Talk to Me: Funeral Director Antonio Green Just Wrote the Book on Working With Millennials
Did you know that in 2016, millennials — those oft-maligned folks born between the early 1980s and late 1990s — became the largest generation within the workforce? Between now and 2025, experts predict that the number of workers in this age group will grow to a whopping 75%.
At the same time, the deathcare profession is clamoring to recruit and retain exceptional employees, and aging owners are finding that younger generations aren’t interested in assuming the family business. Is it possible there’s a correlation between the rapidly-evolving workforce and the human capital issues in deathcare?
Antonio Green believes the key to engaging the growing number of millennial workers in deathcare — or in any other profession, for that matter — lies simply in gaining a better understanding of their generation. That’s exactly why he wrote and recently published the book Talk to Me: Understanding the Millennial Mindset — to help multiple-generation workforces manage and thrive despite generational differences.
“There are ways that everybody can get along,” Green says. “You just have to understand one another.”
A new way of thinking
As the fourth-generation funeral director and co-owner of James H. Cole Home for Funerals in Detroit, Michigan, Green has worked with individuals of all ages, including millennials. In fact, he’s a millennial himself. Serving in this dual role as a member of a misunderstood generation as well as the leader of a 103-year-old family-owned funeral home made Green keenly aware of the widening generation gap within deathcare.
“Just looking at my own funeral home, about a third of our workforce is millennial-aged,” Green explains. “We have a big portion of Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, too. There are big differences in how they work. I wanted to find that center point where they can understand why millennials act the way they do.”
Green noticed that older funeral directors often assumed their younger counterparts were lazy and didn’t want to work. Green found, though, that millennials just want to work smarter, not harder. Embracing technology is a big part of that, he says. For example, while some older workers in his organization were hesitant about using email, millennials on his team wanted to implement apps and do more on their mobile devices to simplify and streamline processes.
To Green, understanding and embracing — rather than resenting — these differences in the workforce can lead to synergies and success.
Two kinds of millennials
One fundamental fact to understand about this age group, Green says, is that there are two distinct types of millennials. In Talk to Me, Green breaks up the generation into X-Millennials (those born in the 1980s) and Social Millennials (born in the 1990s). In coining these terms, Green took their characteristics into consideration.
“Social Millennials grew up with social media — MySpace and Facebook,” he says. “They’ve always had that connectedness with their friends and parents. The X-Millennials really have tendencies that are closer to those of Gen X. They still had exposure to the pre-internet way of doing things, like finding books in the library using the Dewey Decimal System or jumping on a bus or bike to go see what their friends were up to.”
In Talk to Me, Green writes that the millennials ease with communicating and obtaining information translates into a less-than-desirable work ethic.
“The older generation came from the ‘grind mentality’ — you want to make it in life, you’ve got to work hard,” Green says. “If you’re not working hard, you’re doing something wrong. The book focuses on understanding both sides, realizing that those differences do exist, recognizing where they are, and learning to overcome them and work together.”
Working with millennials in deathcare
Although the wisdom in Green’s book is applicable to any workforce, the lessons and guidance he offers really resonate with the current struggles in deathcare — especially in family-owned businesses.
“Talk to Me is especially relevant for the deathcare industry,” Green says. “Millennials are going to be the up-and-coming owners of homes, but older owners may not trust them to handle it. On the other hand, some older generations just assume their kids are going to run the business when they’re gone, but they don’t do anything to mold them and bring them into it. Then as they come of age, they’re not even interested in the business. They don’t want any part of it, let alone running it.”
Green suggests creating an open dialogue with the younger members of the profession. This will help them understand why you do the things you do, but also to let them know you’re open to their ideas for improvement or change.
“If you’re open to hearing and implementing that, they’re going to get an early sense of accomplishment and ownership in the business,” Green says. “That’s going to naturally bring them along. Even if they don’t go into it full time, they’re definitely going to want to be around it and help the business they’re tied to.”
A two-way street
Although Talk to Me offers tons of relevant and concrete advice to older workers on how to understand millennials, the book also addresses the role millennials themselves must play in creating a successful multi-generational workplace.
“Millennials have to learn to slow-walk new ideas with older generations, and introduce them to an idea before trying to push the envelope,” Green explains. “Millennials are largely an instant-gratification generation, and that can make them a little impatient. They’ve got to learn not to bombard others with their ideas if they want to get something accomplished.”
With Talk to Me, Antonio Green packs volumes of knowledge and action items into a concise and easily-readable 59 pages. Throughout the book, though, there’s one consistent theme: To truly engage Millennials, you simply must create a work environment that fosters and applauds open dialogue among the generations.
“We have to realize where the other person is coming from on both sides,” Green says, “on both the older and the younger generations, and how that synergy in between can really, really be beneficial for our business.”
Antonio Green will be presenting in a breakout session at the 2022 National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Convention in Baltimore in October. In the meantime, check out his website helpbridgethegap.com. Talk to Me: Understanding the Millennial Mindset by Antonio Green is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.