Expert’s Voice: Are millennials ready to be the next generation of hospitality leaders?

by | 13 Nov 2021 | Opinions, People

Millennial workers can play a vital role in helping hotels adapt to the post-pandemic world as long as they’re treated correctly, says Joshua Bergen, president at VENZA.

Across industries, millennials have steadily transformed the workplace. Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials come to the table with a unique set of priorities, motivations and commitment to political awareness. They are innovative, value-driven, curious and, despite any stereotypical assumptions perpetuated through the ranks, a hardworking group.

As Morley Safer once said, “Millennials have the upper hand because they are tech-savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.”

Millennials approach work differently than their generational counterparts, which should come as no surprise – millennials have, after all, lived through periods of tremendous social and economic change, and digital innovation. In this way, they are a transformative generation living through a transformative period in time. And now, this progressive group represents the next wave of hospitality leaders, at a time when a transformation is not only welcome but required.

Inspiring millennial leadership

In case you were questioning the influence of the millennial generation on the workforce, consider this:

  • Millennials are the largest living generation
  • By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the workforce
  • Millennial turnover costs the US economy US$30.5 billion per year

While the presence of millennials in the workforce is undeniable, their professional satisfaction remains up for debate. Studies show that less than 30% of millennials are engaged in their work. Moreover, only 57% of millennials are satisfied with their pay, while 38% are looking to leave their jobs in the next two years. Oftentimes, research reveals, this generational discontent can be attributed to a lack of leadership opportunity; far too many millennials feel their leadership skills aren’t being developed to their full potential.

In many ways, the trends observed across millennial buying behaviours also provide critical insight into their professional preferences. Unlike their generational predecessors, millennials are increasingly value-driven.

When looking at their path to purchase, millennial consumers assign their loyalty to brands whose values align meaningfully with their own. Authenticity, transparency and social standing are key considerations across this generation and, now, as we look to the path to professional development and leadership, we realise a similar trend. Millennials are eager to invest in those companies which invest in them; they crave opportunities for growth, collaboration and problem-solving that are rooted in innovation and agility.

It’s important to remember that millennials entered the workforce at the height of the economic recession, and their careers have blossomed alongside the rapid acceleration of technology. They are no stranger to disruption; in fact, they embrace it. To this effect, a stagnant environment that adheres strictly to traditional models of work may be considered archaic in the eyes of millennial staff, who crave continued development and freedom to pursue new ideas.

As an industry, hospitality must consider the environment which it offers to up-and-coming talent – are we giving our future leaders the best chance at success? Are we actively curating leadership opportunities to inspire their growth?

Inform, engage and empower your staff

When considering the attributes of business that matter most to millennial graduates as they consider their next step, we see an emphasis on:

  • Social values
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Sustainability
  • Technological innovation
  • Collaboration and cross-team connection
  • An empowering work environment

From a leadership development standpoint, these attributes should be explored at length across hospitality programmes and internship opportunities. With this in mind, institutions such as the HFTP Academy allow future hospitality leaders to continuously enhance their careers with globally recognised professional education programmes and hospitality-specific certifications and certificates. Now, more than ever, hospitality brands should prioritise the continued learning of their staff, carving out opportunities (including sponsored courses and certificates) for each member of the team to develop new skills that will reinforce their position within the company.

Frank Wolfe, CEO of HFTP, notes that HFTP Student Chapters are a terrific way to help train future leaders of the hospitality industry. “Joshua Bergen is a prime example of someone who started out as a member of a student chapter, became its president, moved up into our professional chapters, and is now president of one of the leading technology companies in the world,” he said.

Hospitality brands should also consider the implementation of development plans, which invite millennial workers to create a roadmap for their desired career path, with continued feedback from management and colleagues. Management should prioritise staff connection by advocating for frequent check-ins with millennial employees while also scheduling regular reviews and personalised performance rewards. Conversely, management should also encourage feedback from their direct reports and strive to establish an environment of transparency and constructive honesty.

We know that millennials prioritise work that gives them purpose and meaning, and this cannot be achieved without first creating a supportive and engaging environment at every organisational level. After all, studies show that 44% of millennials would be more likely to increase their work engagement if their managers met with them regularly.

A more flexible future

In the post-pandemic world, hospitality leaders must also recognise the growing prevalence of remote work. While hospitality is, at its core, a fastpaced, in-person industry, a healthy work-life balance is a mounting concern across the millennial workforce. Understandably, the hospitality industry has, in the past, been somewhat notorious for long, gruelling hours and often laborious work.

While some elements of hospitality offerings will remain tied to traditional formats, it’s essential for management teams to recognise opportunities for new-age flexibility. Where remote work is not possible and long hours remain the norm, staff members should be appropriately recognised and incentivised so they continue to feel a valued member of their team(s).

Before the pandemic, industry research predicted that millennial travellers would make up more than 50% of all hotel guests by 2020. Now, according to a recent survey focused on Americans’ perceptions of the pandemic’s end, millennials are 50% more likely than Gen-Xers and 15% more likely than Baby Boomers to feel comfortable travelling by at least fall 2021.

To this effect, we know that millennials will play a critical role in the recovery of the hospitality industry – who better to understand the unique needs and preferences of these travellers than millennial workers themselves? We need their input and leadership now more than ever before.

It’s time our industry cuts down the unnecessary red tape to embrace a steady cadence of innovation. Hospitality, after all, doesn’t have a talent problem – it has a retention problem. Over the years, our industry has fallen victim to notoriously high turnover rates across all levels of business.

The longer we remain needlessly tethered to the ‘way we’ve always done things’, the less likely our industry will be able to capitalise on the expected wave of post-pandemic travel in years to come. Moreover, that resistance to change will compromise the ability of our current leaders to pave the way for the next generation of millennial thought leaders and changemakers.

The writing is on the wall – if we want to develop the millennial generation into hospitality leaders, we have to invest in millennial talent. At VENZA and CyberTek, a VENZA company, we are doing our part to develop continued education and development opportunities, a connected workplace, a healthy work-life balance, and an empowered and supportive environment. I challenge my industry peers to do the same as we build our new teams coming out of this pandemic.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared on Hospitality Net.

Joshua Bergen
Joshua Bergen

President at VENZA

Joshua Bergen is a passionate leader who has experience in several areas of hospitality. He first joined VENZA as VP of marketing and is currently the president. He is also a speaker at the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality and is committed to making a difference.

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