You may not have given much consideration to recruiting “Generation Y” Chefs. Maybe you don’t know what characteristics Generation Y Chefs are believed to have, never mind why this should matter, to you, when it comes to recruiting chefs. I am here to tell you that it matters very much and if you wish to recruit and retain Chefs in 2013, and onwards, its time for you to get properly clued in. What’s so distinctive about Generation Y Chefs, and what makes them tick? Indeed what is it about them that makes it worth the trouble of writing a blog post about them, particularly this marathon post? I’m also here to tell you that too. A failure to appreciate the differences between Chefs belonging to Generation Y and their predessors Generation X (and The Baby Boomers before X) will cause you to suffer more frustration and to have to endure higher rates of Chef turnover in your kitchen. It really is as simple as that. So, what is a Generation Y Chef?
Chefs: The Generations By Numbers
Let’s sort out a couple of definitions right off the bat. Demographers generally agree that since the end of World War 2 there have been three distinct generations, each with their own personal characteristics. Characteristics which make them distinct from each other. Baby Boomers (1946 and 1964), Generation X (1964 – 1979) and Generation Y (1980 – Now). Tempting though it would be to give equal space to an examination of these three generations, if I did this post could go on for a lot longer than you’d like. We’ll focus instead on what makes generation Y Chefs distinct, and why you need to understand these distinctions. I say “Generation Y Chefs” although most, if not all, of these broader generalisations, and remember we are talking generalisations here (moreover they’re generalisations which are complied from studies of mainly western demographics), apply to everyone born into Generation Y and not just Chefs. There are two things which have inspired me to think about Chefs in terms of these broader demographic categories, 1. my own personal experience of dealing with them in the recruitment industry & 2. feedback from employers.
Generation Y Chefs and Their (Many) Employers
Employers are increasingly unhappy about “lack of loyalty from staff these days,”…. “short, or non existent, notice time” and a general malaise probably best summarised as a certain “lack of resilience” in the face of adversity. A lot of employers, the majority of whom are still Boomers or Generation X’ers, are coming to believe that if you’re in the trenches fighting not to count too much on a Generation Y’er fighting to the end, because when the going gets tough, they’re gone. Of course this sounds very much like what we’ve come to expect from an older generation commenting about the traits of the following generation and it’s tempting to dismiss such comments as nothing more than whinging. Alas though an hour or two into a tour of the literature on the subject and several patterns emerge in terms of the language used to describe the differences between Generation Y and those who came before them; a lot of the differences would seem to support many employers observations at least when it comes to “flightiness,”… lower levels of commitment” and a tendency to cut loose from their job “the minute it suits them.” While it might sound as if I’m siding with the employer here I beg your indulgence and ask you to hang in because I’m not interested in who is “right” and who is “wrong,” that doesn’t even enter into the equation as far as I’m concerned, but rather what can be learned so as to enable better decision making by both employers, and Generation Y Chefs, about whether they should work together and what matters to each of them most.
It’s in the Demographics
This subject is controversial and there’s not a complete consensus even among demographers about precisely what constitutes the core values of Generation Y; as with The Baby Boomers and Gen X there’s little agreement even as to the precise dates which denote the end of one generation and the beginning of the next. The best we have is approximation and generalisation. That’s why I’d ask you to accept that these type of demographic studies shouldn’t be taken as exact science, they’re not; for the sake of argument accept that this branch of “science” belongs below physics but above horoscopes. Okay? Great.
As with their Generation Y cohorts, Y Chefs are considered more likely to have lived longer with their parents and to have got on better with their parents than earlier generations. They’re also considered to be more self confident (whether it’s warranted or not), more tolerant and more cosmopolitan than their predecessors. They’re also considered to be less interested in politics and current affairs than previous generations, who placed more value on “staying up to date.” However the numbers of those involved in civic volunteerism, i.e. St Johns Ambulance Brigade sign-ups and, say, neighborhood cleaning programs, has fallen sharply and, studies in the United States have shown, that, upon declaration of war, instead of increased rates of sign ups for service (which has been the norm throughout history), the numbers fell.
Chef Y: The Good Bits
So what have we got and what does it tell us? My take out is that, on the plus side Generation Y’ers are less chauvinistic and more tolerant than their predecessors which, having grown up in 1970′s Ireland, I think is an unqualified good thing. It’s also a finding, based on my own experience, which I’d be inclined to agree with too. They’re also, as I’ve already mentioned, much more self confident. Again I think that’s something few Boomers or X’ers would quibble about and would probably wish they had more self confidence at that age too. Whether, and when, greater self confidence is a good thing really depends on context, often it is good, and to be celebrated, but there are situations when it can lead to errors and mistakes a slightly less confident person would have easily avoided. Often these errors can be career errors and they’re often born from too much self confidence. Generation Y has also tended to be closer to their parents and as a consequence have tended to enjoy more harmonious upbringings; as opposed to the Boomers and X’ers who would have been accustomed to a bit more “authoritarianism” in their upbringing. Technology has played a role here too, Generation Y’ers have enjoyed more control over their own environment and personal space than before, yes Boomers, and everyone else, can now trade a noisy bus ride for their favourite audio but like the X’ers they didn’t grow up accustomed to this level of control and environmental autonomy. Do you see where this is taking us?
Chef Y: Defining more than their personal space
Generation Y’ers have, for the most part, had a happier time of it during their developmental phase, at least on a few fronts. However their lives are a lot more atomised, they get to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it more frequently, and to a greater extent, than previous generations. It’s not surprising then that they’re considered less communal and less likely to get involved with community programs than their parents. Anyone beginning to get why this can, and often will, translate into shorter job stays and shorter notice time? More self confident & less communal can easily translate into “I’ve had enough of this, I’m outta here”, and frequently it does. Greater self confidence often translates into greater self worth and this frequently translates into a belief that “I’m better than this.” Once the Generation Y Chef arrives at that conclusion their days working for you are numbered. They might very well feel bad about leaving their fellow kitchen staff members short handed, but they’re less likely to allow that to affect their decision making than earlier generations. Earlier generations tended to develop stronger group affiliations and a greater aversion to letting their coworkers down. Are you ready to accept this difference? Whether you are, or not, it’s ready to make your life as an employer a misery if you fail to recognise the differences, and fail to develop strategies to manage and mitigate the situation.
Authoritarianism meets its nemesis
Perhaps as an employer you feel you have less authority to exercise than was exercised on you, by your own bosses, earlier in your career? If you do you’re probably right, you probably don’t have anything like the same authority you remember bosses used to exercise when you were answerable to them. It seems you got a bum deal, you trained under authoritative bosses, you served your time with stoicism, but now that you’ve finally got the “whip hand” attempts to exercise your authority, in a similar way, yield only unintended and unwanted consequences. So whats to be done? Where did all that stoicism go.
Chef Y meet Employer X
As a recruiter I find myself sympathetic to both Generation Y Chefs and often also to their employers. It really depends on the situation. Recently enough I found myself confronting a particular situation where, simultaneously, my sympathies were with both X’er Employer and Y’er Chef. Here’s what happened. Nice Hotel gets a list of candidates, from us, for a Chef Job (that’s as specific as I’m going to be), there were two on the list in the early stage, with a third in the pipeline. We never got to listing the third because almost immediately, and before a single interview had taken place, the employer declared, let’s call him for arguments sake, Chef Y their hot favourite and wanted to arrange an interview ASAP. Indeed Chef Y was a very good match for the job, lots of closely correlating experience, that was very relevant to both the place and the position. The candidate was also bright and articulate, which made me confident they’d handle that interview well (which is what happened). However there was also a Chef X (and the X isn’t incidental, Chef X is indeed a member of Generation X) on that list too whose credentials were also very strong. I decided to try to get that chef an interview too, but got turned down flat by the employer. The best I could manage was to get them to agree to take another look at him in the event that Chef Y didn’t work out.
Chef Y and Chef X go head to head
You might wonder, but I was never asked by the employer at the time, why I was so determined to get an interview for Chef X when things were looking like a racing certainty for Chef Y, after all what difference does it make to us anyway when we get paid for any placement? The answer is that it matters to us how well our candidates work out long term, because if they don’t there’s a tendency, among employers, to “remember” the recruitment agency making the final hiring decision, not them. There was also something about Chef Y that made me suspect there might be a bit more durability in Chef X and that this durability would be an important “success criterion” for this particular job, as it happens I was right. This job was a highly demanding one, in a very high status business and while Chef Y’s experience was spot on I harboured doubts. My doubts were around whether Chef Y was prepared for the sacrifices of such a high demand job at this juncture in his career. Chef Y’s experience proved that he could operate at that approximate level but that “he could” shouldn’t be taken to automatically translate into “he would” and…. In the end….he didn’t.
Work Life Balance
The amber flag got raised on this one because during screening Chef Y mentioned “work-life-balance” at least once and expressed concern about the commute to work several times. Is this a reason to rule him out? His experience being appropriate, the answer is certainly not, this isn’t enough to rule him out of “consideration,” not even for a high demand position. It was however enough to make me emphazise to the prospective employer that these are concerns for the candidate to which he is attaching a high degree of importance, meaning pay heed, or you might pay for it later on. I made it a point to communicate this to the prospective employer and again recommended that the employer also agree to see Chef X. No dice, they weren’t having any or it, no interview for Chef X. So what was it about Chef X that made me more confident in his durability? That’s very straightforward, Chef X didn’t care less about location, was happy to relocate right next to the hotel, in addition to having experience which, quantitively and qualitatively, put him in at least the same ballpark as Chef Y. Chef X cared only about the job, the type of food, the equipment in the kitchen and the type of experience the Head Chef had on his own CV. Chef Y cared deeply about these things too, but there were other things Chef Y cared about, at least as much. In the end, he lasted just four or five months before deciding that he wasn’t getting the sort of work-life-balance he wanted and was enduring a commute which proved, in practice, to be more than he was prepared to tolerate.
Telling the truth, the whole truth, but keeping a bit back
In addition to this it also transpires that the employer had been a tad “over optimistic” at interview when briefing Chef Y about the number of split shifts involved in the job and when reality closed the gap, between how many split shifts the employer told Chef Y he could expect to do and the number of them he was actually doing, it was game over, with a tenure that was shy of six months. This isn’t a good result for anyone involved. Not for us the agency, not for the employer and not for Chef Y. It wasn’t brilliant for Chef X either, someone who was qualified, prepared to relocate, wasn’t worried about the commute and was prepared to hack the shifts. He never even got a crack at an interview but there was a silver lining, Chef X is now working in a superb kitchen producing some of the best food in the country.
Chef Y is from Venus
There’s two distinct perspectives from the, for want of a less grandiose term, case study above. The employer’s and the Chef’s. The employers believe they got a raw deal. They have a great business, produce very good quality food in a well maintained and well managed environment. They may, or may not, be aware that there was a couple of things in the chef’s working week which were’t exactly “as advertised” but, assuming these registered with them, they regard them as relatively trivial and certainly not grounds for leaving a job in under six months. They place themselves, their Generation X selves, in the chef’s shoes and pose themselves the question “would that be enough to make me quit if I were him?” Their answer is almost certainly “no” and they’re probably not deluding themselves either. Some of these issues might rankle them too, were they Chef Y, but, they reason, there’s no way they’d jack in a quite prestigious position in under six months over an extra split shift or two a week and a less than gruesome commute. They’d probably grit their teeth and, at the very least, make it over the line to a year or so in the job before moving on. That allows their CV to showcase their tenure in the job as a success (sorry Y’ers under six months doesn’t cut it) and perhaps pick up a glowing reference on their way out the door. That’s how they’ve made it to where they are, i.e. middle and senior management, in a very prestigious hotel. And they’re right, but they didn’t ask themselves the right question. When it comes to making judgements about Chefs being “right” is relative anyway; they’re right that resilience is a key component in career success but they’re wrong to assume that such resilience is a commonplace as it once was, that’s one of the points of this post, it isn’t something that can be taken for granted in the same way it once might have been.
So what about the Chef? He’s just walking away from a business known to be one of the best in the area, his area and he can’t present his short stay there as representing adequate service. Taken purely from his perspective he has grounds to argue that he’s justified in leaving and that he owes no one any apologies. It was he who was having to do these extra split shifts that he had been assured, by the employer, weren’t going to be required. He didn’t like the commute and, precisely because of the commute, these extra, hitherto invisible, split shifts left him at a loose end in the afternoons too far from home to, ahem, make it home. This is how a small discrepancy can “compound” from being a minor inconvenience into being a major problem. To someone prepared to relocate this would have been a much more trivial matter. These were factors that weren’t taken into account at the time the hiring decision was made but factoring them out was folly and costly folly.
Employers read and be prepared
This case study wouldn’t matter if the experience it relates to weren’t being replicated, on a regular basis, by caterers and hoteliers all across the land. The truth is that this type of disconnect, between hiring manager and prospective chef, is becoming endemic as Generation Y Chefs continue their career paths and more of them enter the workforce. Employers constantly miscalculate and brief candidates about their job vacancies in the same free and loose manner they were, when they worked their way up the ranks. They have plenty of experience of being sold one thing only to find out later on that they’d bought something else, but being hardy Boomers or Generation X’ers they swallowed their annoyance, gritted their teeth and got on with the job until the job was done. Well Generation X, meet Generation Y they won’t be swallowing anything. Misdirect them and they’ll misdirect you right back, and to your cost. Yes, maybe to their cost too, but they have a lot more self confidence than you did at their age, they think, rightly or wrongly, that they’re worth more and so they’ll walk out on you, perhaps even texting you their goodbyes. Your best bet is to vaccinate against this by preparing them fully for what the experience of working at your hotel, restaurant, corporate caterers, or whatever, is really like. They need to see and understand everything, warts and all. They won’t put up with what you put up with when you were their age, working your way up the ladder and no amount of howling at the moon about “young people these days” is going to change anything. These are the cards you’ve been dealt and you need to make the most of them. Even when you’ve done everything “by the book” you can still expect a higher churn of Chef Y’ers but at least if you avoid mismanaging their expectations you can, in most situations, minimise your churn rate. As they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Oh and a word to the Y’ers before we finish, are you sure all that self confidence is well grounded or justified? And what happens when you’ve decided “I’m worth more than this” one time too many and you’re finding that even getting an interview is much harder than it used to be. It’s all ahead of you. Self confidence is great but when you can’t back it up any more and at 35 you’ve more jobs on your CV than Jack Nicklaus has golf clubs (that’s a Boomer and X’er inside gag, you’ll have to Google it) things mightn’t be looking so rosy in your garden.