Younger employees lack work ethic, operators say

Seventy-two percent of operators think younger employees lack work ethic of previous generations.

Turnover has remade the six-person custodial staff that cleans Hallmark’s employee dining facilities in Kansas City, Mo., leaving Corporate Services Manager Christine Rankin with a team she regards as ideal. “To a person, they’re fabulous,” she says, pausing, “and they’re all middle-aged.”

Experience has brought her into agreement with the sentiment revealed by The Big Picture about managing employees of a tender vintage. Rankin and other foodservice operators were asked if young staffers showed the same work ethic their predecessors did a decade ago. The question proved to be the equivalent of asking who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb.

“I imagine you heard across the board that everyone is disappointed with the work ethic of the younger generation,” surmises Cavin Sullivan, general manager with Metz Culinary Management at JM Smucker Co., in Orrville, Ohio.

Across the board? Try four out of five (79%) of the operators who responded. The perception varied only slightly from segment to segment, from a high of 84% for B&I to a low of 77% for colleges, which can draw from an educated student population.

Survey participants contacted afterward avoided black and white characterizations, noting they’d found young people who were certain to be stars in whatever field they entered.

There was agreement that today’s young adults harbor fundamentally different attitudes toward work and what sort they should be doing. For one thing, says Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services for Collier County (Fla.) Public Schools, “the attention to detail in terms of being on time, or just showing up for work, is different.”

Basic responsibilities like those are often shrugged off with a “Whatever,” especially when dealing with temporary workers, she and others contend. “We interview [temporary workers] and use them for one day, and that’s it,” says Houser. “They say, ‘This is too hard. I’m out.’ They’re not eager to do the hard work.”

Ironically, motivation is also sapped by ambition, often whet to a fine point by a sense of entitlement. Says Houser: “The younger generation wants to start in a management position. They’re not willing to work their way up.”

She tries to instill some motivation by sketching out a career ladder for new hires. Metz’s Sullivan takes a different tack: “If I have multiple candidates, I’ll go with the older, more experienced candidates.” 

Fast Facts

79% of operators agree that younger employees do not have as strong and dedicated a work ethic as employees did 10 years ago.