Labor is quickly becoming the number one concern for restaurateurs in 2017, and with good reason. Unemployment is at a historic low. Competition for experienced employees is high, particularly in urban areas. Restaurant hiring, training, and retention have become huge areas of focus for businesses large and small. And successfully managing Millennials is more critical to that effort than ever before.
There are a lot of factors around managing Millennials from start to success at your restaurant, but the biggest challenge upfront is how you, as a manager, talk to them. How you talk to (and about) your Millennial employees sets a tone for how they and you perceive their place in the organization.
The following are five key steps to managing Millennials successfully that will put you on the path to a positive experience for everyone involved.
1. Understand they’re not kids anymore.
The bulk of Millennials are literally moving into their 30s, with the generation AFTER them (Generation Z) hitting their mid-teens, becoming the next wave of entry-level restaurant workers.
Simply put, Millennials aren’t the future of your workforce. They are your workforce. As Baby Boomers leave the workforce (and the size of Generation X remains staggeringly smaller by comparison), Millennials are the future of every business. There’s no getting around it.
And believe it or not, they’ve already been working long enough to have accumulated experience and perspective that — while different than that of Baby Boomers — is thorough and valuable. There’s a common generalization about Millennial employees that they believe they should be promoted more quickly than existing management is comfortable with.
But one possible reason behind the disconnect, proffered at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show by generational researcher James Poe, is that Millennials watch how their colleagues are being treated very carefully. And they believe they have the disposition necessary to treat employees better. Why? Well…
2. Drop the stereotypes completely when managing Millennials.
With the avalanche of articles blaming Millennials for everything from the struggle of casual restaurant chains to the collapse of the diamond market, urban legends about the behavior of twenty- and thirty-somethings are running rampant.
Ask anyone what Millennials are like, and you may hear that they:
- are lazy.
- feel entitled.
- are shallow.
- have their heads buried in their phones.
- are too distracted by things outside work.
- job hop too much.
Unfortunately, by buying into these perceptions, many employers have created a culture in the workplace where it’s seemingly OK to treat a whole group of people badly. And the reality behind these stereotypes is two-fold.
One, it’s simply not true that Millennial employees are, as a group, any of these things. Millennials have typically shown to be more civic-minded, more environmentally-conscious, and more devoted to working smarter with advancing technology than generations that came before.
Two, even if any of these traits can be perceived as accurate, Millennials developed like any of us, influenced by those who raised them — their Baby Boomer and early-Generation X parents. One may argue the merits of wanting participating trophies provided to them as children, but the stronger case for why the Millennial generation turned out differently than its predecessors comes from watching their parents’ lifestyle — and course-correcting.
Wanting to integrate technology into their lives faster, looking to better the environment or improve health care and social services, insisting on a more tolerable work-life balance, and needing to learn on the job — and moving on when there’s nothing left to learn — are all traits that come directly from observing how the generation before managed their lives and the world around them.
But whether or not any stereotype could prove out to be true, employees are not likely to respond positively to any leadership they perceive as being disrespectful. Easy rule of thumb: if you can swap out “Millennial” for the name of another marginalized group and it sounds bad, don’t say it.
Also be aware, whether you realize it or not, many Millennial stereotypes are specifically aimed at young women (being flighty, taking selfies, being into frivolous trends). This kind of generalization can easily overlap with (or lead to) sexist or harassing behavior among your staff, if not careful.
3. Be willing to answer questions.
Unlike generations before them, whose parents raised their children on a steady diet of “Because I said so,” Millennials, for good or ill, were raised specifically to always ask WHY — and expect a genuine answer. But again, that process didn’t happen in a vacuum, or pop up spontaneously. It was Baby Boomers and early Gen X-ers who instilled that attitude in their children.
And it’s not a bad thing. It may be understandably frustrating to an experienced manager to have to deep dive into the minutiae of an existing process every time one of their Millennial employees seeks clarification. But the benefits of doing so can be massive to your operations. It’s not just that your employee may have insight into areas of improvement you never thought of. It’s that the process of explaining how something works could trigger ideas for improvements (and cost savings) from you.
Being able to satisfy the Millennial employee’s need for answers doesn’t need to be a huge burden, however. Consider these positive interactions for helping support your workers’ need to know more about their job:
The Quick Connect (15 sec)
make a deliberate effort to say hi every morning and goodbye every evening. Say thank you for their hard work. Compliment them in public, even if your Millennial employee is the only one within earshot. And make sure the compliments are genuine, or the effort is all for naught.
The Check-in (20-30 min)
Touch base in a scheduled meeting once a week or once every other week. This will give you a chance to talk in private, and develop a feedback loop: you will be able to tell them how you think they’re doing. They’ll be able to tell you what they need from you to do their job better.
The Stoplight Board (1 hour or more)
This kind of meeting may be more appropriate for an annual or semi-annual review. Break down your employee’s performance with the following cues:
- green: accomplishments
- yellow: still working on it
- red: not happening (with explanations)
By the way, these interactions are not just great for managing Millennials. They could be beneficial to your employees of all ages and levels of experience! They may not all work for your restaurant in this exact format, but think about what you can adapt that will work for you. Any effort toward better communication is going to be appreciated and will reap rewards.
4. If you ask their opinion, take it seriously.
Nothing shows lack of respect more than asking someone what they think and then ignoring it completely.
Different generations look at the world differently. Millennials are asking different questions than you might, especially about where the food comes from, the freshness, ingredient transparency, etc. Millennials, as a generation, also tend to value different things in the workplace, like flexibility of hours, community involvement, and sustainability. That’s not a bad thing.
Embrace listening. Resist saying no as your immediate answer, not just because they are your existing (and growing) workforce, but because they understand your growing customer base — they are it!
In reality, you’ll also find in the process of managing Millennials that they want the same things as anyone else: respect, appreciation from their superiors, and the ability to improve and move up in their career. Dismissing their concerns, especially after explicitly soliciting them, undermines the first two and makes the third seem unlikely to your Millennial employee.
5. Watch more than your words, when managing Millennials.
Watching what you say about your Millennial employees as a group (and as individuals) is critically important. But so too is managing any non-verbal micro-aggressions you may be conveying as a supervisor — intentionally or not. These can manifest themselves as body language and attitude, as much as what you say. A quick eye roll, dismissive tone, or tendency to talk over or around concerns contribute to creating a work environment your average Millennial employee may not be willing to tolerate.
A lot of Millennials have grown used to Baby Boomers talking down to them or not taking them seriously. They can easily pick up when there’s distain for younger workers, even if it’s simply reflected in tone or expression, not actual words. And with unemployment at an all-time low — and the restaurant industry in particular struggling to retain a dedicated, experienced labor force — it’s more important than ever to keep trust at the forefront of your relationship when managing Millennials.
Because if you lose the trust of a Millennial employee, it is characteristically very hard to win that trust back.
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