Tough Talk

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An honest conversation about complex workforce challenges

In the ever-evolving landscape of the hospitality industry, a trifecta of workforce challenges has emerged, shaping the narrative within the sector. From the resounding sentiment of “no one wants to work anymore” echoing through the corridors of hotels and restaurants to the pressing disconnect between employee pay and the rising cost of living and the persistent issue of employees feeling abandoned after orientation – the industry faces a multifaceted dilemma. Here, we’ll explore these distinct yet interrelated challenges, explore their difficulties, understand their impact, and propose holistic solutions for navigating the complex workforce landscape in the realm of hospitality.

CRACKING THE CODE
One of the prevailing sentiments in the hospitality industry is the statement “no one wants to work anymore.” However, a closer examination reveals that business owners across various sectors have echoed this refrain. Despite this, the current unemployment rate is remarkably low. So, why are hotels still struggling to fill positions? Why didn’t a bulk of workers return to the industry after the pandemic? Why are we seeing lower rates of enrollment in hospitality studies?

Has our industry evolved into a more demanding working environment? Hotel employees are facing challenges of being overworked, feeling undervalued, and experiencing stress. As leaders, how well have we done in cultivating a positive workplace culture in an industry where the frontline employees engage daily with the public – those weary travelers who might only sometimes be the most pleasant – and employees might not have the support they need during difficult situations? Striking a balance between catering to customers’ needs and ensuring employees’ well-being is a delicate task for hotel owners and leaders.

In the contemporary job market, prospective employees increasingly prioritize elements such as work-life balance, job security, and avenues for career advancement over conventional factors. This shift in values necessitates a corresponding evolution in the approach of hotel operators toward workforce management. Recognizing the dynamic needs and expectations of the modern workforce, it’s imperative for hotel operators to embrace flexibility and adaptability in their operational strategies wholeheartedly. This involves a departure from the traditional three-shift schedule, such as the conventional 6 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m. rotations, which may no longer align with the lifestyle preferences of the workforce. To remain competitive and attract top talent, hotels must explore alternative work arrangements, consider accommodating diverse schedules, and remain open to innovative solutions that prioritize employees’ wellbeing and foster a harmonious balance between operational efficiency and individual preferences. The era of a rigid work schedule is gradually giving way to a more personalized and flexible approach that resonates with the changing expectations of today’s workforce.

BUILDING BRIDGES
Amid the prevalent sentiment encapsulated in the phrase “no one wants to work anymore,” effective communication emerges as a potent remedy within the hospitality industry. The establishment of transparent and open lines of communication between leadership and employees becomes pivotal in dispelling the disillusionment associated with this prevailing sentiment. Through this communicative bridge, leaders gain the means to unravel the complexities underlying the reluctance to work and look into concerns, needs, and aspirations that contribute to hesitancy. In this context, routine check-ins, well-organized team meetings, and an approachable leadership style play a dual role – not only in addressing underlying issues that may discourage potential and existing employees but also in cultivating an atmosphere where individuals genuinely feel heard and supported.

In this pursuit, effective communication becomes a foundational element in dismantling the barriers that contribute to the perceived disinterest in working, thereby paving the way for a more engaged and motivated workforce within the industry. This commitment extends beyond routine interactions and includes seemingly mundane instances, such as leaving the area to attend a meeting or engaging with guests. While these actions may appear as incremental steps, they play a crucial role in fortifying communication channels within the team. Whether it involves informing team members of a guest approaching with a request to speak to a manager or empowering employees to handle challenging situations with difficult guests, these seemingly simple acts contribute significantly to creating an environment of trust and understanding. Such a nuanced approach not only addresses the immediate challenges associated with workforce engagement but also fosters a culture where employees feel supported and empowered to navigate the intricacies of their roles.

COSTS VS. COMPENSATION
In the complex dance between hospitality workers and the silent force of inflation, the financial struggle takes center stage as purchasing power dwindles. As the cost of goods and services ascends, the real value of wages diminishes, casting a shadow on the livelihoods of those powering the hospitality sector. The global chorus for a living wage amplifies, advocating for fair compensation that harmonizes with the ever-shifting cost of living in diverse regions.

In response to the pressing workforce challenges stemming from this cost-ofliving disparity, the industry beckons to explore innovative compensation strategies championed by trailblazing organizations within the hospitality sector. Beyond the fundamental base pay, recognizing the comprehensive wellbeing of employees demands a holistic approach. Consideration of benefits and perks, including the pivotal role of healthcare, robust retirement plans, and additional incentives such as childcare, parking, and even basic break meals provided, crafts alternative compensation packages that not only acknowledge but actively support individuals in navigating the multifaceted challenges posed by a rising cost of living.

A glaring consequence of a pay structure misaligned with the cost of living is the perennial issue of high turnover rates within the hospitality industry. This revolving door of talent disrupts organizational stability and extracts a toll on the industry’s growth potential. Examining the difficulties of this challenge, it becomes evident investing in strategies to retain valuable talent isn’t merely a luxury but a strategic necessity. As the industry grapples with these dynamics, the significance of fostering a workplace culture that attracts, nurtures, and retains skilled individuals becomes increasingly clear.

As stewards of local economies, particularly in communities where tourism is a key player for revenue, business owners need to advocate for workforce pay and living standards that harmonize with the evolving economic landscape. This advocacy extends beyond the confines of individual businesses and finds significance in collective efforts at local and state levels, shaping policies that recognize the complex balance between industry viability and employee well-being.

At the federal level, the call for assistance in navigating these high wages to retain a skilled workforce becomes even more pronounced. Business owners in hospitality, enduring the financial strains of competitive compensation, look toward government support to create an environment where their dedication to employee welfare aligns seamlessly with broader economic strategies. This collaborative approach seeks to fortify the industry’s foundation and engage in a constructive dialogue that ensures the symbiotic growth of businesses and the communities they serve. In advocating for fair compensation and living standards, business owners become integral partners in shaping a robust economic landscape where the hospitality industry thrives and employees flourish.

FROM ORIENTATION TO ONSLAUGHT
In our commitment to nurturing hospitality employees’ aspirations to carve out a lasting career in the industry, we recognize the indispensable need to balance equitable pay and comprehensive guidance beyond the initial orientation phase. It goes beyond mere survival; it’s about thriving in an environment where employees aren’t left vulnerable to judgmental and often rude interactions with guests.

To achieve this, extending our support system beyond the onboarding stage is paramount, ensuring our employees at all levels receive ongoing guidance rather than being thrown into the fray, defenseless against the challenges posed by demanding guests. It’s about providing our employees with the necessary tools to weather the storm and navigate the complexities of guest interactions with resilience and poise.

Effective recruitment strategies, seamless onboarding experiences, and fostering a positive company culture play pivotal roles in laying the foundation for a resilient and satisfied workforce. Beyond addressing these foundational elements, the hospitality industry must recognize the significance of continuous learning, skill enhancement, and career development initiatives. This involves more than just cultivating a basic foundation; it’s about instilling a culture of perpetual growth.

By empowering employees with continuous learning opportunities, organizations not only bolster their ability to retain talent but also elevate the collective skill set of the workforce. It’s a commitment to providing the tools and resources necessary for employees at all levels to survive and thrive in an industry known for its unique challenges. This approach mitigates turnover, enhances employee satisfaction, and positions the workforce to navigate the evolving demands of the hospitality sector with confidence and competence. In essence, it’s about creating an environment where employees feel supported, equipped, and inspired to build not just a job but a rewarding and enduring career in hospitality.

Achieving this level of ongoing support and guidance for hospitality employees can be as straightforward as implementing a structured checklist that serves as a roadmap for their professional journey. This checklist, designed not just for the initial onboarding but as a continuous reference point, can outline key milestones, skill-development opportunities, and checkpoints for career progression. In tandem, regular check-ins can be integrated into the organizational culture, ensuring employees receive consistent support, feedback, and mentorship throughout their career journey within the property. This simple, yet effective, approach serves as a tangible expression of the organization’s commitment to the well-being and growth of its workforce, creating a nurturing environment where employees aren’t just equipped for success but are actively encouraged and supported along every step of their hospitality career and to survive in the jungle.

FINDING JOY IN THE JOURNEY
In the multifaceted landscape of the hospitality industry, the journey through workforce challenges is akin to navigating a dynamic and ever-shifting terrain. The industry stands at a crucial crossroads from the pervasive sentiment encapsulated in “no one wants to work anymore” to the intricate dance between pay-living cost disparities and the ongoing struggle of being thrown to the wolves after orientation. Yet, amid these challenges lies an opportunity for transformation and innovation. Businesses can cultivate a resilient and satisfied workforce by addressing foundational elements through effective recruitment, seamless onboarding, and fostering a culture of continuous learning. Simultaneously, a commitment to equitable pay and ongoing support can redefine the trajectory of employees’ careers, providing not just a job but a fulfilling and enduring journey in the vibrant realm of hospitality. In embracing these principles, the industry not only surmounts its present challenges but emerges stronger, more compassionate, and better equipped to meet the evolving demands of the future.


stephanie leger

Stephanie Leger is Chief Excellence Officer of First Rate Hospitality, a hospitality training consultancy. Stephanie has trained more than 20,000 hospitality employees in hotel and restaurant operations worldwide, providing countless reviews of operational evaluations. She has more than 20 years of experience in the hotel industry globally, working with brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Forbes Travel Guide Inspector, AAA, and others. Stephanie is also the co-host of the popular WTF “Walk The Floors” hospitality training podcast. For more information, please visit firstratehospitality.com.


FLAUMA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM, ANAK TINTA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

 

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