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Recruiting and Retaining Hotel Workers During a Historical Staffing Shortage

After a year and a half of difficulty beyond measure, the hospitality industry is starting to resurface with new safety protocols, health measures, a...

After a year and a half of difficulty beyond measure, the hospitality industry is starting to resurface with new safety protocols, health measures, and ideas for guest and staff engagement. Recruiting and retaining associates, however, is proving tricky, which is deeply affecting hotels’ budding recovery.

Millions of hotel service workers were pushed into new careers as the pandemic persisted, complicating a return to their former positions. Others are hesitant to return as the new Delta variant surges, threatening reversals of post-pandemic progress that would bring them right back to square one. For most associates, however, this is a matter of what they want versus what the industry has been able to offer. In a recent study, one-third of hotel workers said they won’t be returning to the industry because they want higher pay, better benefits, and a new work environment – specifically, more flexibility and the option to work from home if possible.

The industry is doing a lot to recruit and retain associates during this time, from states granting rehire rights to $1,000 sign-on bonuses. The Omni Hotel, for example, is offering free summer stays on-site, as well as three additional free nights at an Omni property of their choice. The Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel is offering similar incentives, giving senior staff members a MIRROR connected fitness machine upon their return to the office after eight months.

No Pay, No Gain? Not So. Improve Hiring, Retention, and Profits by Focusing on Soft Benefits

This is a difficult situation to navigate. After a period of severe revenue loss for hotels, associates want more money, benefits, and flexibility to work as they please. My take: associates don’t care about getting a free fitness machine or accommodation and board, especially not eight months after being rehired. Even a $1,000 sign-on bonus won’t keep them happy for the long-run.

If associates are not receiving immediate hard benefits in the form of increased pay, hotels should focus on soft benefits including culture and training – ideally with the goal of increasing pay once the industry recovers and stabilizes. Consider Cape Resorts, which could only fill 75% of roles at its New Jersey and New York beachfront properties in the spring of 2020. In addition to offering staff free accommodation and board, the hotel began offering a hospitality training program so associates could learn new skills such as accounting and marketing. If hotels can make this commitment, they’ll be golden. This is also a better strategy in the sense that culture and training are things that hotel management can realistically begin acting on now, requiring less bureaucracy and hoops to jump through.

Culture and Training: 5 Things Hotel Workers Say They Want Most

Culture and training are key, but what does that mean for the people who are impacted most? A recent study of hotel employee sentiment found that:

  • Almost half (47%) of hotel associates feel they were not treated fairly during the pandemic. Furloughs, layoffs, and a loss of resources significantly impacted this group of workers.
  • 62% said their loyalty is either neutral or non-existent, meaning they would change their employment given the opportunity.
  • 57% said they were disappointed or completely let down by their employer in terms of motivation and morale.
  • 97% agree they will need retraining to adapt to hotel operations post-pandemic, and 94% said they would like to retrain themselves if given the opportunity.
  • 56% have experienced a recent reduction in pay. While it may be difficult to approve pay raises right now, this is worth noting.

What Hotel Leaders/Hiring Managers Should Start Doing Now

  • Hiring managers need to hire the whole person, not just based on a candidate’s resume or their tenure kept in a certain job. If they don’t do so they will miss looking at what the person has accomplished and the skills and experience he or she can bring to the company, especially if they have a passion to grow and learn.
  • Retraining will be a huge part of your hotel’s recovery and ongoing engagement program. Listen to what your associates want – individuality, autonomy – and allow them to retrain themselves if possible. Give them the flexibility they crave, as well as additional opportunities for training in the area(s) of their choosing.  
  • You should never depend on just the talent team in HR to do all your recruiting. Your front-line leaders and staff have networks as well in the form of social media, etc. Encourage them to leverage the power of those networks, and reward them when a hire works out. Work to strengthen trust with and between leaders and staff to build company culture – and loyalty to that culture.
  • Reflecting on the last year and a half, many exceptional leaders have told me that their company missed the mark during COVID and left the industry. The amount of talent that was lost because of certain mindsets of leadership is astounding. Hotel leaders must implement desired change from the top-down by emulating desired behavior, work ethic, and accountability ourselves.
  • For an industry that prioritizes guest wellness, hotels must have the mindset to take care of their associates more than ever. We are coming out of a time of great scarcity with the pandemic. We must prioritize quality of life, not just right now but over the long-haul as a permanent part of a renewed organizational culture.

The most effective tactics to recruit and retain hotel workers are going to be the ones that require the most time, effort, and organizational restructuring. They won’t be as easy as offering a few complimentary nights or a fancy new gadget. This is an alarm ringing at full blast for hotels to change everything they know and, in the process, become unbeatable industry leaders.

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