The stereotyping of millennials has gone too far

Seems like just about every conference I speak at lately has another speaker addressing some topic related to “those Millennials.” Likewise, seems like at least once a week every lodging publication I read has an article about the challenges of marketing to or the managing of millennials.

I certainly understand that this is an entertaining subject and there is value in personifying the demographics of various age groups for analytical purposes. Yet lately it seems to me that this is being taken too far. Hotel brands are being launched, training programmes are being altered, HR recruitment methods are being changed, all to meet the needs of this imaginary generational group.

What’s worse though is there seems to be an awful lot of what I call “millennial bashing” taking place in personal conversations these days. As I travel around conducting training, too often I hear managers bemoaning younger colleagues with comments such as “you know these millennials always…” or comments such as “yeah, a typical millennial…” The worst example of generational stereotyping can be seen in a video skit called “Millennial Job Interview” that was posted on YouTube and which now has over 11 million views.

It’s time to pull back and recognise the term “millennials”, – and for that matter also “Gen-Xers” and “Boomers” too – for what they are; creative names that were dreamed-up to personify the psychographics and demographics of imprecise age groups. It seems the term millennials was first coined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book entitled “Generations”. They are credited with what many now call the “Strauss-Howe Generational Theory”.

Most researchers in this school of thought attempt to classify all of us into one of five groups most commonly called: The Silent Generation, The Great Generation, Baby Boom Generation, Generation X, and Millennials. Then, of course, we have GenZ, also known as the iGeneration or as I prefer to call them, the Y2Kers, of which my own children are among the first to reach adulthood.

Once again, conducting research and reading the results of the analysis of these named generations has some value. On a macro level, they might even provide some tangible evidence on shifting cultural preferences, behaviours, attitudes and habits. For me, it’s also kind of fun, but in the real world about as much value as reading about the characteristics of my zodiac sign which is “Gemini”.

Lately, it seems that our industry is taking this generational theory business a bit too far. Hotel lobbies are being re-designed, marketing campaigns are being revised, and staff training programmes are being dummied-down into “sound-bites” to adapt to what is for me a falsely identified group. Here’s my take on a few of those stereotypes:

  • “Millennials never call a hotel”: Many of our 200+ hotel training clients are “lifestyle” hotels, targeting these age demographics and from what I hear their voice contribution margins are just as strong as other independent and non-traditional hotels. As these younger people, age and travel scenarios get more complicated before they book on their app they will be calling about special needs and requests.
  • “Millennials are addicted to their smartphones”: Well actually, I think you could say that about people of all generations these days.
  • “Millennials have short attention spans in training”: I hear this one a lot from brand training executives. The trend seems to be to offer “soundbites” of training and do it all online. I am definitely on board with “soundbite” training to supplement traditional training; for example, at KTN we offer short video email training tips and we have a KTN YouTube channel. However, it is difficult to teach intangible soft-skills such as sales and hospitality exclusively via online learning.

    As to attention spans, I can personally refute this stereotype, as most of my hotel workshop attendees are in their 20s and 30s. I find them eager to learn and highly engaged. When I do rarely encounter a difficult participant, more often it is an older participant who is stuck in their ways and thinks they already know everything.
  • “Millennials are not loyal”: So untrue. Maybe I am biased because hotels that invest in training such as ours tend to be better overall employers that employees want to stay with. When I return to our clients year after year I very much enjoy watching younger people grow in their careers and moving up through the ranks. Like any other employees, if they feel cared for, invested in, and respected they tend to stick around a lot longer.
  • “Millennials have no social skills”: Again, a myth. I find them highly personable and polite.

Now all this is not to say that “all millennials” are personable, attentive in training, loyal to their employers, nor anything else mentioned above.  My point is exactly the opposite; no generation can be stereotyped.

Technically, I’m a Baby Boomer but far different than others in my generational demographic. When my wife and I go away for a weekend, we tend to seek out a “lifestyle” branded hotel and nightclubs that play the newest sounds. I love tech and probably suffer from smartphone addiction as I am constantly checking all my social media accounts.

Just today during Q&A after a management level presentation for a tourism association, someone asked what I suggested should be done about “managing those millennials, because they have no social skills”. The participant ran an amusement park that employed mostly high school and college-age kids. My reply was that they just need leaders who model the right behaviour and who mentor them.

I added that when I was 18, the current negative stereotypes spoken of millennials could have been said about me. I remember my parents worrying about me being addicted to watching TV and carrying around my portable Panasonic cassette player linked to my headphones. For us, the stereotype was us Boomers really needed to have some respect for our elders and learn some manners. Thankfully hotel brands did not build “lifestyle” hotels for Baby Boomers or else we would have hotels with string beads hanging at the bathroom entrance and macramé owls on the walls.

So before you buy-in to stereotyping this wonderful generation we call millennials or the next one right behind them now called Generation Z, remember to look at each colleague or guest as an individual personality and not a homogenous grouping.

Doug Kennedy is the President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. – a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programmes and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotelier Maldives and its affiliated companies. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.