Build Your Best Multigenerational Team

People of diverse generations reviewing a training booklet

Build the best workforce by focusing less on age and more on hiring, culture, training and motivation.

Just as your menu has a lot of variety, so does your workforce. Older people are staying on the job longer. The youngest generation is just starting. Middle generations are reaching their prime working years. This makes for a multigenerational staff. And, as an operator, it becomes necessary, now more than ever, to learn ways to manage multiple generations.

Each generation brings different lifestyles, experiences and skills to the job. A common belief is that not meeting generational expectations leads to frustrated workers, staff conflicts and faster turnover. It’s bigger than that, says Scott McDeivitte, a Gordon Food Service Customer Solutions Manager in Milton, Ontario. Ignoring the overall expectations of your workforce can spoil morale regardless of generation.

More important than focusing on generational distinctions is the need for managers to recognize worker traits, strengths and weaknesses. This helps managers communicate effectively and create an efficient and inclusive workplace. It’s the kind of atmosphere that builds a restaurant’s brand and wins the kind of confidence the dining public rewards with their business.

The four distinct generations

Still, it helps for managers to know a bit about each generation. Such knowledge can shape everything from how you look at job applicants to how you train employees, promote team leaders and build staff dynamics.

While stereotypes abound—older workers are conservative, younger workers are not committed, etc.—there are some general character traits to watch from each generation:

Baby boomers—born before 1965: Achievement oriented, they grew up when hard work meant raises, bonuses or promotions. They thrive on face-to-face communication.
Gen X—born from 1966-1976: They grew up as latchkey kids, fending for themselves. They appreciate a work-life balance and work well when given direction.
Millennials—born 1977-1992: They like to figure things out, and appreciate constructive criticism instead of being told what to do. Regular reassurance will show them they’re valued.
Gen Z—born 1993 and after: They are immersed in technology and always connected. Because of this, they like (and respond to) instant feedback.

Just as there are four generations to work with, there are four parts crucial to managing them:

  • Hiring the right people
  • Creating the right culture
  • Developing a training plan
  • Providing proper motivation

Hiring: Taking a mature approach

“To get the best of any generation, operators need to make sure they are a preferred employer,” McDeivitte points out. That plays a big role not just in managing the employees you have, but in bringing on fresh faces and encouraging staff longevity.

With minimum wage increases affecting many provinces, McDeivitte expects operators to look at hiring more mature, full-time employees. Career-oriented employees, he notes, cost the same as more-transient part-timers, but they build staffing stability. As for current staffers, he sees value in retaining valued workers by providing more cross-training and experiences. For both new and current team members, this requires understanding something about generational expectations.

One thought on hiring is to choose people who mirror your customer base. For example, if you have boomer customers, hire employees with face-to-face communication skills. That’s where understanding generational strengths and expectations comes in handy. Just remember, no matter what experience a new hire brings, everyone starts fresh.

“There’s not one person who will come out of culinary school ready to run your kitchen,” McDeivitte says. “And there’s not anyone with years of experience who knows your brand and culture.”

Culture: Person first, generation second

When it comes to hiring, McDeivitte says a subtle “Always looking for folks to be part of our team” message on social media is better than a sign in the window. He also suggests asking valued employees to spread the word. Attracting people who are familiar with your business online or who know team members helps to hire people you can manage in a way that maintains and strengthens the restaurant’s culture.

For example, if you lose a 45-year-old Gen X hostess who has been there for years, chances are you’re going to try to replace her with a similar-type person. The generation of the person you hire may matter less than other factors. As a restaurant operator, McDeivitte said he looked for three things that crossed generational lines:

1. A smile. Sincere happiness and a pleasant personality cannot be taught. Finding that person in any generation is a plus.

2. A sense of humour. In the hospitality business, being able to laugh with customers is necessary sometimes.

3. A servant mentality. There’s no way to overvalue those who look after the way people are treated in your restaurant.

Training: Your next move matters

Training and follow-through is most desirable, McDeivitte notes. Online, self-directed training is a great start. It paces learning and, at the same time, provides checkpoints so operators can measure progress.

“Age is not a restriction on learning, no matter the generation,” McDeivitte says. “It might take an older worker longer to finish online training, but learning is all about knowing how to adapt.”

That’s why he believes post-training mentorship brings people of all generations together. He’s not talking about job shadowing, but something deeper. If there’s a millennial on staff who’s passionate about draft beers, then having that worker explain his knowledge to the team benefits everyone and builds respect for the millennial’s expertise.

He also recommends another way to close the loop between training and on-the job experience—conduct further discussion. Two ideas:

1. Give an employee the menu and have them tell you where products came from or how dishes were prepared. Workers of younger generations might be more sensitive about food ethics issues or allergen concerns, something that workers of all ages can benefit from talking about.

2. Do a role-playing scenario that teaches workers why crayons and coloring mats aren’t the only way—or even the best way—to comfort the two agitated children seated with their parents. The alternative solution, something parents or grandparents on your staff might know better than younger workers, is to get food on the table right away. A free plate of carrot snacks will calm the kids and extend the parents’ stay and the amount they spend.

Motivation: Nurture satisfaction

A well-trained career-minded employee will look for feedback and recognition. Rewards are a great motivator for any generation, McDeivitte says, but money isn’t always the answer. Younger workers expect transparency and know what everyone earns, so pay raises are tricky because they can disrupt the common, we’re-all-in-this-together bond.

Instead of a monetary reward, try giving an experience, such as a night at the movies or a voucher for dinner at a restaurant other than yours. A new experience shows you value work-life balance and recognize dedication, McDeivitte says.

Don’t forget to include workers in the decision-making process, where possible. When discussing new menu ideas, there’s nothing more exciting than for a staffer to see his or her idea come to life. Plus, hearing what the staff has to say builds communication and understanding, solidifying your restaurant as a preferred employer.

“I think good operators who find ways to hire, train and motivate people of any age will have people knocking on their door daily,” McDeivitte says.