The millennial mindset has fundamentally changed the actions of companies across every vertical, including hospitality. Yet it’s not just millennial consumers organizations must cater to. A fast-growing generation of millennial employees now directly and powerfully impacts the customer experience. In the U.S., for example, it’s expected that 75% of the nation’s workforce will be made up of millennials by 2030. This is exactly the period of time in which today’s second largest workforce, Baby Boomers, will complete retirement.

This means that everything related to your employees—the way you hire, retain, train and engage—will radically change in the coming years if it hasn’t already. So, how can hospitality leaders empower this rising workforce and strategically leverage them to deliver incredible guest experiences? Here’s my two cents…

Make Engagement Part of Your DNA

As I’ve pointed out before, only 29% of companies currently have engagement programs that fit specific employee needs. Most companies are either in the initial stages of employee engagement or have yet to begin an initiative at all. This doesn’t necessarily spell out success for most companies looking to retain millennial employees; a group renowned for their desire to be involved, feel valued and see the results of their work.

One thing unique to millennials is their need for ongoing stimulation. Their upbringing in an age of innovation—one that’s moving us forward faster than ever before—has made the need for experimental engagement and training critical. For example, many organizations have begun to look to gamification as a solution. This approach applies elements of game playing (i.e. point scoring, competition with others, “rules of play”) to training and development for active workplace engagement, colleague/management interaction and ongoing feedback.

One such effective “game” is where customers are given access to cards on which they can write reviews and submit them to the hotel. Should that customer “name drop” any employee positively on the review card, a manager will put a copy of that card into a fishbowl. At the end of every month, one card will be pulled and the named employee will receive a gift card. In one stroke, the hotel has given the customer a chance to provide feedback and singled out and rewarded an employee.

Trust-Driven Training

While I’ve noted in the past that hands-on training is one of the most effective millennial-motivating tools, it bears noting that this hands-on preference is linked to a desire to learn “trial by fire.” Over 80% of millennials say that venturing out of their comfort zones and learning new things is a priority. This translates into a preference for being given authority over tasks and told to run with them.

I know what you’re thinking: at best this sounds daunting and at worst, hellish. But far less risk can be involved if the employer makes hands-on, “trial by fire” tactics part of the millennial training process. Some specific aspects of this approach can include:

  • Delivering the how and why: Millennials don’t just want to work for employers but movement-makers. They want to know that the brand they represent—which they consider to be a reflection of themselves and their own priorities—has a clear vision and a greater purpose behind each action. A great resource on this is Author and Motivational Speaker Simon Sinek’s TED talk on determining your “why.” This is crucial for hospitality leaders to engage and retain millennial employees, and subsequently drive better guest relationships. Consider Hilton, which uses its name as an acronym for brand values (ex: “H” for hospitality, “I” for integrity, “L” for leadership). A simple yet effective tactic.
  • Transparency and accessibility: While remaining accessible to employees is a best practice in any business, it cannot be undervalued for millennials in hospitality. These workers want to feel involved as a valued part of the organization with a clear and impactful voice. Give them proper space to not only voice concerns and suggestions but be open and honest with them. I guarantee their performance will reflect this positivity with guests.
  • Authenticity: Millennials know when they are being pandered to, be it as a consumer or employee. The difference between these workers and their predecessors is that they are far more likely to leave if they feel their needs are not being met. This makes hollow incentives and development methods (i.e. “fluffy” accolades and long-winded presentations) meaningless to this generation of workers. Create an environment of authenticity with your millennial employees by inviting them to be part of the decision-making process. Host meetings where the focus is their feedback, not your instruction. Virgin Group Founder, Richard Branson (known for his progressive and wildly successful leadership strategies) puts it best: “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.”

The endgame is the happiness of your customers, and that makes it vital to invest in your employees’ happiness. Your employees infuse your organization with the energy they bring to the job. If that energy is positive, fulfilled and excited, guess what your guests will experience during their stay? Harness the power of your millennial employees and see how your service experiences are transformed.

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Robert Reitknecht
Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert
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