It's Time To Eliminate Generationalism in the Hotel Workplace: Myth of Generational Differences Has Been Busted by Research
By Doug Kennedy 
Wednesday, 10th April 2024

customer service, hospitality excellenceAs my frequent readers know, I have been bemoaning the myths that are thrown out as facts at conferences, podcasts, and in books and blogs that, at best, mislead hospitality leaders and at worst, lead to discrimination based on birth year.

Generationism is harmful, just like racism and sexism. Worse yet, many of those spewing these falsehoods are making a handsome profit by doing so.

Seems like just about every conference I speak at lately has another high-paid keynote speaker addressing some topic related to what “Gen Z” or “Millennials” want out of work, life, and what they are looking for in a hotel workplace. Hotel tech companies have used generational myths to over-sell the need for the latest and greatest shiny new “must have” tech toy they claim are must-haves for the rising generations of hotel guests.

I certainly understand that this is an entertaining subject and there is anecdotal value in personifying the demographics of various age groups for discussion purposes. Yet lately it seems to me that this is being taken too far.

Hotel brands have been launched, amenities have been changed, training programs have been altered, HR recruitment methods have been influenced, all to meet the needs of these imaginary generational groupings.

What’s worse though is there seems to be an awful lot of what I call “generational bashing” taking place in conversations around the workforce these days. As I travel nearly each week conducting training throughout North America, too often I hear managers bemoaning younger colleagues as lacking work ethic, being snowflakes who cannot handle criticism (because they received “participation ribbons” in grade school) and being disloyal to their companies.

At the same time, generational bashing also impacts the older “Baby Boomer” generations, such as the disparaging term “Okay, boomer,” calling people a “Karen” or a “Ken,” or claiming that this age group fails at using workplace technology.

It’s time to pull back and recognize all these terms, also including “Gen-X,” for what they are; creative names that were dreamed up to personify the psychographics and demographics of imprecise age groups. Let’s treat people as individuals, not as birthyear groupings.

It seems the term Millennials was first coined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book entitled “Generations, which was published in 1991.” They are credited with what many now call the “Strauss–Howe Generational Theory.” Meantime, the term “Generation X” was popularized by a Canadian Journalist named, Douglas Coupland, and soon after the Gen Z label became commonly used.

Until recently, my ardent pushback has been based on my own firsthand experiences. Albeit anecdotal, I feel uniquely qualified to bust these myths in the hotel industry, based on my job. Nearly every week, I conduct one to five days of on-site training for the frontline and supervisory staff of a huge diversity of hotels. You learn a lot about people when you spend four or eight hours interacting with them on topics like hospitality and sales.

Each week I meet ambitious, hard-working young 20-somethings who are so eager to learn more; many of whom have both a full-time and part-time gig. I also meet so-called Boomers who are embracing change and mastering new tech that’s required in sales and operations these days, many of whom are launching entirely new “retirement job” careers.

Since I grew up in the era of the fight for Civil Rights and for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, I’ve always been one of the first to fight discrimination based on any classification, so I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m offended the use of the innate characteristic of birthyear in a discriminatory way.

In this article, I could go on listing anecdotal examples and even name the names of individuals whom I’ve had in my workshops who completely smash these workforce myths. But instead, I’m excited to announce that there’s finally empirical research, done by those far more qualified than me, that backs me up, at least when it comes to busting the myth that younger generations have less commitment and a poorer work ethic than older generations.

Recently, I came across several new articles by Dr. Martin Schröder, Professor of Sociology at Saarland University in Germany, who has also done work at Harvard. If you are skeptical, I suggest you check out his blog post for yourself, or if you really want a deep dive, check out his open access white paper that published in November, 2023.

As Dr. Schroder explains in the blog, “I came to this subject wanting to find out the opposite. A literary agency offered me the prospect of a lucrative book contract if only I could show that Generation Y ‘is different.’ But I just couldn’t find anything.” He points out specific examples of how those who attempt to define or explain generational stereotypes often give examples that are contradictory. “Such statements are like horoscopes. They claim something and at the same time its opposite. That way, you can always identify with some part of the statement.”

Speaking of his white paper, “…this peer-reviewed article shows that if you take into account the effect of different life stages and different interview times, then there are hardly any generational effects that could explain work motivation or any other work-relevant trait. This means that, yes, young people think differently about work than old people. And yes, we all think differently about work than we used to. But no, some generations do not think systematically differently about work when asked at the same age and at the same time.”

A few more quotes from Dr. Schroder provide even more insight: “Our intuitive impression is often that, for example, ‘young people want to work less today’. This is not wrong. It just has nothing to do with generations, but is due to the fact that a) young people were always less eager to work than the middle-aged (which is called an age effect) and b) that all people (regardless of age and year of birth) consider gainful employment to be less important today than they did in the past (which is called a period effect). So we confuse age and period effects with generational effects and therefore see generations where what actually happens is that people change their attitudes with age and time periods.”

I am very grateful for Dr. Schroder’s work. On a personal level, it feels validating because I often feel that I’m alone in this opinion while out on the conference speaking circuit and as a monthly contributor to hotel industry journals. But way more importantly, I’m grateful that we now have evidence to fight back against Generationalism.

“Our brains love to divide people into groups, as this allows us to see our own social group as better others, which gives us a satisfying feeling,” says Schroder, “Yet, this is not only immoral, but often also illegal.”

Let’s fight back and put aside these negative stereotypes and remember to look at each colleague or guest as an individual personality and not a homogenous grouping based on anything, be it race, gender, geographical origin, or age-based demographics.

Today’s younger workers are really not that much different than previous generations. Rather than reinforcing negative stereotypes, let’s refocus our efforts on mentoring, coaching, and training them. Chances are that when you look back at your career, there was someone who saw something in you that you did not yet see in yourself, and who made it their job to mentor and coach you along. Let’s pay it forward.

Since 1996, Doug’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Doug has been writing for 4Hoteliers.com since the year 2001.

Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com. Doug is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”

Originally published in CoStar/HotelNewsNow

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