Friday, November 30, 2007

Kids these days

If you’re hoping to snag employees with money and perks, we need to talk, bunky. Pay just doesn’t pull young people the way it might’ve in the pre-Halo III days, probably because youngsters assign far more value today to sugar cubes like free time or the opportunity to learn something. Or as People Report CEO Joni Doolin expressed it during her company’s recent conference in Dallas, “maybe it’s time to think about the employee value proposition in a different way,” or what’ll make your restaurant beam like an iPod in a Sony Walkman world.

Maybe that’s a bad metaphor, given potential hires’ indifference to material draws in general, including any slim differences they may spy between one pay package and another. Not that they’re likely to spot much variance. “Welcome to Commodity Hell: We’re at the point where our compensation and our benefits programs are the same,” Doolin told the room of restaurant CEOs and HR execs.

“We’re not differentiating ourselves, so we have to think about different concepts,” she continued. Indeed, said Doolin, the whole “command and control model,” where directives are ramrodded down from the CEO or other corporate C’s, is “a half-truth,” a bewildering mode of operation to youngsters who have studied, played or even dated primarily in teams or groups.

If the foodservice industry truly wants to sweeten its appeal for new job-market entrants, it has to leave nothing beyond reconsideration, including the hierarchical management structure used by almost every company in the field, she explained.

She depicted a model of what tomorrow’s org chart might look like; it resembled a blueprint for one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, with employees serving as nodes as from which radiated lines of communication to nearly everyone else in the organization. This was not the usual model of one layer stacked atop another, and a rigid pipeline of communication from the top down.

What else might appeal to a workforce whose values are drifting far a-field from Baby Boomer sensibilities? During the prior year’s People Report conference, Doolin noted, the research concern had underscored the wooing power of continual learning opportunities and a culture that fostered a sense of community, societal values and inclusion. Those qualities not only appeal to potential hires, but also help to distinguish one employer from another.

But as every company embraces those enticements—no doubt a factor behind the greening movement evident at so many chains—what’ll be the next magnetic point of differentiation?

“We think lifestyle benefits are really the way to go,” said Doolin. By adjusting rules and cultural underpinnings to accommodate the lives that candidates want to lead, an organization can truly set itself apart, she stressed.
”This is where you go beyond the mission statement,” to experience, Doolin said. “It’s the sum experience of working for you.”

Speakers appearing later in the program suggested what some of those draws might be. And try to keep an open mind here, because they’ll sound like blasphemy to anyone who grew up with the rigid rules of foodservice circa the 1980s.

For instance, one speaker noted the importance of accommodating—if not fostering—employees’ efforts to maintain their health. One of the presenters noted how his company, albeit a healthcare firm, allows doctors to take a break at two or three to hit the gym.

If that might’ve sounded far-fetched to the restaurateurs in the audience, their skepticism might’ve been allayed by the comments of James Broadhurst, CEO of Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, operator of the Pittsburgh-area family dining chain. In accepting an award, Broadhurst noted in passing that he was wearing a pedometer to record his steps for a headquarters-wide health initiative. Pedometers had been issued to all of the home-office staffers, with a recommendation that they walk 10,000 steps a day. Another Eat’n Park staffer later told me that the office is divided into four teams, with a heated competition among them to see which was covering the most ground. The results are listed on an intranet site, and the leaders are rewarded with treats like a gift card.

Some of the other suggestions were more outlandish. Penelope Trunk, a Gen Y-er who acknowledged she probably wasn’t on the same wavelength with the audience, suggested during her presentation that inter-company dating be readily accepted, a reflection of how work life and social life are converging today.

Trunk also indicated that the promise of a promotion is no longer a motivator because young people don’t think in terms of climbing a ladder. They think of what they’d like to do next, and not in terms of a career path. If they’re likely to be gone in two years, who cares if they can move up a rung within that organization?

Instead, she stressed, ongoing education “is the coin of the realm.”
Other presenters stressed the importance of flexibility and of giving constant praise to youngsters who probably graduated from kindergarten with the same pomp and celebration that were reserved for an older generation’s graduation from high school. This, several speakers observed, is a group of people who probably were each presented with a trophy of one sort or another at the end of their Little League or soccer seasons.

In any case, noted People Report president Teresa Siriani, this is not an age group that feels it has to work. “We are at an historic low in the employment of 16 to 19-year-olds,” she said. “It’s not that there are not 16 to 19-year-olds out there.” Rather, “they’re opting out,” a result of their busy daily schedules.

“Guess what?,” concluded Doolin. “People don’t work where they have to, they work where they want to.”

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog-you know, as a restaurant pro, I have a huge space in my heart for those in our business, to the point that I would hire someone with restaurant experience before almost anyone else, all else being equal.

    That being said, as a parent, I don't know that I want my kids taking on a restaurant gig at 16 years of age. I would rather they do something like volunteer at the local zoo, or read to younger kids and help them develop, or volunteer at a summer camp, all the while subsidizing their lack of income myself--essentially paying them to give back to society.

    I know I am not alone in this thinking, and trust me, its not like I have a bunch of money to just throw at my kids. I just think that there is a movement to take a different route for kids these days which will unfortunately further depress the pool of candidate for those entry-level positions, which will in turn have an effect on the upper level positions down the road, since there will be a dearth of folks from whom to draw from.