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Keeping A New Generation Engaged, Satisfied

May 20, 2009 By: Emily Hanna


This article was written Emily Hanna of HotelWorldNetwork.com, the sister site of TravelAgentCentral.com. We believe it has many lessons for the travel advisor market as well.

While many positive characterizations of millennials—those individuals born between about 1980 and 2000—exist, such as they are tech-savvy, idealistic and excellent multitaskers, one negative depiction remains prevalent: If left unsatisfied, they will be quick to leave a job.

“This generation is far more career-focused and ambitious than any other generation,” said Alan Keith, VP of 20/20 Assessment, an Internet-based human resources assessment tool for the hospitality-service industry, during the webinar “Working with Generation Y Employees.” Keith and Bruce Lee, president of training company Encore Seven, presented the webinar.

“You are going to have to work hard at giving them career paths, at developing them, investing in them and retaining them because if you don’t do a good job, they’re off and running to another employer,” Keith said.

While baby boomers and those in Generation X were willing to let companies shape their role, millennials set boundaries they expect their employers to follow, said Leo Campbell, manager of education and career development at Loews Hotels.

Retention Strategies

Keeping millennials, whom Campbell said may have 10 or 15 jobs before hitting retirement age, requires dedication but is possible.

“One of the bad raps millennials get is that they’re not loyal,” Campbell said. “They are loyal, but they’re the first generation that’s said ‘I’ll be loyal to you, but you have to give me a reason to be.’ If a company recognizes that, they will be able to engage and retain millennials.”

Campbell suggested showing millennials exactly how their skills will be used, finding efficient ways to use them while they’re at the hotel and being flexible (if possible) with schedules.

“To retain them, we need to realize they’re not going to give their entire life to work. That’s just not going to happen, and for the hotel industry that’s difficult because this is an industry that doesn’t call for balance all of the time,” Campbell said.

And although he acknowledges that a 23-year-old who wants to be a GM by age 30 must realize he or she may have to work 60-70 hours per week to get there, a successful relationship with Generation Y requires flexibility from employers.

“It might be saying, ‘Hey, today’s a slow time, why don’t you get out of here to do what you want to do?’ And then it’s the responsibility of the millennial to realize this is not a 9-5 job,” he said.

Tapping Technology

Learning to capitalize upon millennials’ strengths, like technology, rather than forcing them to adjust to older ways of learning can be challenging for other generations, but it must happen, Keith said.

“Imagine, this is a generation, these are people that have never experienced life without computers. Ninety-seven percent own a computer,” he said. With cell phones, iPods and laptops, “their notion of workspace absolutely has expanded, just like their personal space has expanded. … Their workspace is a portable workspace.” Important technological tools to adopt include the use of laptops, BlackBerrys, inter-office instant messaging and corporate intranet, Keith said.

Not only will it help them be more satisfied in their positions, but it also can help the hotel streamline and improve its operations.

“Based on the fact that they’ve grown up in this world of technology, millennials look at everything as, ‘How do I get from A to Z the quickest?’ It’s how they’ve been socialized. … That process … eliminates a lot of the steps in the hospitality industry,” Campbell said. “The hotel industry oftentimes, from a technology standpoint, ends up being 10 years behind other industries. With millennials, because everything they do is about technology, mining that  paradigm they have to get to the bottom line quicker is a great thing for hotels to utilize.”

“They’re way ahead of anything we’ve thought of. They’re the same 10-year-olds that, 15 years ago when the computer at my house broke down in San Diego, I called over to fix it,” Joe McInerney, CEO and president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said of millennials. “They are the future of what we’re doing, so they’ve got to be embraced. We want to keep them in the industry so we don’t have to keep going out and finding as many new people.”

Forging A Path

Monthly one-on-one meetings between an employee and manager are one way to keep millennials on a path toward their future while giving them the structure and feedback they crave, Campbell said.

“It’s about how we communicate because they’re not going to be as receptive to critical feedback if it’s given in an aggressive way,” he explained. “It goes back to creating a lot of structure, so for them it might mean having monthly one-on-ones where they know, ‘I’m going to hear good and I’m going to hear bad.’ … Not having prerequisites for having the conversation is difficult for them.”

Additionally, employers should recognize employees for their work—in a way that each employee desires, Keith said. While some like to be acknowledged for their efforts in front of a group, some would rather a congratulatory e-mail or personal discussion.

Lee said setting a vision for the employee’s future is integral, starting on day one. “The vision is that forward thinking of, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen, we’re glad to have you with us, here’s what your part is going to be, here’s what you’ll grow into, here’s what we see [for you] and here’s what you’ll create.’”

Keith recommends coming up with an individualized development program to help employees build upon their strengths and weaknesses. “You want to celebrate and honor and leverage their strengths,” he explained. “And it’s about the manager supporting that plan.”

A mentorship program and constant training is key to keeping millennials at a job and allows them to see that their employer cares enough to invest in them, Campbell said. “There has to be a plan in place for them so they can see where their future is going,” he said.


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