Managing the millennial hospitality employee

Millennials comprise the roughly 80 million people who were born between 1976 and 2001. A great deal has been written about this unique generation that has grown up immersed in a world of technology and social media: They are frequently stereotyped as self-involved with a strong sense of entitlement, coddled and even labeled “Generation Me.” Regardless of whether these frequently bandied-about assertions are true, in the next few years, millennials will make up approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population. In the hospitality industry, this means not only tailoring and reshaping services to accommodate millennials, but also recognizing that an increasing percentage of employees are currently, or will be, part of this generation.

While employers will want to take certain considerations into account when recruiting and retaining new millennial talent, management should be cognizant of the potential legal implications of unwittingly kowtowing to some of these employees’ most common workplace expectations. My advice: Do your due diligence.

* Social media policies. While it is important to embrace technology, hospitality employers need to implement clear, specific social media policies. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that most social media policies are overly broad and unlawful. Social media policies cannot constrict free speech or prevent an employee’s right to organize. Thus, if your employee takes to LinkedIn or Facebook to complain about what he or she perceives to be an unfair work policy, it is considered protected speech and cannot be cause for retaliation.

* Diversity. While having a diverse workforce is ideal, hospitality management needs to ensure that they are providing routine training on harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

* Flexible work schedules. Veering away from standard shifts in the hospitality industry can potentially lead to problems. Hotel and restaurant management face off-the-clock exposure, and unorthodox schedules could also make it difficult to track hours. Overtime, meal and rest-break violations are fertile ground for class-action lawsuits and employers should be careful to keep accurate records with their timesheets and payroll.

* Managing versus coaching, consistent feedback. Written documentation is imperative when it comes to employee feedback. Hospitality management should treat all feedback as if it were a performance review, and document all comments noting both exemplary and poor performances. Further, millennials want to be promoted quickly, so be careful not to make promises you cannot keep if you are commending an employee’s work.

* Job hopping. Hospitality employers need to continue to recruit, harness and retain talent, while acknowledging that most members of this generation change jobs quite regularly. Hence, it’s important to have solid confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements in place to protect trade secrets and prevent improper customer solicitation, should an employee leave to work for a competitor.

* Providing access to information, knowledge sharing. Millennials want to be "in the know," and crave transparency. This means hospitality employers should ensure that they are taking the proper steps to protect their businesses should their employees be given access to sensitive, confidential information.

* Continuing education policies. Those hotels and restaurants that offer continuing education in hospitality management for interested employees need to ensure that these policies do not have a discriminatory impact on a protected class of employee.

* Job security. Ironically, despite the fact that they tend to change jobs often, millennials have an expectation of job security. Management should always convey from the outset that the employer-employee relationship is “at-will” and can be terminated at any time and for any reason.

As it continues to experience growth, hospitality will remain an industry that continues to attract talented individuals. While managing millennials will certainly require an adjustment in approach for traditional-minded hotel and restaurant owners, it is worth the effort, as this generation houses an arsenal of creative and innovative talent.