A message from generation Y

Editor Colleen Isherwood addresses the generational divide between boomers and gen-Y and highlights how to motivate the younger group on both sides of the counter.

By Colleen Isherwood, editor

Jimmy Hilsinger, owner of Algoma’s Water Tower Hotel in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, had a number of jobs as a teenager, but the one he remembers best is working for an aircraft plant for 50 cents an hour. My first job at age 14 was as a page at the Eatonville Public Library in Etobicoke filing books for 80 cents per hour.

We are both boomers, obviously, and so were most of the attendees at the Hotel Association of Canada Conference in Toronto last month.

Curt Steinhorst, 30, who spoke to conference on Feb. 12, asked the group what advice they would have for his generation, as they started their first job at, say, age 27.

The responses were quick. “Remember to smile.” “We can do it.” “Now pull up your pants …”

“My generation has a lot to learn,” Steinhorst said. But, he pointed out, gen-Y is the product of a very different life experience.

“On average, we are starting our first jobs six or seven years later than earlier generations. Many kids at 23 have never had a job. Compare that to you at 23, with two kids, two dogs and a mortgage with no support from your parents.”

But by 2017 gen-Y is expected to have more spending power than the boomers.

“We are the single most influential generation with the least established loyalty. We’re the easiest to please—just stop talking to us!” Steinhorst said, only half joking.“If you treat us right, we will show up one week later with seven friends in a KIA.”

Generations are not a box that fits every person of a certain age, Steinhorst noted, but they offer powerful clues on how to engage different ages.

He added that the two most important trends that differentiate gen-Y from earlier generations are parenting trends and technology.

Steinhorst gave this example of how parenting trends have changed.
On the boomer’s 18th birthday, Mom and Dad greeted their child at the door together (because they were married). They said, “We love you, we are so proud of you and you have a bright future. You can get a job, join the military or go to college.” There were 80 million boomers—more people than jobs. Their secret to success was to outwork the competition.

“Tell us about [that work ethic]—it freaks us out!” said Steinhorst.

On the gen-Y’s 18th birthday, the child was greeted at the door by the parents—one drove in for the occasion. They said “We love you. As long as you go to university, we’ll help you out—for the next seven years!” And when those children finished school, 86 per cent went back home.

Generation Y wants to be valued, challenged and included. Steinhorst gave the example of a highly motivated gen-Y bartender at a resort he and his wife visited. The bartender was motivated because her employers let her go scuba diving for free. She could visit other hotels and stay free. She felt valued.

And she passed that feeling along to Steinhorst and his wife, who is pregnant. “I told her my wife was sick one morning, and she sent me a hand-written note with some ginger pieces to help with morning sickness.
“Gen-Ys can be great employees when they’re positioned correctly.”

In terms of technology, gen-Y communicates by text, Steinhorst said. “E-mail is gen-Y’s second preference, only gen-Y reads it differently—they only read the subject line. We think: if it was really important, you would text me.

“If you’re not on social media, you do not exist to gen-Y,” Steinhorst said. “For my generation, its the phone that is an invasion of privacy.”