Dr. Kitterlin, Ph.D.

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Dealing with the Millennial Labor Pool

By Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Florida International University

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.

Another shift seen in this group of young workers is the movement towards more individualism, versus collectivism. This carries with it the advantage that millennials will be more likely to treat others as individual people, avoiding gender bias, racial discrimination, or prejudice against sexual orientation. A generation of people reported to be more passionate about equal rights and opportunities, the millennial worker will embrace and support diversity in the workplace. This is especially valuable for the hospitality industry, as it not only employs, but serves a diverse array of individuals. Further, companies may see a decrease in the need to allocate as may resources toward employee diversity training.

Unfortunately, individualism also contributes to some less than desirable attitudes and behaviors in the workplace. Individualist are often more concerned with events that impact them at an individual level. This can translate into the workplace as caring more about what benefits them individually, versus what benefits the company as a whole. This may contribute to a decrease in organizational loyalty, as well as a decrease in the perceived need to be accountable to the company for which they work. One example of this is seen in the increase in the rate at which the millennial worker will transition from one organization to the next.

It should also be noted that the millennial worker is entering the labor market having been raised in the most child-centric time in history. They grew up being showered with attention, praise and positive feedback from adults. This era of 'everyone gets a trophy for trying' has created a group of young adults with higher self-confidence and positive self-views than the generations before them. The positive aspect to this is that it makes for a motivated group of achievers who enter into projects and positions with complete confidence in their ability to succeed, and a great tenacity for completing what is expected. This can turn bad, if not ugly, however, when it crosses into overconfidence and narcissism. At this point both performance and co-worker interaction across generations will suffer.

The threat of narcissistic tendencies, combined with instant gratification expectations, also presents challenges in the interviewing and negotiation process. Millennials are entering the workforce with high expectations for salary and benefits - they want it all, and they want it now. They may also present an attitude of "here's what I want for what I did" at work, versus simply acknowledging the completion of a work task as part of their duty to the employer. This may at times come across as a sense of entitlement or impatience, but may simply be a result of the millennial's fast-paced nature and confident mindset. There may be opportunity in mitigating this by clearly explaining and defining future reward and timelines in advance, and rewards may be as simple as an earned skill or experience to add to their resume.

Additionally, this young generation of workers bring with them expectations of promotion within shorter time periods, which may be attributed to their expectations for demanding and challenging work. If promotion is not an option, supervisors may consider assigning a new project that challenges the young worker.

Increased narcissism in this group of young workers further impacts organizational behavior in regards to leadership. It is characteristic of narcissist to be attracted to positions of leadership. With overall staffing far outweighing leadership opportunities in hospitality, the work environment may become increasingly competitive, and thus less team-oriented. This issue may be mitigated by increasing the offering of leadership roles outside of what is offered in the official organizational chart. This may take the form of committee heads, project leads, and/or special assignment chairs.

Finally, the next generation of workers is no longer satisfied with simply doing the job. They want meaningful work, and they need to know how their contributions to the organization create an impact. One suggestion that may deserve strong consideration is the use of an older workplace mentor. This would not only provide the individual attention and regular feedback for which millennials hunger, but may also be an excellent tool in the development of professional and social skills that may be lacking among this group of young workers.

As with any generation, the millennials present their own unique mixture of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. However, taking a proactive approach to mitigating the challenges and harnessing their incredible talents will benefit not only the organization, but the individual worker, and the society as a whole.

Dr. Miranda Kitterlin is an Assistant 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. Dr. Kitterlin, Ph.D. can be contacted at 305-919-4424 or miranda.kitterlin@fiu.edu Extended Bio...

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