Catering to a New Generation: Today and Tomorrow

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation. – Marcus Cicero

Who are the Millennials and why do they matter? As of 2010, Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce. They possess the ability to generate a recovery in the economic climate.

2010 marks the tipping point. The Millennials have replaced the Boomers as the largest generation in the work force and are generally acknowledged to have been born between 1981 and 2000. Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1982. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.

According to SCORE, there are an estimated 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. They represent 99.7 percent of employer firms. Fifty-seven percent of those firms will be sold within the next five years as boomers retire. Less than 40 percent of small businesses owners successfully transition their business.

If you are a boomer and own a small business, or work for a boomer-owned small business, you should be very concerned about these statistics. Small businesses will fail if they are not set up to be sustainable. Home values will drop as boomers sell and move to warm climates. Stock prices will drop as boomers cash in 401(k) plans to assist in retirement.

The three generations have to become fully integrated, using the strengths of each group, to provide sustainability. Companies that successfully integrate generations will profit from the strengths of each group. Entrepreneurial Millennials will have an increased amount of opportunities to acquire businesses, but they need to have the support of Gen Xers to be successful.

Fifty percent of today’s work force is apathetic. Millennials can change that. They can be your differentiator that will allow your organization to shift with the market.

Millennials are the most connected generation in history. Thousands can be connected to their thoughts within moments through texting, Facebook and other social media. If they like their job, their world will know about it. If they don’t, their employer will suffer.

Our company hires the best and brightest talent from the local high schools to fill seasonal outdoor event staffing positions, with preference for education and business students. Most teachers come back to work every summer until they start families. The best of the business students are given intern positions during the summer between their junior and senior year.

Molly started with us at 15 years old. Last summer, she had just finished her junior year at the University of Dayton majoring in marketing and spent the summer as an intern in our Marketing Department. She was assigned the task of developing the marketing platform for a new residential catering revenue stream. She was assisted by three MBA candidates from DePaul University who were fulfilling a requirement in their capstone class. These three were 30-plus years old business professionals (Gen Xers). In addition, Molly connected with her class team project members from Dayton, as well as some of her professors for assistance. Her project was immensely successful. Molly also redid our social marketing program and continues to execute this program from her apartment in Dayton.

Molly’s story is a classic example of giving large responsibilities to Millennials, how they use their connections and how they can work well with Gen Xers. She thrived on the freedom she had to develop the project and the responsibility that came with it.

Millennials want to be led, not managed. They thrive with responsibility and freedom within their work area. Transformational work team structure is critical for engagement. Respect and recognition is important to all people, but is especially critical to this generation.

Millennials have, on an average, higher levels of education than previous generations. They are not necessarily more intelligent, but they understand processes better. They also know how to use technology to access more knowledge. Interns and new hires like to receive important tasks immediately. Clear communication of expectations coupled with the necessary tools and support will allow this generation to have an immediate impact with an organization.

Gen X workers are very adaptable. They grew up in the technology boom and understand applications quickly. They are independent, creative and expect to contribute. Early findings indicate that Millennials are more willing to take on the mantle of responsibility at an early age.

The youngest generation has earned a reputation of “job hoppers.” This may be true, but as in all work-based society, people leave managers, not jobs. When challenged, Millennials thrive.

So it may be time to ask yourself: How does your company approach the generational issue? Are you capable in seeing the value of other generations or do you expect different generations to conform to the “way I was taught?”

Your organization will have sustainable success if you integrate the generations, especially the Millennials. You are doomed to failure if you don’t.

Thomas J. Walter is CEO of Tasty Catering, a suburban-Chicago based corporate catering and event planning services company. Tasty Catering is a winner of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in Chicago. . Send your comments or questions to Tom Walter at [email protected].