Millennial Workers: Expectation Versus Reality

By Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D. Assoc. Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | November 04, 2018

A disconnect in expectation and reality is not uncommon in today's society, especially in an time where social media and photo shop allow us to portray ourselves and our lifestyles in ways that may not be entirely forthcoming. Our industry is certainly not immune to this phenomenon; reality shows like Vanderpump Rules and Below Deck often offer a glamorized version of how the hospitality industry is to our millennial labor force. Upon entering the industry, our millennials are often met with one or more disappointing truths to contend with.

In preparing to write this article, I thought it best to address the millennial workers themselves, and asked them about their expectations of the hospitality industry workplace as compared to the realities they faced upon employment. As a professor at a large public institution, I have access to a large number of millennial hospitality workers. The similarities in their responses were stark. Below, I provide a summary, as well as direct quotes from the millennial workers, which provide a multidimensional context and representative examples of each key point.

They Expected Their Education to Mean More

The millennial generation is the most educated (i.e. most formal education, degrees, etc.) to date. They were raised to excel in school, and often encouraged to seek not just a four-year degree, but to go on to graduate school. This accounts for thousands of hours, thousands of dollars, and thousands of academic blood-sweat-and-tears. Naturally, the millennial worker would want to see a return on this investment upon entering the workplace. Their expected ROI is not necessarily equating to the reality. As two students told me:

"I did consider that because I hold a Bachelor's degree and I am a current Master's degree student, I was going to be able to find a job such as manager or supervisor. Reality is we have to start at entry-level positions; therefore, it does not matter how much someone has studied or has prepared."

"The salaries offered are not what I expected, especially after doing an investment [such as a Master's degree]. My biggest shock without a doubt is realizing that it is not necessary to have a degree to do my job, and definitely not necessary to have a Master's degree."

This may speak to a need for educators and academic advisors to more strongly impress upon hospitality students the value and importance of work experience during their degree programs. This message might also be great coming from industry supervisors of degree-seeking employees or interns.

They Expected More Attention

It is actually not novel information that the millennial typically desires more attention than previous generations. This often translates in the workplace as a need for more (and more individualized) training and supervision: 

"I expected further management training. In addition, I expected the communication with my superiors to be more fluid as equals and less structured."

"I am a millennial, and I lots of times I feel I am being used and looked down upon because of my age in my workplace. I expected to learn from other experienced people, especially in the hospitality field. I mean everybody is supposed to be extra nice, aren't they?" 

Thus, begets the age-old question: Who should adapt? Do the millennials just get over it and get to work, or should the older co-workers and supervisors bend to their will and provide the much-desired attention? My thoughts: a little bit of both. If we want to retain top talent from this labor pool, we have to provide adequate training. If the employee feels they are not being trained properly (and with enough time and attention), they will feel that this training is inadequate, and they will try to find a more equitable work environment elsewhere. 

They Expected Growth

When I kept seeing this trend in my discussions with millennial hospitality workers, I thought to myself, "Well who would want a career where they feel there is no opportunity for growth? That's not an age thing!". The desire for growth opportunities was definitely apparent among this group, and, sadly, many felt that they were not seeing it in their current industry roles, or they were disappointed by the time in which it would take to obtain these opportunities:

"When I first entered into the hospitality industry I expected growth on a schedule. Where if I put in a certain amount of hours and hard work within a certain time frame I should move up to the next level. I did not experience that, what I came to find out is that growth is not based on a schedule format but on an opportunity. It does not matter how long a person has worked at a certain place, what matters is if the opportunity for growth is available."

"Another aspect is that I expected to be promoted faster and I actually were. Same happened with my boyfriend who is also a millennial. We expected to be promoted within two years, and in this industry it takes longer than that."

They Expected to be Heard

Each of the millennial workers I spoke with in preparation for this article indicated a strong desire to be a part of their work "team". They did not want to just show up and do their jobs to collect a paycheck, they wanted to be involved and invested. This is great, right? Having an employee who wants to be a member of the organization is far more desirable than simply a warm body there to collect paychecks. There was a pattern, however, of workers feeling like they were not being part of the conversation in their workplaces:

"Even after communicating issues to management, giving feedback on [a new process] and how the [new process] started to affect the productivity and the overall guest experience, no significant changes were made."

"I expected [superiors] to be more open minded, willing to listen and to consider new ideas. We millennial's want to feel empowered in our job environment. It is critical for us to be heard. If we feel that they care about our opinion we are motivated and feel more productive to the company."

Studies have shown that job satisfaction and organizational loyalty have a strong impact on performance; when employees are happy and committed to your workplace, they will do a better job for you. Feeling dismissed or ignored will definitely take a hit to the millennial workplace satisfaction, and in turn, their performance.

They Expected the Hospitality Industry to be Fun and Working with People to be Easy

In their defense, I have spoken to many people who have never worked in hospitality who were under the impression that the work is always fun. Why? Because you go to these establishments to have fun. Take the Disney properties, for example – who wouldn't enjoy every day of work at the happiest place on Earth? What those who have never done it may fail to realize is that our jobs carry a great deal of physical and emotional labor, we miss the nights/weekends/holidays with our families, and the burnout rate is one of the highest among all industries. This certainly applied to the millennial worker regarding their first hospitality job experience:

"I was always very communicative and sociable and thought it would be very easy for me to work with people. But in reality it is actually not that easy."

"[Millennials] come in with the mindset of it being carefree, and are blindsided by the hard work that most places require. [Millennials] find it very eye-opening when they work very hard to serve someone and get no tip, or have to handle a rude patron in a guest relations position and have to hold their tongue and swallow their pride while getting verbally abused. I don't believe in the application and interview process they are given actual negative realities of the job they are applying for. They are given glamorized facts to appeal to them as many companies are desperate to look for young talent with potential, but don't want them to be scared off easily by cold truths of the industry."

This may speak to a need for educators and interviewers to provide a more accurate portrayal of what the millennial hospitality worker is in for – being careful not to exclude all of the amazing aspects of our industry.

They Did Not Expect to be Lumped into a Negative Stereotype Because of their Generation

While some of the Millennial worker stereotypes may ring true, I agree that much of this young labor pool may get a bad rap due to the extreme behaviors of a smaller portion of their peers. And I can imagine that they are not just frustrated, but exhausted by the 'Millennial bashing' that older generations are so quick to engage in: 

"When I look back on my first impressions working in the industry, the biggest revelation was that a person's age didn't really translate into whether or not they are a good or productive employee. There are a lot of negative stereotypes of Millennials - they aren't willing to put in the hours unless they get something valuable in return, they hop from job to job, they are more entitled, etc. And while this might describe some people my age, it is important to remember that all employees have flaws, regardless of the generation they fall in. It really bugs me when I read a headline saying Millennial's aren't worth hiring because of x, y, and z because I've had to work with people who could benefit from a crash course on effective communication or develop their active listening skills."

I must say, looking back at this list of expectation/reality gaps, I wonder: Does this really make the millennial generation unique? Feeling heard and valued, opportunity for growth, proper training – are these things that did not matter to previous generations? They certainly matter to me.

Many thanks to the millennial workers who were so forthcoming with sharing their perspectives and experiences with me, including my Research Assistant, Lauren Doughty. This article could not have been written without your assistance. Keep fighting the good fight!

Dr. Kitterlin, Ph.D. Dr. Miranda Kitterlin is an Associate Professor in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University She teaches graduate level Hospitality Management courses. She received her doctoral degree in Hospitality Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She holds a Master's degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor's degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Prior to academia, Dr. Kitterlin worked in the lodging and food and beverage industries. What began as an entry-level front-of-house position quickly developed into operational management, sales, and human resources management roles, and a lifelong passion for Hospitality Management. Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D. can be contacted at 305-919-4424 or miranda.kitterlin@fiu.edu Please visit http://www.fiu.edu for more information. Extended Biography

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Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D.
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