The Time to Align Hospitality Industry Workplace Policies with Millennial Values is Now

 Article by Roger L. Ridenour, M.A., SHRM-SCP

In the Summer 2017 issue of MM&E, we discussed the exceptionally high employee turnover rate in the hospitality industry and how we can begin to address this problem through Generational Management. We reviewed the formative life experiences and work values of four generations of employees, and we briefly considered potential management techniques and workplace policies to improve employee retention among each of these generations.

In this article, we will take a more in-depth look at several of the most important Millennial Generation (or Gen Y) values. We will also consider some retention drivers that hoteliers, restaurant managers, and other hospitality industry employers can implement to increase this group’s loyalty and performance. Why the special focus on this generation? Because as a U.S. employer in a high turnover industry, you are likely already familiar with some of the management challenges presented by this generation, and I am here to tell you that the time to get your company’s management approach and policies aligned with the Millennials’ values has arrived.

If you did not yet realize it, you should know that your hotel will soon be awash in Millennial workers. Your restaurant is about to be hit by a tidal wave of Millennial employees. Your convention center is going to be flooded by … well, you get the idea.

Here’s the deal*:
−− Two years ago, Millennials made up 35% of the American workforce.
−− Last year they made up 38% of the workforce.
−− Today, nearly 40% of the U.S. workforce consists of Millennials.
−− By 2020, fully 50% of U.S. employees will be Millennials.
−− By 2025, the number is projectedto be a staggering 75%.
*Pew Research, May 2015; Gallup Business Journal, 2016

Now, if your annual employee turnover is anything like the hospitality industry average of 30%-60% (AMHA/ Deloitte Hospitality), here are more statistics from Gallup Polling that should get your attention:
−− Only 29% of Millennials report that they are engaged in their work (i.e., they feel a positive personal connection with their work and employer and are dedicated employees).
−− 55% indicate they are not engaged at work (i.e., they don’t feel particularly valued by their employer, they don’t care enough about the work they do to give their best, and they will be happy to move on to another employer if things don’t change soon).
−− 16% indicate they are actively disengaged (i.e., they don’t like their job and/or employer and actively seek to harm their company).

To review, the big picture here is that the hospitality industry already has high employee turnover relative to other industries. Given that starting point, consider that in just a few years most of your employees will come from a generation that is less engaged at work and even more prone to change jobs than other generational groups. In fact, according to Gallup, Millennials reported changing jobs last year at a rate three times that of non-Millennials.
The immediate question, then, is what can you do to prepare for the unstoppable tide of Millennials? The answer is that you can do what good managers always do: analyze the challenge, determine effective solutions, and take appropriate and timely action. We’ll walk through this together, but there is one caveat up front that you must accept if I have somehow been unclear on this point: the Millennials are coming, they are not going to change just for you, and therefore the changes that are needed will have to be made by you and your managers and your company. There is no point in holding your breath to see if it will go away. Now is the time to get started making the necessary changes.

So, let’s get to it. What do Millennials value and what can we do to earn their commitment as employees? First, Millennials don’t care for traditional ] boss/employee relationships. The new Millennial hires who now report to you do not care that you have 20+ years in the industry (unless that means you are going to use that experience to help them succeed). If you think that your hard-earned knowledge means they should simply do what you tell them because
you know the industry inside and out, they will be happy to disabuse you of that mistaken presumption. Rather, whether they verbalize it or not, they will in some manner make clear that they feel they are talented people, they can figure stuff out, and if you don’t respect their abilities, they can find an employer who will. In short, one rule with Millennials is that you need to convince them that you respect their abilities from Day 1, but don’t expect them to return the favor.

This may sound crazy, I know. I have heard the same objection to this fact a hundred times. Manager: How am I supposed to manage employees if I can’t tell them what to do without them getting an attitude? How am I supposed to deal with their disrespect towards me? I have earned my stripes. HR: Don’t tell them what to do. Instead, explain clearly what the need is and the desired result, ask them to take on the responsibility of achieving the desired goal, and offer to assist them in any way you can. I.e., do not be a boss. Be a coach and a counselor and a resource. Ask for their input and their buy-in. That is what Millennials want from you. That is what you must learn to do. That is how you will have to manage going forward. This is not a matter of choice if you need a reasonably stable workforce to succeed in your business. As far as their disregard of your knowledge and experience? Just give it up. There is no use in explaining or complaining. Just ask if they would like to take on the task in question and offer your assistance if needed. End of story.

It is, of course, easy enough for me to tell you that this is the way it is and this is what you must do; unfortunately, it may be much easier said than done for many managers. A collaborative, largely informal delegation style of management may not come easy to you or to some of your managers, and it will undoubtedly
take considerable training and practice for some to master the needed managerial approach. Thus the need to get started now. Start lining up whatever training
your management team needs. And even though it may feel just now as if you are being asked to “babysit” them, or “hold their hand,” know this: once you have
practiced this management style for a time, once you and your full management team have learned this new management approach and become good at it, you may be surprised at the result.

Here’s the thing: Millennials really are talented and capable. Their parents praised them constantly and gave them tremendous confidence, and they used that confidence for more than coming up with ways to make your life as a manager difficult. They applied themselves academically. They read widely and/or participated thoroughly in broad social communities, both real-world and online, and they have a tremendous knowledge base from which to draw and which they can augment as needed. They are creative and strong multitaskers who will take initiative and who do well when allowed to find their own solutions. If you don’t have the time to deal with something, if you clearly explain the problem and the desired result to a Millennial, chances are you can count on it being done and being done well. Once a Millennial has agreed to accept the challenge, all you need to do is get out of the way. If you can do that, your Millennial
team members can make your life much, much easier than the old days when you had to check up on the same request five times to first get progress started, and
then to make sure your staff member got it done (not to mention to ensure it wasn’t a low-quality hack job).

This brings us to our second point regarding Millennials. As you may have heard, it seems Millennials require frequent positive feedback to be content. I mean “frequent” in a Daily Affirmation kind of way. For those from other generations, this need can seem to rise to ridiculous levels. Manager: They expect me to give them a medal just for showing up for work on time! HR: Then come up with a medal you can give them. Regardless of how you may perceive this need for constant affirmation, this is a high priority for this group and you had better get used to the idea. You must learn how to fulfill this need, and it may not be as difficult as it sounds.

The root reality of the much-noted Millennial need for constant praise is that they equate their work with their life in a way previous generations did not. It’s not
that this group lives to work, far from it, but they do demand happiness (or at least contentment) in all areas of their lives, including in the workplace. They want to be treated at work as they are treated outside of work by their friends and family. They want to be cared about, well thought of, complimented on their strengths, offered help where they may have a need (or a weakness). In short, they want to feel that they are a wanted and needed and contributing member of your business family.

So, adopt them. Treat them as your posse, your besties, your “work family.” Compliment them every day on something. (You do know that you should
make a point of talking to each of your immediate team members every day, right?) It’s not that hard to say nice things to people you care about, right?
And if you can’t bring yourself to care about them, then don’t blame them for not caring about you or your company. If you do establish an honest friendship
and treat them accordingly, they will respond with loyalty and enthusiasm and creativity and an eagerness to contribute that will far outstrip any management success you may have had with the old command and control approach to getting things done.

The training you will eventually take on this subject will tell you that Millennial also want ongoing development options (so reward them with training and educational offerings); they want to feel their work has purpose and meaning and is socially beneficial (so educate them about how their work activities positively impact not just the company but, by extension, the community); they want flexible work schedules to allow them to attend family events and have social time with their friends (so develop progressive vacation and holiday schedules and implement policies allowing for flexible work schedules, allow them to earn extra time off that they can use as needed, etc.).

Bottom line, now is the time to get some training for your entire management team on what Millennials value, and to put together some focus groups to determine how your hotel or restaurant or convention center can begin accommodating those values. The hospitality industry is starting in the hole when it comes to employee retention. The Millennials are the workforce of the future. Prepare your company to be a part of that future, or expect to see your dreams of business success washed away.


About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.