Gen Z Engagement: 5 Tips from a Panel of Experts

April 06, 2022 | 1034 Views

Gen Z Engagement: 5 Tips from a Panel of Experts

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

Hospitality companies have been trying to recruit Millennials to their teams for years, but while our efforts were focused on attracting this generation born between 1981 and 1996, an even newer one has emerged in the workforce. Generation Z (or Gen Z for short), with members born between 1997 and 2012, has succeeded Millennials as the youngest potential staffers we can hire. This group represents approximately 72 million Americans, many of whom are now ready and able to drive, vote, and look for jobs.

For those of us working in hotels and restaurants, it will be incredibly important for our long-term success that we find ways to engage with this newest generation and prove to Gen Zers that our workplaces will provide them with opportunities to learn, grow, and develop thriving careers. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that what has worked in the past will continue to succeed with this latest generation.

Fortunately, CHART is here to help! At our hospitality training conference last September, a panel session was convened to share best practices that employers could implement to push themselves forward and connect with Generation Z. The members of this panel included:

Here are 5 helpful suggestions that came either from the panelists or from the conversations I had with my tablemates:

1. Tech Review

Generation Z has never known a world without the internet and social media, and members prefer using technology to communicate and gather information. Has your company been keeping up, or do you still only accept paper job applications? Do you update team members by begging managers to print emails and post them on dusty bulletin boards? If so, it’s time to review your internal tech stack and discover how you can digitally transform the ways you connect.

2. Flexible Work

Hospitality businesses aren’t just competing with other industry employers for Gen Z; we’re also up against gig economy opportunities like DoorDash drivers and Instacart shoppers that allow people to customize their work experiences to fit their lives. How are you responding to this challenge? Do you post schedules 2-4 weeks ahead so employees have time to evaluate the viability of their shifts? Do you make it easy for staff to pick up or swap shifts, or is there a long administrative process involved to get changes approved? If your company still abides by the mantra that the manager absolutely dictates and controls the schedule on their terms, then you’re going to miss out on newer employees who can go elsewhere for a job that caters to them.

3. Allow for Expression

Is your company’s dress code strictly created and maintained by an executive team that has refused to let it be updated? Are your managers prevented from hiring anyone with visible tattoos, unnaturally colored hair, or facial piercings? The concept of a “professional look” has been changing in recent years, and more and more Americans are experimenting with new ways to express themselves and show their individuality. Just as with schedule flexibility, dress code flexibility is going to be essential to attracting younger staff members who want to be somewhere that isn’t stuck in the past and following archaically rigid standards. So pull out that dress code sheet, dust it off, and see what’s in there that might keep people from being their true self (and while you’re at it, remove any gendered restrictions as well). Additionally, consider allowing options for workers to show their creativity, such as letting them design their own nametag or placing it wherever on their uniform that feels most comfortable instead of insisting that everyone do everything the same way.

4. Involvement

A key method to engage with Generation Z will be by bringing them into your organization’s decision-making processes. If assembling a committee to design new uniforms, for example, don’t just include the executives and 40-something district managers; ask your younger staff members to participate as well (they’re the ones who will be wearing them, after all). Similarly, if you are working on new products, training program, recruiting strategies, or workplace design, seek out the Gen Z perspective, either informally during site visits or formally through a survey. Allowing them to contribute creative ideas, and asking them how they would improve your workplaces, will help with eventual buy-in and acknowledge their importance.

5. Change Their Minds

We’ve all seen the pandemic videos of guests unhappy about mask and vaccine mandates taking their frustrations out on front-line workers. Or maybe you’ve caught news reports about potential minimum wage increases in your area where reporters always seem to find the most “doom and gloom” hospitality business owners saying their company will go bankrupt if we dare give cashiers or front desk clerks even another dime per hour. Do you think younger employees entering the workforce will even consider a job at a hotel or restaurant after seeing those kinds of working conditions or bosses that actively strive to hold down pay rates? The P.R. has not been stellar for us for the last few years, and we’ve got some work to do to convince the up-and-coming generation that they can have a fulfilling and financially rewarding career in our industry. Suggestions for changing their minds include promoting success stories with our organizations (especially about team members who have risen through the ranks), participating in workforce development programs from both our local and national hospitality associations (such as ProStart), and making sure that we consistently review the pay and benefits packages offered in our areas so that we can remain competitive.

Just as adaptions were made when Millennials began entering the workforce in the late 90s and early 2000s, we will need to pay attention as more and more Gen Zers become eligible for employment so that we can understand their motivations and create workplaces that they will actively seek out.

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