissa Andersen

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 20, 2013 - 2:11 PM

The "problem" of Millennials in the workplace is the subject of numerous articles and discussions among prospective employers. But for Mary Anderson of BonTon Design, a custom tile shop in Golden Valley, Millennial workers aren't a problem -- they're the solution.

The concern seems to be that the generation born after 1980 lacks the drive and work ethic that characterized earlier generations of American workers. This comment from Business Insider sums up the stereotype: "High school kids today spend their evenings texting, Facebook-ing and in group chats on Skype. They share typical kid stuff, but also ask each other for help deciding what to do about almost any topic.

"Their dependence on the crowd for decision-making has left many without a critical skill needed for independence and success in both work and life. ... As they enter the world of work many don't know how, or where, to start when given an assignment. ... This paralysis leads to feelings of anxiety and worthlessness."

However, after trying a wide range of part-time workers, from artists to working moms, Anderson has discovered that high-school students are an ideal pool of part-time workers.

"It wasn't an intentional thing," Anderson said. "The first younger person I hired was a neighbor and babysitter who said, 'I want to work for you.' She was here five years, and she was awesome."

Anderson has continued to have success with high-school-age workers. "Maybe it's because they're going to school," she said. "They're used to getting detailed instructions. They don't try to elaborate on it. If something isn't working, they fix it themselves. If they can't, they come and ask."

In many ways, Anderson seems to provide intuitively what Millennials need in the workplace. When she handed a young worker a mop and bucket and said, "Mop the floor," she was surprised by the blank stare. She realized that she needed to provide specific instructions -- and a demonstration. "Don't be condescending," she said. "Maybe they haven't done the task before."

Anderson also makes good use of Millennials' social skills by having experienced workers teach newcomers.

"I pay the kids the same amount I paid my other workers," she said. "It's great money for them. There's no uniform. They can listen to their iPods while they work -- the rule is one ear bud so they can hear me if I need to talk to them. I give them their duties and send them on their way. It's very relaxed, but they know my expectations upfront."

One such employee, Marissa Andersen, has been working at BonTon Design for five months, painting tiles and helping with mosaic classes.

What's your favorite part of the job?

I like helping with classes. That's a lot of fun.

Do you have a background in art?

My mom started me on Christmas presents. I've done summer activities that were art-related. I don't have a chance to work with stuff right now.

Do you want to make a career of art?

I don't have a plan. I'm going with the flow. My mom is pushing me to do art. I've been leaning toward science. My favorite class is chemistry. When I learn a lesson in chemistry, I think, "Oh, that's why the tile does that!"

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