How do you keep Gen Y workers happy?

Generation Y employees tend to dominate the hospitality sector, but what are they looking for in a job, a career and an employer? A recent survey evaluated strategies for attracting and retaining Gen Ys.

Management consultants Korn Ferry, in conjunction with the Bridge.Over Group, surveyed more than 1000 employees in 15 large hospitality sector organisations.

All employees were born from the early 1980s onwards, and just under 30 per cent were in management roles.

The survey report was presented at the 2015 World Tourism Forum, held in Lucerne, Switzerland.

What Gen Y employees want

The survey found differences in attitudes and expectations between Gen Y employees and older employees.  The following were the most notable differences:
  • Regular feedback, rapid career progression and a variety of work experiences were higher priorities
  • Clear direction and clarity of expectations were also higher priorities
  • Less tolerant of gradual progression through “hierarchy”
  • Less preoccupied with job security, expecting to move through different employers and careers if they can see a better opportunity and/or better work/life balance
  • Not interested in organisations’ long-term strategies, but attracted to those that take radical or daring approaches to strategy
  • Work/life balance, receiving encouragement and support, personal rewards for contribution, and ability to develop and demonstrate technical skills were all more highly valued
  • “Brand image” was important if it provided security, international exposure and career benefits
  • A reputation for innovation was preferred to one for profit-making or empire-building, for example “disruptive” companies such as Airbnb or Uber
  • Highly customer-centric organisations were also preferred

Attracting Generation Y employees


A big problem for the hospitality industry is that only about 30 per cent of students who undertake hospitality-related post-school education actually go on to work in that industry, and only about half of that 30 per cent work in hotels. This indicates a substantial gap between employees’ aspirations and their perception of what work in the hospitality industry offers.

Overall, it seems that many employees regard the hospitality industry as somewhere to gain some work experience while they decide what sort of work/career they really want.

Interviews with hospitality industry CEOs suggest the industry has been slow to recognise and adapt to the different characteristics of Gen Y employees.

Attraction and recruitment strategies need to take greater account of the following:
  • faster career progression
  • satisfaction comes from “wholesome” work experiences
  • recognition and happiness are not financially motivated
  • constant feedback and appreciation
  • social conscience and corporate social responsibility
  • more flexible working arrangements
These issues indicate a need to rethink and restructure career paths and internal mobility policies. Also recommended is revision of policies relating to “self-expression”, such as display of tattoos and body piercings, and in general allowing employees to “be themselves”.

Other steps for employers to consider include:
  • encourage greater use of social media
  • take careful account of cultural differences
  • creatively blend work and play opportunities, eg with gamification and social activities
  • show off the culture and branding of the organisation
  • offer global exposure to diverse and interesting locations and travel opportunities, eg with international secondments and job swap programs
  • simply accept that shorter job/employment tenure is a fact of life and build it into workforce planning rather than try to “force” loyalty/retention

Improving HR practices

The report recommends adopting the following practices as widely as possible:
  • Be transparent about the current job and future prospects – don’t provide unrealistic expectations
  • Reward entrepreneurial and self-starting attitudes by providing projects that employees can start and run on their own
  • Provide regular and structured feedback backed by clear goals/targets, but consider removing annual formal performance reviews
  • Provide various non-monetary rewards. These may include a sense of purpose, development plans, a better workplace culture and an aspirational “brand”
  • Provide stretch targets and other special provisions that enable faster promotions for outstanding performers
  • Provide more regular training opportunities and increase the proportion of digital learning
  • Increase the use of mentors and coaches
  • Form partnerships with hospitality industry education providers

This article originally appeared in WorkplaceInfo

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