Generating Power: How Understanding Generational Divides Can Reignite Your Workforce
By: Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association
With the hospitality industry’s workforce radically altered since the pandemic, the past few years have been characterized by efforts to rebuild the foundation of restaurants and hotels alike: their teams. As business owners strain to fill gaps in the kitchen, the front desk, and beyond, they’re navigating new workforce dynamics with key shifts, including generational differences.
Taking a Look at the Shifting Landscape
The industry has traditionally given opportunities to the nation’s youngest workers, who in turn keep business humming. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the restaurant industry provides more employment opportunities for high school-age Americans than any other trade: 1 in 3 employed teenagers are gaining valuable experience in cafes, pizzerias, bistros, steakhouses, grills, and all kinds of eateries.
However, according to the most recent State of the Industry Report conducted by the NRA, a new generation may be key to the restaurant industry’s ability to recruit and retain employees. Over the next ten years, adults over the age of 65, typically encompassing Generation X or Baby Boomers, are expected to enter the workforce in large numbers.
“You find people who are healthy, who have worked all their lives with other people, who took a few years to do bucket-list things, but then find that they want something part-time and flexible to meet their needs. Restaurants are perfect for them,” said a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association.
Conversely, the number of younger workers is expected to slightly decline. While Millennials currently hold the most restaurant and hotel jobs, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recording almost 3 million workers aged 25-34 making a living in the hospitality and leisure sector, the BLS currently projects that 68 percent of workers aged 20-24 will be plying their trade in 2031, dropping from the current level of 71%.
For owners and operators brainstorming solutions for workforce shortages, these generational shifts and age-related employment trends could, however, be a manageable piece in an often-frustrating puzzle.
Breaking Down the Generational Divides
Understanding generation gaps comes into play when tailoring job descriptions and the jobs themselves, since people of all ages can have unique traits and tendencies that shape them as consumers, citizens, and coworkers.
According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, an organization dedicated to researching the behavioral drivers behind generation splits, generations are categorized on birth years and represent groups of people molded by the same societal trends, technology advancements, and historical events, often resulting in shared values and behaviors.
The CGK defines the following five generations:
However, the CGK also points to “cuspers,” referring to those born within three years of the technical cut-off mark. Cuspers are usually empathetic to both generations and can bridge some of the divides, according to the CGK.
Managing the Differences
When you understand the generational landscape of the workforce, you can more accurately support and cater to the professional needs of your workers, from the hook of the job application to the daily on-the-job experience.
In the workplace, baby boomers are a prominent and influential generation. Controlling most of the wealth within a society and holding the most seniority, the baby boomers have a substantial degree of standing as consumers as well as leaders in the workforce. Most boomers think of work ethic in terms of hours and prefer in-person work over remote situations, which are viewed as intrinsically less productive and trustworthy. These workforce leaders can also be disparaging towards perceived “short cuts,” preferring to pay their dues and put in their time. They also tend to appreciate company policies and protocols.
Tips & Takeaways
Nearing the stage in life when they are considering their exit from the workforce, Generation X are often juggling multiple priorities in life, taking care of children as well as parents while also handling their jobs. An often-overlooked group, Generation X is inclined to be skeptical and does not take well to surprises at work, but has effective leadership skills, being detail-oriented as well as dedicated. Members of this generation tend to side with individuals and relationships over institutions, but they can also be incredibly independent as workers.
Tips & Takeaways
The CGK predicts this generation will split into two sub-groups. One group is expected to check off the traditional markers of adulthood, developing careers and accruing wealth and advancing to leadership roles; the other group is predicted to hit major landmarks of adulthood at a slower rate and may not reach independence as quickly. Largely, Millennials represent the key generational demographic among business leaders and managers. However, millennials are also more likely to be tech-dependent and visual learners. In the workplace, these middle-aged workers tend to emphasize training, professional development, and growth, but they also seek a sense of purpose and meaningful challenge in their work. Most Millennials are looking to make a difference.
Tips & Takeaways
Commonly referred to as simply “Gen Z,” the newest members of the workforce are coming of age in a world materially shaped by the pandemic, and they represent the most diverse generation on record, largely focusing on mental health issues and championing social justice causes. Also, individuals in Gen Z were fundamentally impacted by the digital revolution from the start. Most members of Gen Z cannot even remember life without smartphones, the Internet, and social media, which comes with an unprecedented level of digital savvy. These workers are exceptionally comfortable with remote and hybrid gigs, and they also prioritize job opportunities with a degree of stability and flexibility, especially when it comes to schedules, time, and work-life balance.
Tips & Takeaways
Solving a Shortage or Strengthening a Team?
While the restaurant industry and hospitality industry has long served as an exceptional employer for young workers, it’s clear that owners and operators will now have to think outside of the generational box when it comes to hiring. But this also represents an opportunity. Intergenerational teams can stand to learn impactfully from each other, with older employees taking on mentorship roles towards younger employees and the newer generations showing the rest a thing or two about new trends and the digital world. Expanding and encouraging your workforce to successfully include members of multiple generations is one answer to the workforce shortage; it just might also be an asset.