There’s no “standard look” anymore for the denizens of the hospitality industry. The press for greater diversity, equity and inclusion is producing a varied landscape of workers and generations, from line associates to the C-Suite, who bring with them their heritages, cultural identities and contemporary attitudes.

In June, The Hospitality Show put a focus on this shifting paradigm, presenting an informative session on “The Evolved Workforce.” Moderated by TaChelle Lawson, founder and president of FIG Strategy and Consulting, the panel consisted of Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University; Michael Hearn, California business development manager for staffing platform Qwick; and Liz Uber, COO of Extended Stay America.

The quandary in fulfilling such a labor-force goal, suggested Lawson, is how to align employees while being respectful of their individualism and also making sure the business is profitable. “And, that we're addressing our customers needs. That's not an easy feat right now,” she said.

As an educator of future hoteliers, Cheng observed the multi-generational workforce of today—boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Y, Gen Z—has different perspectives, skill sets and work styles.

“That's why having an inclusive culture is so important,” he said. “Different people bring different viewpoints.” He added since the pandemic, the nature of work also has changed to include greater schedule flexibility and remote work options.

Uber said as every generation largely wants something different in its work experience, at ESA there are programs to help associates build their skill sets or move ahead quicker on a career path at the company. “We offer a great pathway for people who are willing to commit the time and the hours…I think finding different avenues that each of those individuals can attach themselves to and grow their career is key, and keeping associates and diversity is huge,” she said.

Hearn said Qwick polled 3,000 of its freelancers and found their key reason for being on the platform was flexibility, followed by the ability to try out new jobs.

“If you're a freelancer, you love the ability to walk into a different kitchen [or hotel]. You learn different skills from different people. And the freelancers themselves build a community. They see each other and they go: ‘Oh, you know what, they get tips. You should be working at WXYZ. This is the place to be. They're really, really cool.’”

Cheng said a lot of his students are working while attending school. “So, gig work is not anything new to them. But it kind of goes back to the whole instant gratification. Gig work allows them to have that. ‘Get what it is I need at that point in time and then I move on,’” he said.

Uber said at times, ESA does contract work for room attendants and maintenance personnel, but hiring gig workers to check-in guests would be a hard pull, “because they don't know the system. They don't know how it works.” However, she added there “definitely” are spots within the industry, particularly on the F&B side—restaurants, banquets—where gig work can be supported.

In looking to embrace and/or create a more-evolved, multigenerational workforce, Cheng offered the THS audience an interesting take on mentoring. “I think one of the greatest traits of a leader is humility. We have this incredible opportunity not just to show our students a model way, but also to learn from them,” he said. “We talk about mentoring programs a lot, but I think there's a real, real value in reverse mentoring, where the executive team is mentored by Gen Z.”

Speaking from experience, Hearn said his 20 years spent as a bartender wherein he taught any number of barbacks to help advance their careers came back to him.

“What's great is people would come in—barbacks I trained—who are now running beverage programs at Michelin-star places, and to watch that growth happen,” he said. “But what was awesome is having people come in with new techniques, bar techniques that I'd never thought of. This reverse mentorship that you're referring to is absolutely a thing and is very exciting for an evolved workforce, that it's not just top down.”

ESA’s Uber suggested “leadership humility” is what gets employees to buy in to what a company is selling. “It creates that culture and that working-together atmosphere, which I think keeps our associates at specific hotels.”

“Within five minutes,” she added, “you can walk into a hotel and know if they have a great culture at that hotel, or if everybody's just punching the clock and they just want to get out as soon as they can. You don't have to look at service scores, you don't have to look at revenue. You can just feel it. It's there.”