Empowerment & environment

This month’s magazine is chock-full of information on how to attract and engage employees, particularly the millennials who will form the backbone of the hospitality industry in the coming years. The news is also rife with statistics on how scarce skilled labour will become in the next five years, making attraction and retention of hospitality employees even more important.

What I’m hearing is heartening. Speakers at a University of Guelph symposium early this month all stated that a company’s reputation or “brand” matters — that millennials are very picky about the firms they want to work for. They want companies that encourage leadership, where they are empowered. They also want companies that have a corporate conscience, participating in charitable or environmentally friendly initiatives.

Dawn Li, general manager of Metterra and Varscona hotels in Edmonton, said that while the company’s move to renewable Bullfrog Power came at a cost premium, the move has paid off in terms of both employee and guest engagement. One employee has even bullfrogpowered their house.

What millennials are not attracted to is an inflexible hierarchy and the almighty buck.

As a boomer, I’m thinking that my generation had some of those same ideals. Decades ago, I worked as a writer/editor for the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Conservation and Renewable Energy (CARE) group and was proud of what I did. I remember thinking that I would like to be the first on my block with a wind buggy — essentially a big skateboard powered by a sail. I chided my parents for not turning off lights or lowering the thermostat. 

I wrote brochures and speeches about time-of-day energy usage, using the carrot approach of lower energy prices for those who avoided peak periods. When the government actually implemented conservation measures in the form of tiered hydro pricing, I felt totally cheated by the government’s stick approach, which made the off-peak times the baseline and penalized consumers for using peak periods.

Idealism? Dreams? Boomers had those too. We were the ones who talked about “being yourself” and not being sucked in by the corporate “rat race.” 

Did we sell out?  Not completely.

No, I’m not living off-grid in a solar-powered house with a wind buggy in the driveway, but I still take every opportunity to write stories about energy and the environment. Paying it forward warms my heart, and those stories find a place in this magazine too.

Some of my boomer friends are more jaded and less idealistic than they used to be — but not all. Some are entering their retirement years with the same goal attributed to millennials, to pay it forward by volunteering.

What may be changing is business. With all the focus on the need for millennial talent, the businesses that are thriving are those that embrace corporate social responsibility. Take Chipotle Grill, the 800-plus unit fast casual chain with a mission statement calling for  Food with Integrity. Or Zappos, the online shoe company whose founder, Tony Hsieh, also leads the Downtown Project, an effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas.

We boomers might have been idealistic, but we weren’t a scarce commodity. While businesses changed during our careers, they didn’t need to embrace our values. Maybe social responsibility for employers is one of the silver linings of the coming labour crunch.

— Colleen Isherwood, Editor