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What should hospitality leaders do to engage millennials?

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

Millennial employees are entitled, have no loyalty, no work ethic and are self-absorbed. These are the go-to phrases banded around our industry about the largest percentage of our workforce and, as a proud millennial, I feel the need to bring a different point of view to the conversation.

Like many, I subscribe to the school of thought that life’s too short not to experience it every day. I’ve watched my dad work his whole career with one holiday a year and that’s not what me or my generation are going to do. I travel regularly and make use of every day off or holiday allocation. The experience economy has been driven by a generation who are chomping at the bit to try something new and go somewhere different. This has, in part, driven the boom in our industry. No more wasting time making a packed lunch to take to the office – grab a meal deal on the go. No more wasting time doing the dishes – eat out!

In September, an industry dinner debate erupted over the challenge of hiring for marketing positions, the spark for this article, truth be told. The challenge we discussed was how marketing applicants don’t fi t in the box they’re meant to any more. They want flexibility, to continue their successful blog or keep working their freelance gig on the side. It seems that for many organisations these requests are one step too far. They think the applicant should be working full-time exclusively for the one business, coming into the office at nine each morning and, as part of their right of passage, putting in the hard graft doing all those grotty jobs.

These two mindsets don’t gel – but something has to give. The way people work will continue to change with an increase in portfolio working, where an individual will have multiple smaller income streams, giving them more flexibility. The gig economy we hear so much about on news programmes is here to stay, albeit with some tweaks. Creativity With more competition to bag the best team, it might be time to reconsider the approach and apply a little creativity – or a lot of flexibility. Almost certainly, the idea of monogamous working relationships is a thing of the past, if someone wants to run their own non-competing business alongside, it’s probably a good thing – they’re proving their entrepreneurial flare. How about blogging? As long as there are clear set expectations about potential conflicts, again, why not? It’s surely adding to their experience and keeping them engaged.

If you want to bag the best talent, it’s probably worthwhile analysing the requirements of your business a little more, breaking up the traditional models and considering who is best to take each responsibility. With technology they don’t need to be based in your office, perhaps it’s better for your marketing team to be working remotely, getting into sites more often.

In fact, they don’t even need to be based in this country, remote working is alive and kicking in our sector. I know of one large restaurant group whose creative director is based on the other side of the Atlantic, another where their designer is in New Zealand and, at Thai Leisure Group, our marketing assistant travelled across Australia and Thailand for three months while continuing to manage our social media. The flexibility and changing models shouldn’t be exclusive to marketing or head office functions, there are learnings to be had for the whole business, including operations.

Looking beyond the sector, accountancy firm PwC has introduced a raft of measures to meet the demands of the changing employment landscape to attract and retain millennials, who represent 80% of their global workforce. These initiatives include flex days, with an employee able to work their allotted hours in four days rather than five, programmes to regularly change locations within their career, and an ability to take extended holidays or sabbaticals.

Returning to the hospitality sector and the difficulty regarding chef recruitment, we’ve already seen many businesses change their model to a four-day working week in the kitchen. This kind of thinking is exactly what’s needed in the modern workplace. Given the very nature of trading, with peaks at the weekend, it is clearly an easy win for most operators. With the heavy staff turnover the industry is renowned for, the idea of guaranteeing a job for when someone returns from travel is unlikely to be a problem, nor the idea of swapping locations to give people broader experiences inside and outside work.

In operations, it strikes me that for the most part we’ve been working to the same basic structure for more than a decade, with pressure applied from the increasing living wage, pension contributions, and apprenticeship levy. Perhaps it’s time for some new thinking. Why are we not following the US model and allowing the best waiters and waitresses to pick their shifts and pay them more for delivering more?

For me, it’s simple. I would rather have an excellent member of staff give us some of their attention, than a mediocre candidate working full-time. With Skype, email and Dropbox prevalent in head office functions, it’s easy for staff to be working somewhere where they feel most productive and comfortable – simple.


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