Generation sects

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Talkin’ bout my generation. And yours. And perhaps your grandparents’. Your workers are diverse. Their strengths are many and varied. So, too, are the best ways to manage them.

by Amy Drew Thompson

Hospitality is a diverse industry, in particular when it comes to age. With seniors working longer into their golden years than ever and the first wave of Generation Z already hitting the workforce, leadership teams are finding that it takes an entire toolbox to successfully manage an army made up of – in some cases – five different generations.

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Meet Your (Experience) Makers

The Traditionalists, folks born before 1946, are in many cases still working, and the food and lodging industries have been embracing them.

Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) are still at it, too. Some for necessities – a salary, better health benefits – but even many who can retire choose to keep working; they enjoy it. As the generation that ushered in not just rock ‘n’ roll, but a preponderance of women in the workplace, it’s not surprising that many of these employees are women.

The last three, Generation X (born 1965–1976), Gen Y, more often called Millennials, (born 1977–1995), and Gen Z (born in 1996 and later), are far more tech-familiar, with the latter two leading the pack.

“The most important thing to remember,” says Dorea Mays, associate director of human resources for Rosen Hotels & Resorts, “is that all people are diverse in many aspects, inclusive of age, and you cannot put individuals into a box. A good understanding of the five generations in today’s workforce is great insight to have as a leader in order to effectively communicate with and manage diverse teams.”

What to Expect

Carolyn Argo is the director of talent acquisition for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando Resort. She notes that there are decidedly different tacks for success in managing staff members of different ages, in particular when it comes to their values, communication styles, what motivates them and how they approach tasks. Each, she notes, has its strengths and weaknesses.

Younger workers, she says, are often thought of as lazy; Argo – a Baby Boomer herself – balks at this idea, noting that they are simply more efficient in some cases.

“For example, I know I can lay out specific goals and a strategy and then let them run with figuring out the specific tactics for how to accomplish it, and they will come up with ideas I would not have thought of myself…I know I bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to the team, but I also know I will never be as tech savvy as the younger generations, so I welcome their skills because it only makes my team stronger and more productive.”

Older workers, she says, are more willing to work longer hours and sacrifice personal time to grow their careers and provide for themselves and their families; they have other strengths that younger staffers more often do not.

“Younger workers have different priorities and values; they want work/life balance and time to travel and enjoy their lives outside of work. This is not necessarily wrong, but it differs from older workers…”

A desire for instant gratification – perhaps borne of social media – also is prevalent among younger generations.

Though Mays is adamant about avoiding the stereotypes that can hamstring workers of different stripes, she has noted an uptick.

“We have vast amounts of recorded information and history on the various demographics, paired with the evolution of society and technology,” she observes. “We have seen the desire for day-to-day feedback and reaffirmation heightened in today’s workplace vs. in the past, when most employees were hesitant to demand that feedback.”

Argo would likely agree, noting that younger workers expect immediate incentives.

“[They] don’t feel they should have to invest time with their employer before being rewarded,” she said.

As such, Argo considers these factors when planning things such as team outings, holiday celebrations, and rewards.

“For example, it’s important to Millennials and Gen Z to give back to their communities, so I have made an effort to coordinate community service opportunities, which were very well received by my younger team members. As a result, they feel more engaged and personally aligned with the company’s values.”

It could help with retention; members of these demographics don’t exhibit the loyalty of their mature colleagues. Less fearful of failure, Argo says, “they are more likely to leave if they are dissatisfied with aspects of their current job. Finding ways to keep them motivated is an ongoing priority.”

Conversely, boomers and older generations, she says, are loyal – and take the most pride in a job well done.

“They have a strong work ethic and seek stability, structure, and job security,” she notes, though there is a flip side. “They can be less receptive to change, less flexible, and may be fearful of technology.”

Cross (Generational) Training

And speaking of, it’s their comfort with precisely that which makes Millennials and Generation Z so darn efficient!

As a result, Argo says, they are more confident and adaptable.

“However, their confidence can lead to a premature sense of entitlement, which can be challenging to manage in a multi-generational setting.”

Indeed, technology and communication can be roadblocks to effective collaboration between the generations; a quick, informal poll of various employees with regard to their feelings about texting would be enough to prove that point! As such, training employees in the areas of personal communication – and the use of technology to do so – can be an effective way to get people thinking about the best ways to work together, and bring them all to the same starting point. As generations learn differently, as well, programs should be designed for inclusion. From classroom settings that appeal to Traditionalists to experience-based learning tools that light fires in Millennial minds, these sessions can double as team-building exercises.

In fact, Mays includes specific training on diversity, generations, effective communication, and listening on her roster of best practices for management teams.

She notes that broad misunderstandings cut a swath across the demographics, though for older workers, most are driven by stereotypes and a lack of recognition of what each person brings to the table.

“I would say we’re in a transition period where companies are realizing the value of experienced associates and seeking out their knowledge to ensure it is transferred to the younger generations.”

Older workers, Argo says, are generally more mature, patient, and respectful than their younger counterparts, which can cause clashes in a multi-generational environment. Stepping to this challenge, she often chooses to pair them together strategically.

“It’s an opportunity to bridge gaps between different generations so they can learn from each other,” she explains. “It helps create mutual understanding and appreciation, which ultimately builds a stronger, more effective team.”

Both Argo and Mays note that a diverse team is vastly superior to the opposite. Despite the pros and cons, the value of employing across all the age demographics cannot be underestimated.

Ultimately, Argo says, it’s up to leaders to take the time to understand their differences and promote the unique strengths that each worker brings to the team.

The focus, Mays says, should always be on ability and performance.

And unless your property’s guests are of a single generation, the value of diversity is a well savvy managers will learn to tap.

“The difference in ideas that comes from this diversity produces a blueprint that impacts our guests,” Mays says. “And they are also from all age groups.”

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