Unlocking the Potential of Generation Y: Getting the Best from Young Employees

If you’re like most hospitality providers, you employ a significant number of youth. But when was the last time you consulted with the youngest members of your company?

Are you in touch with their experiences, their expectations, and their ideas about workplace technology, organization and communication? Are young employees – the so-called “millennial generation” or “Gen Y” – a key driver in your business?

It is essential to understand Gen Y in order to retain promising young employees, to optimize productivity, and to grow. With 50 per cent of the world’s population under the age of 25, young people are an influential conduit across cultures and generations. They are connected and involved, and they expect to be active participants in their workplaces. As opposed to previous generations whose main media activity was watching television, Gen Y is highly focused on participating.

“These Gen Ys… are the first young people who are in a position to change the world and are actually doing so,” writes The Economist. “The Internet has triggered the first industrial revolution in history to be led by the young.”

As the Executive Director of a successful, youth-driven organization, I’m often asked for the best ways to recruit and retain youth employees. Following are 3 simple steps towards a more youth-driven, progressive, and productive company.

Step 1: Listen

Your Gen Y employees expect to be participants in the decision-making processes of your company. Given the choice between a progressive workplace that elicits their ideas or a top-down organizational hierarchy, the best and brightest young workers will choose a progressive work environment.

Examine Your Structure

To foster an environment where management and executives listen to young employees, first examine your current organizational structure. Ask yourself:

  • How are ideas generated in my company? Is there a formal or informal structure for eliciting ideas from employees?
  • Do managers report on the innovative workplace practices of my employees? (Are my managers keeping me in the loop?)
  • Is employee feedback generally viewed as complaining, or as positive involvement in the company?

Establish Listening Spaces

Establish open spaces for meaningful, proactive discussion about workplace policies, technologies, and strategies.

  • Create online forums such as wikis (interactive internal websites) and social networking groups for internal company use.
  • Provide an opportunity for employees to meet in person with executives, through a regular general meeting or other facilitated event.
  • Ensure that you are providing professional development for your management team on the importance of listening to their young staff.

Consider bringing in a consultant to assess your team’s approach towards young employees.

Step 2: Rethink

The Gen Y’s workplace expectations are unique and require new ways of thinking for executives and managers. If you are willing to rethink some traditional workplace practices, you‘ll retain young employees who will become future leaders in your company.

Be Fast

Gen Ys are highly capable multitaskers and are interested in developing new knowledge and taking on new responsibilities. They are highly literate in information navigation – able to navigate through confusing and complex information spaces and still feel comfortable.

The hospitality industry is ideal for Gen Y because it provides a fast-paced day-to-day work environment. However, long-term decision making can frustrate them, especially if they are spending most of their days just putting out fires. Keep in mind that the net generation is biased towards action. They want to see results, not just talk about them.

Prioritize decision making and long-term strategic planning. Measure the results of new initiatives and share your company’s progress with employees on a regular basis.
Leverage technology. For example, be socially networked, explore the use of online tools for project management and take advantage of Skype and other communication technologies. Ask your Gen Y employees for their input, and keep current with the trends.

Be Flexible

Gen Y’s desire for workplace flexibility works to the benefit of the hospitality industry. If you cannot offer high wages, you can offer something of greater value to young employees by maintaining a fluid, flexible, and productive work environment.

Offer flexible scheduling, with generous comp-time arrangements and leave of absence options to accommodate youth who enjoy travel. Remember that free time (such as 2 days off in succession) is extremely valuable to young employees.
Wherever telecommuting is an option, offer it, and provide the proper technology to optimize the telecommuting experience.
In training and in day-to-day operations, keep in mind that Gen Y learns differently. They have strong multimedia literacy and often flourish with discovery-based learning. They are quick learners – if they learn by doing.

Step 3: Engage

Good leadership is based on effective networks of collaboration and knowledge management. Corporations are expected to maintain transparency, and most Gen Ys will google prospective employers to find out about their corporate practices. Gen Ys are savvy consumers, and tend to support companies that have adopted progressive practices, particularly towards the environment.

Work Collaboratively

Identify which managers work collaboratively and effectively with young employees. Look to them to discover their best practices for keeping dialogue open and getting feedback from Gen Y employees. Remember that a seasoned manager in her 50s may be more open to the ideas of a teen than a 20-something manager straight out of an MBA program. It all depends on the individual’s willingness to embrace new ways of leading – and collaborating.

Maintain Corporate Transparency

As best-selling author and business strategist Don Tapscott writes, Gen Ys “consider access to information and the expression of opinion to be fundamental rights”. In fact, with access to information now at our fingertips through the web, many people feel that if a corporation is not up front about its practices, it may be hiding something.

Provide rich web content on your internal website, so that young employees can understand the philosophy of your company, opportunities for advancement, and the solid ethics (and economics) of your business practice.

Adopt Progressive Practices

A recent study by the World Bank found that a full 82% of young people (15-30 years of age) “vote with their pocketbook,” making their purchasing decisions based on companies’ perceived social performance, and state that the effort a brand makes an effort to address social issues is important to them in deciding between brands. Gen Ys are concerned with human rights and labour practices, and are keenly in touch with the global economy. Climate change is dramatically altering our world, and they want to spend their work hours contributing positively, not negatively, to the environment.

Young employees want to see their employers practicing environmental stewardship such as pursuing green hotel certification, working towards a paper-free office, or using hybrids for company cars. When your company takes progressive steps such as using fair trade products, giving charitably or volunteering, the face of your company changes. Your young employees will see themselves – their concerns and their commitments -reflected in the company, and their commitment to the company will grow.

Gen Y represents a promising future for the hospitality industry. These young people are bright, driven, and have a strong sense of responsibility. They are the creative force that will be changing the way this industry does business. By listening, rethinking, and engaging, you can tap into that promise, and foster a new generation of leaders in your company.

Jennifer is an award-winning youth leader and the Executive Director of TakingITGlobal.org, a non-profit social networking platform for youth working for social change worldwide. This article is adapted from an article originally in the Summer 2008 issue of InnFocus magazine and is reprinted with the permission of EMC Publications and Jennifer Corriero.