Lithia's challenge: To hire and inspire Gen Y

A decade ago, everyone at Lithia Motors worked regular business hours, even on Christmas Eve, recalls CFO Chris Holzshu, an 11-year veteran.

"The dress code was white and blue shirts, suits and ties," says Holzshu, sitting in his Medford, Ore., office in a brightly colored, buttoned-up shirt and no tie.

"You wouldn't see me like this when I first came to work here, and I'm probably one of the stuffier people in this building," he laughs.

But the looser dress code and less rigid time clock are necessary to attract Gen Y to Lithia, Holzshu says.

Gen Y, often defined as people born between 1975 and 1995, is a generation characterized by a strong knowledge of technology and wide use of social media. It's also a generation that grew up amid blanket affirmation of children's self-esteem. There were no scoreboards at their soccer games. Everyone was a winner and got pizza afterward.

As Gen Y enters the work force, many dealers may be forced to shift their culture to attract and retain Gen Y workers, who grew up being largely social and unstructured. That may mean dealers will have to be more flexible about hours, provide a chance to work from home, have a casual dress code and offer other perks such as regular free lunches.

Many dealerships will struggle to embrace such a shift in work practices and business culture. For example, the idea of providing Gen Y workers with the flexibility to go for a jog in the middle of the day stumps Holzshu.

"What if the entire building went out right now for an hour-long run?" Holzshu says, laughing. "We can't do that! There's got to be some balance."

Holzshu appreciates having flexibility for those who work hard, he says. But he worries it leaves open a chance that the person who is not getting the job done won't get the mentoring needed to succeed for the company.

He says: "There's balance for all of that, and that's what we're struggling with right now, whether it's in our stores or our corporate" offices.

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