Due to increasingly diverse demographic profiles, it is common to find a young supervisor in a hotel department managing a team including older employees. The situation where multiple generations are expected to interact effectively is not always strategically anticipated by hotel management, which can lead to some clashes and inefficiencies in the workplace. A case study published this year by Davis, Niekerk and Okumus in Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Casestitled “Effective Management Strategies: Millennial Leaders Managing a Multigenerational Workplace” highlights the importance of incorporating organizational policies, procedures, and structures that fit the needs of the multigenerational workforce. This case study illustrates how new ideas and changes initiated by a younger generation supervisor might face resistance from older employees. A lack of understanding and/or willingness to support employees of different generations potentially has a negative impact on all stakeholders – including the guests.
For more background, an extract from the case study is provided below:
Christopher’s team of employees was diverse. Some of them were twice his age; some had worked as a server for over 30 years; some were even younger college students working part-time, just as he did not too long ago. He was continually challenged while trying to earn the respect and trust of the older generations in the workplace. However, the employees who were similar in age with Christopher respected and trusted his judgment and wanted to be his friend. This was a test for Christopher. He felt that there was no initial connection made between him and these older employees. What did they have in common? What did the older generations look for in their ideal leader? How could he keep the younger employees trust without overstepping the boundaries of being their friend and leader? They did not teach him how to lead a team of multigenerational employees in university or management and leadership classes.
The “New Kid”
One day during training, Christopher overheard the employees asking each other about the “new kid” who was wearing a suit. They paid no interest to Christopher as they had seen many young leaders and managers come and go in their time at the resort. The servers understood their job and what needed to be done to appease their guests. Their line of service was both a skill and an art. Christopher was intimidated and nervous, as he was unsure of how he could now step into this management role and earn their respect. He was not sure how long it would take before they accepted him. Clouded by his thoughts, he only wanted to earn the employees’ respect and make a name for himself.
An Attempt at Change
Before long, Christopher was asked by his immediate leader, the Restaurant General Manager (RGM) to begin his attempt at making some positive changes in his work place. The RGM held Christopher at a high level and expected positive results. He also believed that respect towards management should be earned and not automatically deserved due to Christopher’s new title. Before long, Christopher started to expand and change the bar and beverage menus of some of the locations at the resort. Some of these changes were not well received by everyone. The older generations of employees were consistently challenging Christopher. They always wanted to know the “why” behind a change. Were they setting Christopher up for failure? Meanwhile, the younger employees were excited for these new concepts and saw their check averages increasing due to the higher point of sales for the new menus.
It was an “Attempt”, After All…
To Christopher’s surprise, one full year had already passed; to say the least, Christopher was tired and almost burn out. On his own, he had to make tough decisions about discipline and holding his employees accountable for the actions they would take. He felt that the older employees did not take direction well. He even had to be the mediator in multiple conflict management situations where he felt ill prepared and caught off-guard. The RGM was focused on the restaurant’s prestigious wine program and working closely with the other managers who were much closer in age. The employees of the restaurant did not understand the technology that was provided to them and Christopher continually became frustrated when he had to keep explaining how to work the newly updated systems.
While Christopher and the RGM spoke about the successes and opportunities of the operation, not much communication took place between the RGM and Christopher about working with this diverse group of individuals. However, the RGM did not like to micromanage; he was impressed with what Christopher was able to bring thus far to the restaurant complex. After all, Christopher did successfully create and bring a new cocktail and beverage program with focus on craft beer and fresh ingredients. As previously mentioned, this change too, of course, did not come without strong pushback from the servers who were used to the same products and offerings for the past decade. As for the positives, Christopher was technologically savvy. There was no computer or point of sale issue that was too small for him. He was comfortable talking with guests and could handle guest issues or complaints. However, if a guest saw fear in Christopher’s eyes, they would pounce and recognize that he was inexperienced. While he had room to grow, Christopher was still quite pleased with his performance.
Christopher’s restaurant management experience was quickly turning from something that he had hoped would be a positive learning experience into something he was ill prepared for. He was not sure if he can break through to his employees and utilize his natural leadership talents to lead the team while earning his entire team’s respect – not just the younger employees. He wondered if his own leader cared enough to teach him how to deal with the older employees. He had so many questions and wanted to ask but did not want to feel like he was incapable of leading the team. Christopher began to question his leadership capabilities and if he should leave the company for another that respected his willingness to bring change to an organization.
Source: Brendan W. Davis, Mathilda Van Niekerk and Fevzi Okumus (2018). Effective Management Strategies: Millennial Leaders Managing a Multigenerational Workplace. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Cases, Volume 6, Number 3.