Overcoming Millennial Management Obstacles

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There are more than 53 million Millennials in the American work force right now, and that number is only going to grow. In the not-too-distant future, Millennials will be the largest demographic working in bars and restaurants. A number of Millennials have already joined the ranks of bar, nightclub and restaurant owners and operators, and that number will obviously continue to grow.

Not only are you going to be employing and managing an increasing number of this massive demographic, more and more will become your peers. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably have to say it a few more times: it’s time to stop making fun of Millennials. They aren’t bringing about a doomsday scenario for our industry, so let’s learn how to manage this demographic and help develop their hospitality business acumen.

For the record, I’m not a Millennial, so I’m not trying to Trojan horse my way into making you like this and respect this demographic. Longtime Nightclub & Bar Show speaker Kelley Jones of Kelley Jones Hospitality, Trust3, and Hospitality Alliance isn’t a Millennial either. Kelley does, however, employ a lot of Millennials, and this has given him the opportunity to learn how they compare to other demographics. He’s also learned how to manage them.

Kelley shared his observations about the current title holder for Most Analyzed Demographic at the 2017 NRA Show in Chicago. Before I get into his findings, let me make something clear so I don’t have to preempt each point with a disclaimer: when we talk about age range-based demographics, we’re speaking in general terms. After all, we’re talking about tens of millions of people. If something doesn’t pertain to you specifically, fair enough – I’m speaking largely in generalities.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Kelley’s information and learn how to best manage Millennials (and gain some insight into other demographics, too).



Kelley has managed Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, and he has been able to identify what each demographic values when it comes to employment. Baby Boomers hold respect, collaboration and teamwork in high regard. Gen X, in Kelley’s experience, value productivity, results and work–life balance. Millennials also appear to find work–life balance important, and also value personal growth and becoming influencers.



If we remove the ability to make money to buy food, live somewhere, buy stuff, travel and pursue life experiences, become financially independent, support a family, and retire one day, we can uncover what motivates a person to work. Gen X views work as a necessary evil: they work to live. Millennials, on the other hand, work to learn and change the world. If changing the world seems like a lofty goal, it is, and it’s important to a large percentage of Millennials.



Each of the aforementioned demographics also prefers different types of leadership. Baby Boomers like to receive personal coaching, whereas Xers respond to leadership that keeps things simple. Boomers also respond poorly to micromanagement. Millennials prefer leadership that paves the way for the future, much like one would find at a startup, a favorite business type among this demographic’s ranks.

It deserves to be noted that Millennials, in Kelley’s opinion, don’t value hierarchy. This may prove challenging to you as an operator or manager, particularly because they also want management to listen to their ideas and include them in workplace decisions. Millennials expect flexible schedules, which is a plus in our industry. However, they also don’t enjoy workplaces with lots of rules.



When it comes to communication, Boomers have a preference for the phone. This demographic also likes face-to-face communication as they find reading body language important. Xers, on the other hand, want to be left to their own devices. For them, a hands-off approach works best. Gen X also hates excuses and just wants to fix things and move on to the next task or challenge.

It turns out that Millennials appear to like a combination of Boomer and Gen X preferences: this age group wants direct but brief communication that shows them the path to success for all tasks, projects and challenges. This likely stems from the interesting Kelley observation that Millennials were the most adult-supervised children to date. If proven accurate, it may explain why Millennials work well in teams and crave recognition and rewards. They’re brash, they’re bold, and they’re confident.


Change How You Work

Kelley has said that observing Millennial employees has actually changed the way he works. As we’re all well aware by now, they’re champions of social tech. Kelley has embraced that love of tech, realizing that the new guest experience is all about social marketing.

Millennials have undeniably accelerated workplace and societal changes. They’ll continue to do so and Kelley has chosen to understand this demographic and become flexible himself to be a better employer. You can do the same, and it will make things much easier for you, your staff and your brand.

Understand that more than 60% of Millennials have a bachelor’s degree, which these days translates to being overeducated, underemployed and heavily in debt. As stated above, they crave work–life balance and they need to feel involved in their employers’ businesses. They also need to feel as though their contributions are recognized and rewarded, and that they’re making the world a better place. In short, they need to feel special, and let’s not act like we don’t all like that feeling, regardless of age. If you can understand and embrace what they value, you’ll tap into the massive pool of talented, loyal and hard-working employees that Millennials represent if they feel you “get” them. And once you tap in, your business will thrive.

So, take a few pages out of Kelley’s playbook to become a better manager and guide your Millennial employees as they embark on their career in hospitality.

  • Make them feel like they’re part of your team by providing them with preprinted business cards on their first day of work. Look at this from a recruitment and promotions angle and you’ll understand this tactic even better. Being perceived as a cool employer means you can grow your team of rock stars, and branded cards gives you the chance to attract more customers.
  • Provide your employees with your mission statement, vision and core values during training. Just make sure they’re each short and to the point (about one sentence each).
  • Let Millennials know the succession plan.
  • Get to know your applicants by doing more than just the standard interview, and hire the ambitious.
  • Know that Millennials don’t want to be part of a faceless organization without culture; they want to be part of an aspirational brand.
  • Allow employees to come into work and try new positions so they can learn about them and develop their skill set.

Kelley also suggests that a leader – that would be you – should learn to overuse the following phrases:

  1. “What do you think?” Remember, Millennials want to feel included.
  2. “Your success is my success.” And also remember that they want to feel involved.
  3. “I don't know but let's find out.” It's acceptable for a leader to say they don't know, as long as they show that they’re willing to go find out the answer. And again, this phrase makes employees feel included.
  4. “What did we learn from this?” You’ll learn more from mistakes and failures than successes, as long as you don't repeat those mistakes. This also speaks to Millennials’ desire to learn.
  5. “Thank you!” Millennials want to be recognized, and these two words will go a long way.

Learn to develop careers instead of just providing training when an employee starts. Create a culture at your place of business that encourages your employees to share their ideas. Make your employees feel valued – Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Gen Z alike – and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by an army of skilled, loyal workers who are the future of this industry. True leaders are strategic thinkers and visionaries, and they inspire others.

Be a true leader.

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