Heads of People spill the beans about Gen Z in their teams.

The always-hot topic of generational differences within teams sparked lively debate at our recent panel discussion, hosted in collaboration with Planday and following their Single Biggest Shift Campaign. We all know what a charged issue it can be, and how – without receptivity and communication – it can create real conflict between staff. But as those of us who attended our powerful event will know – those very stereotypes of lazy, over-sensitive Gen Z workers are in fact lazy themselves. There is much we can learn from fostering a culture of openness towards one another – and more than that, if we want our individual businesses and our industry to survive, we have to invite Gen Z in rather than pushing them out with rigid insistence that things should continue to be the way they have always been.
Both Raj of Bubala and Merly of Well And Being noted the same thing: this is not a new topic. Millennials were labelled as ‘the snowflake generation’ by Gen X, and accused of being soft and whiney for wanting a life beyond 90 hour weeks fuelled by shots and espresso. And now history is repeating – but, says Merly neatly, “Whilst Millennials were advocates, Gen Z are assertive”. That assertiveness is sometimes viewed as unwelcome, rather than a tool for change that might benefit the whole workforce.
So how do we invite a younger generation into our workforce, and how do we make those positive changes? We spoke to two incredible leaders to gain their unique and invaluable insight – Ella de Beer, Chief People Officer at Ottolenghi and founder of Electric Mayonnaise, and Prue Stamp, Head of People at Urban Leisure Group and Two Tribes Brewery and winner of Code Hospitality’s Women of the Year 2024 mentor category.

Prue Stamp, Head of People at ULG

This generation is more connected than any other so we see lots of success through our team member referral scheme – this is by far our biggest source of talent and it’s the younger team who send us the best talent, time and time again. Tapping into your current talent pool and just asking the question, “do you have any mates looking for work or looking to get into hospo?” is simple, pretty cost effective and really strengthens culture! I find that people only tend to refer people they have real faith in, they don’t want to look silly by referring someone with bad work ethic for example.

It also goes without saying that social media is a great recruitment tool. Gen Z are fast consumers, you need to stop them mid scroll and grab their attention – we have got some great talent through Instagram. Make it easy for them to apply, just by DM is fine, you’ll lose their interest if the application process is lengthy or convoluted.

Gen Z demand development. This is a good thing but also a bit of a challenge as it’s up to us to make sure they have the tools, skills and knowledge to progress before they’re promoted (remember the over promotion epidemic, it was our fault!). Gen Z seem to thrive on feedback and acknowledgement so clearly defined paths for progression, regular career development chats with their managers, and lots of training to keep them engaged are top tips.

We need to remember that this generation were in their late teens and early twenties when we were bouncing in and out of lockdowns and hospitality basically ground to a halt. They missed some pretty formative stuff so it’s no wonder that there may be gaps in experience. We are seeing a shift towards people wanting to be more involved with the food/restaurant side of the business – I think this is down to the perception (sometimes true) that the food side of the business offers better work/life balance. I struggle to think of a Gen Zer in our business who really loves the late night, high volume, wet led side of the business.

Attitudes to alcohol are changing in the new generation. They simply do not drink the way that we (millennials and Gen X) used to! I am personally here for it – less hungover no shows! There is a real business benefit to this trend too. As the general public are looking for more and better low and no alcohol options, our younger team are best placed to make the sell, they really believe in it! We recently expanded our drinks menu to include 8 new low or no alcohol cocktails – it is simply not enough to offer just soft drinks and one low ABV beer anymore and Gen Z are right behind this.

And when it comes to intergenerational conflict at work? We’re at an interesting point in history where some of our workforce remember the screechy sound of dial up internet while others have never had a landline or known a world without Instagram. It goes without saying then that intergenerational communication is occasionally tricky terrain to navigate. We might see tensions arise between say, Gen X and Millennials or Gen Z who hold different values or have different methods of communicating. We’ve all seen the memes poking fun at the “aggression” of a full stop or how the lack of a smiley face emoji must mean someone is mad at you. In broad strokes Baby Boomers tend to prefer more formal communication methods that adhere to some kind of hierarchy while Gen X and Millennials go for more casual, familiar, and direct comms. Generation Z on the other hand is fluent in multiple platforms and came of age during the tech revolution – instant messaging and social media channels are often their tools (whereas a phone call can be quite intimidating for them). So, how can operators and leaders tackle these issues when they arise?

The first stage is to acknowledge the differences. There are differences and people do have different communication styles and methods. Ignoring these variations or hoping they’ll go away won’t cut it, these issues need a proactive approach.

You may find that you need to pivot and jump between communication platforms to ensure you’re getting the right intel to the right people. There’s nothing wrong with using email for some team, messaging for others, and phone calls for those who prefer it. The end goal is to land a message, so be flexible on what methods you use to communicate across the generational divide. What you shouldn’t flex on is the “how” communication is delivered. It’s up to the business leaders to set the tone, demonstrate and demand certain standards when it comes to speaking to each other.

A good tip is to introduce a “Communication Manifesto” across the business. This can look like a policy which sets out how everyone should behave when communicating. You might insist on things like, “Be SSG – Succinct, Specific and Generous” (thanks Madeleine Geach for this nugget of wisdom!) when communicating, or roll out a Comms Blackout, a set time where all communication channels go quiet so people can enjoy downtime or focus on busy services.

Finally, you need to take a consistent approach – it’s not acceptable any more to excuse poor behaviour or communication with the old “it’s just the way they are, they’re old school!” or write someone off as “too sensitive” or “woke”. Insisting on the same tone and style of communication sets us on an even keel and means that everyone understands what’s acceptable in terms of communication, and what won’t fly.

Ella de Beer, Chief People Officer at Ottolenghi and founder of Electric Mayonnaise

At Ottolenghi, we look for a spirit of hospitality and service in new joiners – as a culture we are about service not only to our guests but also to our team members, so we look for people with natural empathy and willingness to help.

The new opening in Bicester has been great, with lots of really young (and fairly green) team members, many of them part timers. They have little patience for tech that doesn’t work for them and have quite a strong ethical code, so they see contracts as the start of a conversation and are quite confident in asking questions and challenging things they don’t like.

That said, in a social environment, they lack confidence. A lot of our onboarding training is around giving them tools to boost their confidence and deal with differing social situations and challenges.

This is a trend I have seen not only at Ottolenghi but also in our courses with Electric Mayonnaise. We recently delivered our first Into Hospitality with Springboard, our programme where we introduce individuals to careers in hospitality, and we had a young guy who started the week sitting in the corner with his hair covering his eyes. As the week progressed and his confidence grew, his hair seemed to creep further and further away from his face until the last day when he confidently delivered his presentation with a top knot on his head.

I think COVID dented the social skills and confidence of many people (not only Gen Z but also the older workforce) and our responsibility is to give them some confidence in the workplace. Workplaces need to be balanced, supportive and encouraging.

Intergenerational conflict in workplaces is often around technology (those that are native and those that have had to learn it), management styles, and following on from that communication, feedback and how they like to be managed. I saw this lovely info graphic the other day which (whilst a little cliched) I feel does summarise how much has changed over the generations and perhaps why preferred management styles have changed.

My way of getting over the conflicts and disputes is to over-communicate. To try and verbalise and make conscious all the thoughts and processes underneath the initial conflict and then opening up the discussion. This over-communication tends to show the humanity of everyone involved. Those who are used to a more formal or structured style of management feel like they are being validated and those who are more collaborative feel like they are being consulted and heard. Both parties end up, hopefully, keener to work out a resolution.

It doesn’t always work but looking for the humanity and finding kindness makes a big difference.

Applicant/Business Log in

Don’t have an account? Sign up Forgot Password?