5 Ways to Keep Your Millennial Employees Engaged in their Work

Now that I've got your attention, this isn't going to be an article about how millennials are awful at their job and here's how we can fix it.

The truth is, they aren't awful at their job. How do I know? For one, I'm a millennial. The other way I know is because I had the pleasure of working with some of the best people and a lot of them were millennials.

There are countless articles that talk about how we are too impatient. How we are ruining the casual dining scene for chain restaurants. How we are ruining the housing market. The list goes on and on.

There are five ways to keep millennials engaged at work. It's not a secret - it's just work and if you can put in the work, you'll make your life (and restaurant) a lot easier to manage.


1. Earn their Respect

The first thing that we have to realize is that people aren't going to do the work if they don't respect us. Just because you own the restaurant and sign the paycheck doesn't automatically make people respect you. Now, I know this might be a hard pill to swallow but the same goes for anyone in a management position. Just because they hold a certain title doesn’t mean that your employees will respect them.

Before you flip over tables and get upset— the truth is nobody is just given respect. I’m sure we have all had those managers or worked for those owners that, no matter how they acted, demanded respect.

I had a manager early on in my career who, instead of communicating their frustrations with me as an employee, would simply treat me like dirt. Every time I came into work, he would just make my time there a nightmare. They would send passive aggressive emails, cut my hours and would make my time there just uneasy.

After a couple weeks of this, I finally sat him down and asked what was going on. At first, he didn’t want to open up but I said I wasn’t leaving the company nor could I be fired because they didn’t have cause, so it was up to him how we wanted his experience at the restaurant to go.

I guess, his superiors were coming down on him because I wasn’t selling the beverages like the other servers. I wasn’t hitting the “marks” that were on the board and I didn’t even know that we had a board that was tracking things hidden in the office. But he would tell me that I needed to sell more soda without explaining why. He never sat me down and said “these are the expectations as a server, this is what the job entails— can you do it?”

Instead, he just got frustrated with me, which didn’t make me respect him— it just seemed like he was barking orders.

In order to gain someone’s respect, you have to communicate with them. The other thing that you have to do is be an authority figure. Leadership is something that’s respected. If we need to hit a certain percentage of drinks to food ratio— teach me, don’t just tell me— show me how it’s done and we’ll respect you for making us better.


2. Check-in With Them

The first three coincide with each other and the reason for that is because it’s not a generational issue, it’s a human issue. We have become so detached or disconnected from how we engage with people, that we forget the basics.

Another way to get your millennial employees to be more engaged with their work is to check-in with them. Formal and informal check-ins are crucial to making sure that your team is surviving life. Some people have families, do you know how that part of their life is treating them? What are their passions or dreams that they are pursuing while working in your establishment? What’s life look like for them in the next few years and how can you be the lighthouse to guide them towards greatness?

Listen, you don’t have to be their savior. That’s not what I’m saying. But the best thing that an operator or manager or owner can do is check in with each individual team member. Treat them like another human— not just a number.

Are they having a rough day? Give them an extra five minutes if they need it. Did their kid tell them that they hated them for the first time and they don’t know how to process it? Be that mentor to them. Can’t relate? Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to, but you can say “I’m sorry, that sounds incredibly rough. What can I do for you?”

That question can be someone’s saving grace.

Even if the answer is nothing. Just the fact that you took the time to listen without judgement and prejudice shows that you truly care about them as people.

In the restaurant industry, people aren’t always treated fairly. Whether it’s by the customer or by an owner who doesn’t understand how to be a decent human being. I’ve been on the end where the owner thought that just because I was salaried meant that they owned me. I was on call 24/7 and they didn’t want to be bothered by a single call from anyone.

At the end of the day, we want an owner or manager to show us that they care about us as humans and treat us as a human.


3. Understand Millennials Are Not Like Previous Generations

This is the thing about other generations. The role of a parent is to be a provider— to make life better than they had it. I remember my parents telling me that they wanted to provide me with a life that they wish that they had. Which meant that they made adjustments from how their parents raised them and there’s a product to that change. Things won’t stay the same if you change the way you do things.

But headline after headline talks about how the millennial generation is ruining the workforce. They’re lazy and they don’t respect what a job is like the generation before them. The truth is, we noticed that things weren’t sustainable the way that they were in the past.

Change isn’t bad. Change is just that— it’s different.

Storefronts by companies like Applebee’s and Hooters are closing. Not because the millennials are ruining them, but because these restaurants chose not to adapt to the change like other concepts did. Their leadership decided to place blame instead of spending time with their consumers asking them what they wanted.

When it comes to millennials in the workforce, instead of saying: “these kids don’t understand what it means to work…,” why not ask yourself, “where’s the disconnect and how can we connect to make this position something they’ll thrive in?”

When you ask better questions and understand that the new wave of employees coming onto your team aren’t like they used to be, that’s when you’ll really start seeing your restaurant improve.


4. Develop Talents Beyond What's Standard

Restaurants are difficult. The profit margins are incredibly slim and the employees think that owners are raking in the dough, because there was a $10,000 night, but they don’t understand the amount of expenses that it takes to operate a restaurant on a daily basis.

This. Is. The. Issue.

We expect our staff to understand the consequences to their action without educating them. We expect servers to sell specials without providing them with strategies to sell the specials. We expect the newly promoted chef to train line cooks on how to work in the kitchen without providing them with a training outline or framework to work with. Then, we get frustrated when they are failing in their position.

Why is that?

Because we already have expectations of people in these positions without doing our due diligence. Just because someone was a general manager doesn’t mean that they were a general manager that’s up to your standards.

Different restaurants have different processes and shadowing isn’t an applicable strategy for long-term success. If you want to create a rockstar environment with a team of amazingly talented individuals, you have to develop that talent.

Provide the proper training. Provide the framework. Provide them with the opportunity to learn beyond what you can offer them by offering to connect them with what they are interested with. I didn’t become a director of training with a company and helped them grow from one location to a dozen without assistance. I learned from other restaurants who already had the framework and learned from them. Then, I took those learnings and was able to help a restaurant grow from one location to a dozen, successfully.

Developing talents is crucial to your success and your reputation. Be someone who connects others instead of tears them apart. Not only will your employees enjoy that environment more, but your business will thrive because of your reputation.

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5. Given Them An Opportunity To Make An Impact

Simon Sinek always talks about how millennial employees struggle because they get bored quickly. They want to make a greater impact on the business than just running food to tables. They want to see a financial increase because of their efforts. They want to be able to make decisions that affect the business.

But, do you know why people get bored? It’s not because they’re doing the same thing over and over again. It’s because they aren’t challenged. They aren’t shown a career path, so they assume that they’re in a dead-end job that isn’t going anywhere.

The truth is, a lot of restaurants are just that… restaurants. Most won’t turn into huge franchises with amazing growth opportunities.

If an employee shows interest beyond the training and wants to continue to develop their talents, the employer needs to show interest in that employee. Let them voice their opinion and sometimes, it could be a decision that moves your business in the right direction. If it isn’t a good idea and nothing comes from it— let them know that they are appreciated, anyway.

Millennials want to see that they have made an impact on the business. If that’s an opportunity you cannot provide them with— find a way to connect that person with another restaurant in the area that could move them forward.

There’s enough of the pie to go around and losing an exceptional employee because they are moving onto greater things is much better than losing an employee because they got bored and became a virus.

At the end of the day, treat your employees like humans. Talk to them. Connect with them. Get into the trenches with them. That’s what’s important and what will keep your employees engaged for quite some time.