How (and why) Generation Z needs to be treated differently in the workplace

Part of it involves not yelling at them, Vancouver restaurateurs told

A chef in a busy restaurant looks across the kitchen and sees that a young new hire is about to cut himself while chopping some vegetables.

“Watch out,” the chef yells.

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To the chef, yelling is the only way to catch the young person’s attention fast enough to avoid the accident.

To the young person, all they hear is a reprimand, as if they’re being called out publicly for doing something wrong.

Welcome to what might be an updated version of the generational divide.

“A lot of people hear a raised voice and think you’re saying something bad. They don’t think you’re warning them not to cut your finger off,” Samantha Scholefield said Tuesday morning when, as project manager of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association’s labour market study program, she addressed a packed room of restaurateurs at the Italian Cultural Centre. The association hosted the meeting to discuss ways to tackle the labour shortage, particularly among chefs and cooks.

Generation Z — those who were born after millennials and who will turn 22 this year — want an overall tone of positivity in the workplace, Scholefield said. “It’s a generational shift…. People don’t want the idea of conflict in the workplace.”

For those who might want to be tempted to dismiss young workers’ desires, Scholefield had some timely reminders.

Not only is Generation Z the next wave of future employees, but there will be fewer of them to feed the industry’s never-ending need for staff.

There are 40,000 fewer 15- to 24-year-olds in B.C. Graduating high school classes will be the smallest on record over the next five years. “We’re facing a shortage of just plain bodies,” Scholefield says.

Ninety-five per cent of the restaurants involved in the BCRFSA’s study say they are looking for chefs and cooks; 75 per cent are looking for dishwashers.

As part of her research into the challenges facing the food industry, Scholefield talked with students who are about to graduate from college culinary programs. When she asked them how long they expected to work for their first employers, their answer made her jaw drop — six months. They felt that within that time they would have learned what they needed to learn and would be ready to move on.

Since the cost of hiring and training an entry level worker is $3,000, high employee turnover would put a big financial burden on restaurants that are already operating on super tight margins.

“Students want to chart a course for success the minute they join a company,” she said. When she asked the college students if they’d be more likely to stay at their job if their employer sat down with them on the first day and talked about what they could do together over the next 12 months, every hand went up.

“That is an easy conversation to have,” she told the restaurateurs. “That might be 15 minutes that keeps someone six months longer.”

She also used the example of a White Spot in Richmond. The restaurant created an area where staff can hang out before shifts, and a lot of new staff are friends of existing staff. “They feel valued and excited to be there. They want to learn at work and reach goals faster.”

Young people taking a selfie in a restaurant.
Millennials helped create a food culture through social media. When you want to hire them, use the same tools, such as photos and video, the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association says. - iStock

Millennials are also hugely important to the viability of restaurants, both as staff and consumers. They enjoy going out to eat and have helped create a food culture with all their social media photos of what they’re eating. “They want to be engaged in the food industry,” Scholefield said.

They also wanted to feel that their workplace is a good match for their values, which is why many vegan restaurants have no problem attracting staff. Tell them about where your products come from and what your business ethics are.

When posting jobs, create them in the language that millennials and Generation Z speak — use photos and videos, she said. Sell your business and remember that in the interview process, the potential employee has probably already checked out your workplace reviews on, a job search site, Indeed and Yelp.

“In this day and age, people are interviewing you,” she said. “Be proud of your workplace culture.”

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