Dealing with the Millennial Labor Pool

By Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D. Assoc. Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | March 24, 2013

Hospitality professionals and academics agree that in the next few years the hospitality industry will most likely see its biggest challenge related to the millennial labor pool. Having grown up in a fundamentally different culture than previous generations, this group of young talent presents both unique challenges and opportunities. As the largest population of labor among the four generations currently in the workforce, it is imperative that industry leaders take a proactive approach to understating these young workers, what motivates them, and how to advantageously harness their talent to contribute to the success of operations.

Born between 1977 and 1998, the millennial labor pool has been shaped by a mixture of unique events and phenomena in society unlike that of previous generations. This has resulted in the formation of exceedingly different expectations and preferences upon entering the workforce, especially in relation to work attitude, job structure, working conditions, and human resources policies.

The leading (and perhaps most obvious) contributing factor is the rapid rate at which breakthroughs in technology have occurred. Having been referred to as digital natives, this generation of workers has consistently been exposed to technology, and for many the high-tech environment has always been a part of their lives. This has shaped their values and behavior, and has molded them into a generation that is comfortable with a fast-paced world that demands the sort of multi-tasking skills that they have developed. This next generation of workers is one of fast learners who are open, responsive, and efficient at adapting to change. While this may result in faster and more efficient training, it is important to understand that they will master things quickly and soon be ready for the next step or challenge.

While hospitality organizations can benefit from this skill set, it does not come without negative characteristics. The immediacy of access to information via the Internet and social media technology has inevitably resulted in a generation that expects instant gratification a constant stream of feedback. This is translated in the workplace as constantly seeking approval, praise, and validation from management, as well as stimulation from the actual work tasks they are assigned. This may also mean the death of the traditional annual review, as millennial workers will benefit more from, if not demand, an ongoing discussion of performance. The initial response to this may be that more performance reviews means more work for management, but this increase in feedback may payoff in the long run by way of less employee error, and an increase in upward communication.

The impacts of a high-tech lifestyle can also be seen in the millennials social skills…or perceived lack thereof. Accustomed to the types of abbreviated and informal conversations generated over text message and social media, older generations may find these young workers to be less equipped with the business etiquette and manners traditionally practiced in the workplace. Even industry recruiters have reported that youth job applicant interactions are not as fluid as they were five to ten years ago. While the surge of technological communications has formed this generation into excellent networkers, this networking skill does not extend past the electronic world. This decrease in actual face-to-face interaction also decreases the millenials' awareness of their non-verbal cues. This can be especially frustrating for an older generation of supervisors, as the behavior that spawns from an inadequacy in live social skills may be interpreted as signs of disrespect.

Supervisors may also perceive the millennial workforce to have less work ethic than their predecessors. It has been reported that this generation values their time away from work more so than others, and that there is a decline in work centrality. Regardless of the cause of this shift, organizations will need to evaluate their current policies and practices so as to provide the work-life balance demanded by this new workforce. Opportunities may exist in the consideration of flextime, telecommuting, and/or additional vacation or personal time. Additionally, expectations from both the millennial applicant and the employer should be expressly communicated up front.

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