Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce
Communication is Key to Bridging Generation Gaps at Work.
Apparently there isn’t an age limit on having a good time. Patrons ranging from traditionalists (born before 1946) to Generation Z (or i’s, as this gadget-gaga toddler-to-teen group is often called) are enjoying dinner, conversation, and the mesmerizing 15- by 55-ft. jumbo-tron broadcast at Big Al’s Sports Bar & Grill in Beaverton on another cold winter’s night. Baby boomer John Haslam, a hospitality industry veteran, literally keeps things rolling, managing a diverse workforce serving customers in the complex’s restaurant, an upstairs bar, two bowling alleys, and a mostly kid-packed arcade.
The energetic general manager says that team members like Gen Y waitress Meghan Mulligan, who claims she covered 9 miles at work one night (measured on a pedometer), help keep him young at heart and on his toes. Keeping up with employees like Mulligan, let alone communicating with a generation that often prefers texting to talking, isn’t as easy as Haslam makes it look.
Yet as Big Al’s COO Todd Moore points out, “Communication is the key to the success of any business, regardless of demographic differences on staff.” Moore takes it a level deeper, adding that the style of communication is a key differentiator. “We work to ensure that our communications have a combination of relevant information as well as elements of ‘surprise’, be it humor, interesting tidbits, etc.,” he reports. “We strive to make sure we are getting the right information to the team in a way that is engaging.”
Making sure that everyone is on the same wavelength can be a challenge. “The main difference we see with our different age groups is based mostly around life stage,” notes Moore. “We have a host of college-aged employees, but also employees with families at home. We work hard to ensure that we support our team in different ways, particularly when it comes to scheduling shifts, days off, and more. By understanding life stages, we can better manage business need with personal need.”
Building a cohesive team with talent from diverse generations begins with a solid foundation. “Everything starts with hiring well and orientation,” according to Jason Dorsey, the ‘Gen Y Guy’, author of Y-Size Your Business and Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for Generational Kinetics. “It’s also where, unfortunately, many restaurants and lodging groups struggle. If you’re not hiring the right people and doing it the right way, then it tends to inflate your turnover even more than it normally would be in a high turnover industry.
“You need to hit the key performance components up front, in order to be successful. When you do that right, it ripples across all the generations.”
Getting it right, creating that ripple effect requires clarity. “When you say terms like ‘good customer service,’ it means something different by generation,” explains Dorsey. “Even the words ‘on time’ mean something different by generation. To my dad, being on time means being somewhere 15 minutes early. He’s a baby boomer. To him, if you’re 10 minutes early, you’re 5 minutes late. Well, in a lot of other places, being on time might mean showing up in the morning,” he laughs.
Different age groups, whether X, Y, or Z, learn differently, so developing a one-size-fits-all training program might not be realistic. “The content of our training program is relevant to each employee based on their position within the company,” explains Moore. “However, we work with our trainers to ensure that they are deploying a number of training tactics to address different styles. Younger employees skew toward experiential learning. Our more mature staff prefers to prepare for training through reading, then executing. We need to address all kinds of learning styles and understand what style our training team brings to the table. We work to ensure we provide in-the-classroom training, pre-work, and on-the-job training for all positions.”
Dorsey believes that it is important to be as detailed as possible during all teaching opportunities. “The advice that we give to restaurant and lodging groups is to provide extremely specific examples of the performance that you expect,” he explains. “The reason, in particular with Gen Y (or millennials) is that we often lack real world experience. So we go to work somewhere, and they say, ‘Okay, our dress code is business casual,’ well that can mean something dramatically different for a 25 year old than it does for a 45 year old. Good customer service can also mean something dramatically different. Baby boomers expect you to count back change to them, but Gen Y doesn’t. To Gen Y counting back their change is the same as saying, ‘You can’t count.’ So all of a sudden, you have both groups doing what they think is normal and right, and missing each other completely.” continue →