The following is a guest post by Tim Weiderhoft, CEO of Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade.
For the past year or more, the media, many businesses and researchers have been describing what has been
happening to the U.S. workforce as "the Great Resignation," but I think it might be better to say, "the great migration."
Employees in the hospitality and restaurant industries were the first to get laid off in March and April of 2020. Government assistance helped many of these workers weather these tough times, though that assistance ended in September 2021. Some of these employees were even getting more from the government than they were making in their previous jobs, but I don't think this is why so many people have not returned to the workforce. Like many of us have done in the past 24 months, restaurant employees have had time to re-evaluate what is truly important in their lives, and came to the realization they were working in toxic environments where they did not feel valued by customers, management or both.
No matter what people do for a living, they want to feel respected and seen. Too many businesses have looked at workers, especially ones in positions with little or no career mobility, as disposable. What we all found out in March of 2020 is that those in jobs that pay the least are the people we need to keep working, or society as we know it goes into a complete tailspin.
Most of our Gen Z employees do not take jobs at Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade with the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder or owning their own lemonade stand one day. Gen Zs take jobs like ours because it allows them to
have a flexible schedule while earning income for the weekends, gas funds for their cars, or maybe even supporting themselves to some extent while they are in college or figuring out the next stage of their lives. This is why they take these jobs — but what makes them stay?
It usually has very little to do with money. Gen Zs are going to migrate to a company with a positive, fun culture featuring an authentic, charitable mission.
Gen Z individuals have grown up in a world where climate change, social justice, and equality aren't fringe ideas. They tend to seek out influencers and brands that have ideas or programs to create a more hospitable world and
world and mirror the values that are important to them.
But if you're a corporation trying to pander to Gen Z, they will sniff it out. It's important to not slap on words like "sustainability" or "equality" to your brand's identity unless you plan on having real solutions to these issues, rather than shoehorning a solution that is all fluff and no substance.
Wow Wow has been successful at finding and retaining Gen Z employees because from the beginning, our ethos has been about healthy living, having fun, helping our local community, leaving the world better for future generations and spreading the spirit of Aloha.
While I do think a company can pivot and become more "green," "sustainable," or "LGBQT+ friendly," it has to go about these ventures in an authentic manner. If companies simply start saying buzz words to attract Gen Z employees, they will soon find it even harder to find workers after employees leave and let the world know via social media that XYZ Brand could care less about the environment, equality or treating people with respect.
The companies that will continue to thrive and retain employees are ones that may not always pay the highest hourly rate, but illustrate to their employees that they value their input, try as often as they can to do the right thing, and treat people not as disposable but as an important element that we need to nourish and grow within this extremely fragile and volatile restaurant ecosystem.