The situation has been particularly dire in the hospitality industry and among members of Generation Z, the 61 million Americans born after 1995. Two Lawrence Technological University professors have been researching the issue and found some noteworthy answers. In a series of studies with LTU students taking the course Human Resource Management, Associate Professor Matthew Cole and Professor Patricia Castelli of LTU’s College of Business and Information Technology asked students two questions: “What should employers do to help new Gen Z employees feel engaged?” and “What should employers do to increase retention?”
Students were asked to look ahead to when they graduate college and begin looking for full-time jobs, and to rank jobrelated items in terms of importance. Considerations included salary, work culture, work-life balance, and clear task expectations while on the job. (For the full list of 15 items ranked, view the article by Castelli, Cole, and Doctor of Business Administration graduate Yong Li at the Journal of Organizational Psychology.
For the open-ended questions, students said they believe they will want to stay with an organization if the work culture is aligned with issues important to them such as sustainability, diversity, and technology, and if job and task expectations are clearly communicated by their manager. Results of the rankings put receiving clear job and task expectations at the top of their wish list followed by compensation, work culture, job description, and opportunities for advancement.
In their conclusions, Cole and Castelli suggest: “GenZ believes leadership style is extremely important so that their tasks and job roles are clearly defined. Results suggest employee engagement and retention in the GenZ workforce may be optimized through competitive salaries, work-life balance, creating a positive work culture, and opportunity for employees to grow and advance within an organization.”
Earlier in 2021, Castelli and Cole looked at the role of leadership style in the hospitality industry. Hospitality has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, first by unemployment—which peaked in the industry at nearly 40% in April 2020—then by hundreds of thousands of unfilled job openings.
As reported in a new manuscript that was expected to be submitted at the time of writing, Castelli and Cole’s study of 233 employees recruited on social media found that “task-oriented leadership” helps employees build their skills from basic to complex and has a positive impact on retention. So does employee engagement defined in various studies as a persistent, positive state of mind about one’s work, created by positive leadership.
That goes against many current management trends, the professors noted.
“Many practitioners believe today’s leaders should be concerned more with issues of employee well-being and spirit and less with issues of task and structure,” they write. “Our results suggest employees who have task-oriented leaders will increase their intention to stay with the organization, especially in the hospitality industry, during times of labor shortage (as in the pandemic), and perhaps during the new distributive workforce that is emerging.
The professors recommended that in situations like the pandemic, managers leverage task-oriented practices such as establishing an emergency response task force to develop continuity plans, identifying safety rules and procedures, and developing response strategies. Managers should also ensure an atmosphere of trust by soliciting employee feedback and acting on it. “The more employees are involved, the more they will feel valued, listened to, and respected,” they write. Leaders should also be accessible for regular meetings, practice an opendoor policy, and support working flexibility.
In the year since this study was completed, Castelli said, “The pandemic has changed the attitude of employees; many will not stay with the organization without an option of a hybrid or remote schedule. Long gone are the days of the traditional office environment. Ford recently announced their employees will continue remote with a hybrid plan in March 2022 and Amazon and Google will remain remote indefinitely. The pandemic has caused employees to value work-life balance now more than ever. Leaders must find innovative ways to ensure employees stay engaged while working remotely.