Millennials in the Workplace: 3 Ways to Increase Staff Loyalty

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Millennials. It’s a word those of us in the business are all too familiar with. As the largest generation thus far in the U.S., and classified by Foodable as those born between 1982 and 1998, this group has a huge pull in buying power. According to an article in Forbes, by 2017, Millennials in the U.S. are expected to spend an estimated $200B annually. As a result, marketers are perking up to this crowd, and their generational habits and behaviors are under a microscope.

Take a step back, and you’ll see that Millennials are shifting the entire foodservice industry. From heavier demand of local sourcing and brand storytelling to online marketplaces and on-demand delivery, Gen Y is setting trends and forging movements to ultimately change restaurants and the dining experience as we know them. The result comes in many forms, including leaner operations, more restaurant openings, and an expedition of new technologies. But considering the capabilities of this group beyond consumership, most Millennials are known to be particular when it comes to the workplace. By next year, Millennials are expected to make up 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. And by 2020, they will account for nearly half of it.

Below, based on research, are three suggestions to garner loyalty in the workplace when it comes to Millennial team members:

1. Offer Flexibility

According to a white paper entitled Millennials at Work by PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Millennials tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and turned off by information silos. They expect rapid progression, a varied and interesting career, and constant feedback. In other words, Millennials want a management style and corporate culture that is markedly different from anything that has gone before — one that meets their needs.”

While those in the restaurant industry don’t have much schedule flexibility, a lot of modern-day operations provide opportunities for creativity, whether it be creating a new dish in the kitchen or ideating on a new social media campaign. Working in the industry provides new challenges and learning opportunities every day by trial and error, and having a solid team around you definitely helps. Make sure to provide regular feedback to your team so they know where they stand and how they can improve.

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2. Build a Better Team

Millennials find value in work well beyond just a paycheck — they want to feel valued, be thanked every once in a while, and enjoy going to work day in and day out. Bonus points if your organization also stands for something greater than the sum of its parts, like sustainable food, a different approach to cuisine, or has a charitable arm.

Because the industry doesn’t exactly allow for work/life balance (at least, for those working back-of-house or in a management position), building a strong team that works well together is important. Since you will be spending a majority of your time with these people, having a great team dynamic can even strengthen the value of work for employees as friendships are forged. But at the helm of this structure is management. Without a solid management approach, employees’ loyalty will wane. 

Katherine Kagel, the owner and founding chef at Café Pasqual in Santa Fe, New Mexico, does what she can to show appreciation to staff. “We have always opted to promote from within and give paid vacations and deal with the exigencies of family needs with a compassionate attitude,” she says of retaining employees, especially as cook shortages become more prevalent than ever. “We have one month paid vacation after 5 years, and of course this contributes mightily for longevity of a work group and low turnover.”

For others, it’s the simple things that build a motivated team. Says Stephen Throop, a veteran manager at San Diego’s The Rabbit Hole, “It’s a very important aspect of our company to keep employees happy and motivated…like standing up and clapping as employees walk in the door to start their shift. Very quickly, the entire bar will start clapping without even knowing why!”

3. Continue to Teach

Millennials are ambitious and want to keep learning and move quickly upwards through an organization. They are also willing to move on quickly if their expectations are not being met. Millennials want a flexible approach to work, but very regular feedback and encouragement. They want to feel their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognized.

According to a recent study, 60 percent of young adults said they “plan to stay in their jobs for some time, and at a rate of more than 2:1, study participants believed that staying with their employers was a better advancement strategy than leaving their organizations.” In other words, contrary to popular belief, Millennials should not be pegged as disloyal, as most media suggest. However, advancement within an organization is important to them and plays a key role in whether they stay. 

In the restaurant industry, this can be done in a myriad of ways, including any one-on-one time with culinary mentors inside and outside of your organization; continuously training staff; and educating team members about your wine list in an effective way. Mary Thompson, the beverage director and director of operations at The Line Hotel in L.A., encourages her staff to pose questions to each other once they have learned the wines. “For example, we will ask questions the way we may hear it on the floor. ‘I like butter but not oaky, what do you have?’ This requires the staff to pull the information out and file it differently; it helps to personalize the list.”

Like any generation, not every Millennial is going to fit the profile and behavioral habits of this group. But the world around them growing up—where technology was just starting to merge as a “norm” rather than a privilege or luxury—has definitely played a part in their approach to the workplace. At the end of the day, this generation, like many others now, wants to feel fulfilled, valued, and as though they’re contributing to making an impact in some way.