Managing the talent gap: Sparking passion for hospitality in Gen Z
Updated 19 Jan 2023 by EHL Hospitality Business School, eHotelier
Generation Z (Gen Z) follows after the Millennials and defines individuals born between 1997-2013. Gen Zers are entering the workforce with a different set of expectations and aspirations for their careers and work-life balance. They are more inclined to view careers as a series of different jobs and to seek flexible work. According to researchers, they look for meaning and expect managers to be open to listening and implementing their ideas. They rely heavily on technology for socializing and communication. In recent times, hospitality executives have found it difficult to attract and retain Gen Z workers, so how can the talent gap be effectively managed?
While the hospitality industry suffers from a talent shortage due to the pandemic and a shift in its attractiveness as a career, General Managers (GMs) need to implement new talent management strategies, particularly towards Gen Z workers. We spoke to 22 GMs leading luxury hotels both in Switzerland and internationally (Spain, France, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia) to understand how they are addressing this talent shortage issue and their experiences of working with Gen Zers.
Understanding Generation Z and their view of hospitality
It’s important to note that the pandemic was the first major global shock that Gen Z have experienced as adults. With lockdowns, instability and sanitary requirements hitting the hospitality sector particularly hard, Gen Z’s now view hospitality as potentially risky for future careers. Hospitality schools have also seen a narrowing of the pipeline resulting in fewer fresh talent being placed on the market. Even within education, not every graduate of a hospitality school ends up in the industry as other industries look for these vital skills.
There is a perception issue that hospitality companies are facing. Our interviewees also told us that their Gen Z workers see hospitality companies as rigidly hierarchical and inflexible. Further, interviewees suggested their Gen Z workers dislike process complexity and prefer flexible and part-time work giving them time for other pursuits. This perception of rigidity and inflexibility of ‘traditional’ rather than ‘flexibly modern’ further contributes to the reduction in the industry’s attractiveness for Gen Zers.
How to work with Gen Z
In reality, we shouldn’t lump a whole generation into a one-size-fits-all persona. Different cultures, education, religions and national characteristics as well as individual personality traits also contribute to how people approach and view work and careers. We can extrapolate, however, from our interviewees comments to add some practical strategies and tactics as food for thought for GMs.
Taking our interviewees’ feedback and experiences, we have identified three dimensions to think about: structural/process, cultural and recruitment/career. We present some suggestions drawn from our interviews and our own reflections that possible future actions GMs could consider implementing or adjusting to their own context.
- Work scheduling
The pandemic has challenged all of our thinking around what work is and where and how we do it and priorities in our lives around our work-life balance. GMs need to think creatively about what is on offer to address the work-life balance interests and priorities of Gen Zs (and other employees to be honest). More flexible working options could be introduced such as 60-80% contracts, or Monday to Friday (not weekend) contracts, for example. Some people prefer to work only mornings or only nights, giving them greater control over when they work and the activities, they like to take part in outside of working. Gen Zers are interested in ‘side gigs’ where they have a main job that gives them a solid foundation to live on while they work on start-up ideas or turning their hobby/creative passions into revenue generating businesses. If GMs can offer this type of flexibility, they can change the ‘all-hours, always-on’ inhospitable perception of working in hospitality.
- Meaning in work
Gen Z is also focused on collaboration and finding meaning or purpose in their work beyond set processes. The rigid hierarchy in hospitality establishments where process is everything makes it harder to cater to this need. GMs should consider reducing silos and vertical hierarchy and moving towards collaborative project-based work.
- Career-long learning & development plan
This collaborative mode of project-based work would offer these young employees an opportunity to discover and familiarize themselves with certain operational practices and professional skills of their colleagues working in other functions of the organization (e.g. marketing, finance, controlling, rooms division, revenue management, food & beverage). It may well be that this will stimulate the curiosity of some employees to want to work temporarily or permanently, in another department of the organization – either because they will have discovered a field of expertise that they consider more interesting than theirs or because they think that working temporarily in one (or other) function(s) represents a real opportunity to develop a wider range of skills and professional expertise. Some would see it as an effective way to make their professional profile more attractive.
It is therefore up to organizations to improve the effectiveness of their ‘job rotation’ and ‘job enlargement’ systems. In order to support these young people in the continuous development of their skills, organizations could offer the most promising among them short targeted training courses in various fields of expertise. These employees could be offered training in the expertise of their choice during the lowest tourist seasons, when their presence is not required 100% of the time. If this is a possible way to make the job offer more attractive for young talents, then organizations in the hospitality sector should further strengthen their collaborations with hospitality management schools, which could then design tailor-made training for the professional development of their young talents. It should be noted that hotel schools would also gain something in this process, as they would find out precisely what skills young professionals are eager to acquire in order to strengthen their professional profile.
2. Cultural purpose and meaning for creativity and innovation
Returning to the theme of purpose and meaning but looking at it from a cultural perspective, GMs should consider changing the culture from one of command and control to one where collaboration is central. Gen Zers like to think beyond silos and this can be a positive opportunity for GMs to create a talent pool of multi-facetted employees who are agile and responsive to guests’ needs beyond their own roles and processes. The upside of achieving a collaborative culture is also that tasks become more meaningful to workers and increase the opportunity for them to become more creative and innovative, looking for solutions.
- Individualizing identity
One interesting aspect of the Gen Z generation is their reliance on social media. Gen Z like to document what they are doing not only outside of work but also during as this individualizes their identities while connecting them to their larger community. Although in some cases, this may go against guest privacy rules, GMs should consider how they can support Gen Z’s need to document their daily lives in their daily operations. Interacting with social media could become part of the hotel’s work culture. It can also help develop guest loyalty and brand awareness. The Lanesborough Hotel, London, has a resident cat, Lilibet who has her own Instagram account and a strong following for her daily photo. Encouraging intimacy through Gen Z’s storytelling on social media could be an interesting marketing spin too as well as part of a hotel’s culture.
3. Recruiting Gen Z
When an industry is suffering from a general negative perception, attracting talent and particularly young talent who are influenced by their parents’ too can increase the challenge. GMs and the industry in general (including hospitality schools) together, we, as a community need to sell a ‘different story’ to youngsters by offering more flexibility particularly in operational and managerial roles including emotional, physical, and financial wellbeing.
We need to address the negative image of the industry in the press by showcasing positive stories around complexities of roles and the possible career paths more creativity around service and reinventing tourism. Practically, GMs should consider recruiting for talent in untapped countries/regions by physically holding roadshows and recruitment days – if people don’t come to you, you will need to go to them. Hand in hand with physical presence, there are also opportunities to work with local recruitment agencies to attract talent.
Finally, for a generation who lives and breathes digital, we also suggest rethinking the practical ‘how’ of recruitment and making it easier and quicker for applicants to apply online through mobile apps and SMS texts.
- Change the way you think
We need to change our thinking as hospitality managers to attract new, young talent to an industry that has been bruised and battered by the pandemic but should take this opportunity to rethink its approach to talent. We are not advocating a complete and radical change but instead to keep what works and discard/change what doesn’t. Gen Zs want to work, and hospitality could be an ideal industry to attract talent and cultivate a generation of future guests at the same time.