Hoteliers stress flexibility, culture amid labor pinch
Hoteliers stress flexibility, culture amid labor pinch
14 DECEMBER 2017 9:13 AM

As the industrywide labor shortage continues, smart hoteliers are doubling down on recruitment and retention.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers are upping their recruitment and retention efforts to overcome a tightening labor market, driven in part by increasing hotel supply and rising wage expectations among workers. The shortage of potential staffers is only expected to increase in the coming years, as labor pool competition intensifies not just within the hospitality sector, but in other industries, as well.

Many hotel owners and managers are combatting that trend with a comprehensive human resources commitment that emphasizes creative recruiting, career growth, company culture, and offering multiple bonuses and incentives.

“Labor shortages are very much a challenge and a reality in the industry today. It’s sort of a perfect storm, between the healthy economy and low unemployment,” Brenda Helps, VP of people support at One Lodging Management, said. “Candidates are being more choosey with the opportunity that they select, and they expect more—more money, more flexibility and more benefits. It’s probably our greatest top-of-mind issue right now in our organization: recruiting the right people to join us, and hanging on to the good people we’ve got. It’s a never-ending responsibility.”

There’s also the issue of rising competition from other industries outside of hospitality, some of which are either meeting or exceeding starting pay levels being offered by hotels.

“It’s not just competing against your hospitality brother, it’s competing against other segments of industry, too,” David Mansbach, managing director at Aethos Consulting Group, said. “People would rather get paid $20 to $25 an hour for pruning marijuana plants … than (work) in the hospitality industry. It’s a huge issue.”

Selling a career in hospitality
As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important for the hotel industry to educate potential employees on the advantages of a hospitality career, which includes stressing the long-term opportunities in hospitality.

“Maybe you go work for the bank, but really, you’re stuck there as a teller, whereas within a hotel you’ve got lots of opportunities for upward mobility,” said Katherine Bastow, corporate director of talent excellence for Hospitality Ventures Management Group. “If you work hard, it’s one of the industries where you don’t have to have a degree or a formal education, and you can really come in at the very bottom level. A big part of it is attracting people to our industry and showing them the opportunities. That’s probably where we differentiate ourselves.”

Sources also said it’s now vital to create and foster a corporate culture and brand that not only makes candidates want to work there, but also encourages them to stay once they’re hired, and even bring others into the fold through internal referrals. Part of that is offering perks like flexible schedules, enhanced benefits, referral and signing bonuses, while also cross-training employees to be able to help wherever they’re needed. But in a broader sense, it goes back to nurturing the idea of team, community and family at the workplace, so employees feel personally invested in doing their part.

“We’ve always harped on the fact that this is the hospitality business first and foremost. We have to treat our employees like we treat our guests,” Mike Marshall, president and CEO of Marshall Hotels & Resorts, said. “We have to be cognizant that they’re not just here to do a job but to do it well. If those employees do their jobs well, our guests will be happy. A lot of it has to do with onboarding and training and making sure the employee knows exactly what’s expected of them at a very early time and that they know they’re part of the big picture; they’re a spoke of a wheel that’s running to offer the best possible guest service.”

Focus on the individual
But while indoctrinating workers into a cohesive work culture and making those workers feel welcome is essential to motivation and teamwork, there’s still a growing emphasis on the individual, as demanded by the modern workforce.

“We are having to be so much more flexible,” Helps said. “We are having to make, in some cases, almost custom arrangements, person by person. It’s worth it to us to do that, in order to keep them, whether it’s scheduling or working from home here and there. We just have to be open to that flexibility, in all areas.”

Companies willing to adapt with the times and take a holistic and proactive approach to recruiting will be able to attract good workers, despite a tightening labor market, sources said.

“When it comes to human capital, it’s chaotic out there. But with chaos, there’s opportunity,” Mansbach said. “Companies need to be willing to press the reset button and take a little bit of a different perspective when it comes to the growing labor shortage and the challenges to attract and retain people. The companies that are really grasping onto it and moving away from the silo mentality, they’re the ones who are going to win big.”

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