What Matters Most to your Millennial Team Members

10/13/15 12:21 PM Richelle Starke


It seems the business world loves to talk about millennials. Each week my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds spit out article after article after article on “Engaging the Entitled Millennial Workforce” or “Tips for Managing your Millennial Employees,” and I’ll admit I can’t help but check out what they have to say.

My curiosity gets the better of me. After all, I technically belong to this generation of 20- to early 30-year-olds, and I’m interested to check my experiences against the observations of these wizened corporate leaders.

From what I can tell, this generation gets a bad rap.

Often labelled as flaky or spoiled, millennials are heralded as tech-savvy yet lazy, resourceful yet arrogant. (And if I read one more mention of how they grew up in the “everyone gets a trophy” era, I might just scream.) But what all these management gurus seems to agree on – and perhaps what’s fueling some of the fear-induced blogging – is that these millennials are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they’re the workers of today. And that necessitates finding a way to bridge the (perceived or actual) generation gap in order to get business results. As one author writes, “If you don’t have any millennial employees today, you will soon. They are the workforce of tomorrow.”

But as restaurant and foodservice industry veterans know firsthand, this young generation has been around for a while. Many millennials found their first jobs clearing dishes or seating guests or taking orders. So we asked a few Ameego clients for their insights and tips on working with millennials. What motivates them? How are your staff members different today than when you started in the restaurant business? What advice do you have for others?

Lead with honesty and transparency.

While being truthful might seem like old-fashioned advice, today’s workers have grown up in an era of radical transparency. And it’s what they expect from you. Thanks in part to social media and the kind of instant access to information we enjoy today, your employees (and guests too, for that matter) expect you to be genuine and open. Any hint of inauthenticity or a hidden agenda and their collective spidey sense starts tingling.

“Expectations have changed, and I don't think we're alone in that,” says Anton Pradinuk, GM at Moxie’s Classic Grill MTS Centre. “There's that generational gap across almost any industry. People have evolved, and those of us in leadership have to evolve as well. Particularly when coaching, you have to be more open and accepting. This is how our young staff interact with each other, and it’s how they learn best.”

Cory Medd, owner of Two Guys and a Pizza Place, has similar tips: “Be clear with them from the start, get things straight on day one – what it means to be on time, how to get their shifts covered, why that's important. And let them know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a bigger picture they can work toward. When I see a young employee with potential and he messes up, I'll sit down and have the difficult conversation.”

Some experts – like Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising – suggest that, in contrast to their Gen X predecessors, millennials actually have a great deal of respect for authority figures. This is good news for you and your restaurant’s management team.

As Ameego’s Tyler Edwards, former general manager with Earls Restaurants, suggests, “Take someone under your wing and develop them. Understand where their interest lies, then establish what you're offering them. In creating a path for development, be candid and transparent about the plan. Let them know that, if they're willing to take this seriously, there is room for growth – let's be honest and upfront. Encourage open and honest feedback from your team – seek it out from your staff; that ability to speak the truth is a core value to them. Ask the big scary questions like ‘How am I doing as a boss?’ and get them involved. They should feel connected to the business and how they can influence it.”

The right tool can make all the difference.

It’s not a shock to hear that millennials like to be constantly connected. A common challenge and something that likely requires a great deal of “policing” from your restaurant’s management team is cellphone use while on the floor. Instead of railing against this apparent smartphone addiction, find tools that make the most of your employees’ communication method of choice. It could be a win-win situation for you and your team, especially when it comes to ease of scheduling and communication.

“Things have completely flipped,” says Pradinuk. “It used to be that the employers held all the power; they made the schedules. But today’s employees have so many options available to them, and they want flexibility. That tool we put in their hands, the Ameego tool, it makes managing their life dramatically easier. What used to take days to sort out, they can take care of in minutes. All thanks to a piece of technology.”

Edwards agrees, noting that “things move so fast these days. With the speed of communication, technology in the workplace is very important. Offering the ‘latest and greatest’ – something your staff can relate to and feel at home with – can be a competitive differentiator when it comes to attracting and retaining people.”

“Our staff don’t check their schedules on a desktop computer – the mobile app is their lifeline,” says Pradinuk. “The Shift Drop and Pick-up portion of the Ameego app has made it more flexible for them. It certainly streamlines my day and makes scheduling easier for me. I don't need to deal with phone calls about scheduling; I can focus on other priorities. It’s also a way for employees to take control of their own economic state and work-life balance.”

Some things never change, and that’s a good thing.

“You read anything about millennials and you hear that they're entitled – they've got everything at the click of a button. I disagree with that,” says Edwards. “Despite the stereotypes, they have the same loyalty as any past generation. You just have to build the relationship with them. Remember you're leading them, not managing them. Each individual is different, and they want a relationship with you as a boss. More than money or better hours, millennial employees want to have a connection with their GM and management team. That's what people feed off of in hospitality. If you're not a people person, then you're not going to be in this industry.”

“It’s not better or worse, it's just a different set of values,” says Pradinuk. “Our industry hasn't really changed. At the end of the day, we still do the same thing we did 10 years ago – it's all about hospitality and customer service. For some industries and companies, there’s a gap, a disconnect from the bigger picture of caring for clients. But people in the restaurant industry understand it.”


Topics: Leadership, Restaurant Culture