Focus on workforce wellness in hospitality to improve employee retention

2023-08-09
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In a blog post last September, we cut right to the chase and posed the question that everyone in the hotel business was asking: When will the staffing shortage in the hospitality industry end?

It was a bit of a trick question, because the answer boiled down to "No one knows."

Although hospitality has bounced back in a major way after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still operating with a workforce that has not returned in numbers sufficient to meet the increased demand. For those working in the sector, that's a potential recipe for stress and burnout.

How bad are things in 2023? An April article from McKinsey & Company cited a survey of 200 hotels conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), which revealed that 87% of hotels in the United States do not have enough staff, with 36% reporting severe staff shortages.

So, the answer to our original question — When will the staffing shortage in the hospitality industry end? — remains the same.

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An industry-wide focus on health and wellness

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In a recent blog post titled "Hospitality Staffing and The Labor Crunch: Updated for 2023", Shiji Group (which specializes in tech solutions for the hotel, retail, food service and entertainment industries) identified an industry-wide focus on employee well-being as one of the major changes it has witnessed in the hospitality staffing landscape in the last year:

There is now a growing recognition within the industry of the importance of prioritizing employee well-being, mental health, flexible work arrangements, and improved work-life balance to attract and retain talent in the face of the labor shortage.

There is no surefire way to attract and retain hospitality employees, but a company that treats its workers well — whether through competitive wages, great benefits, or opportunities for training and career advancement — is in a better position to close the labor gap.

Emphasizing wellness improves retention

Instituting policies and practices that prioritize hospitality employees' physical and mental health is a great starting point. Focusing on workforce wellness can significantly improve employee retention by creating a positive and supportive work environment where employees feel valued. This, in turn, can translate to a better guest experience.

Here are some ways in which a focus on workforce wellness can lead to better retention rates for the hospitality sector:

Reduced stress and burnout

The hospitality industry can be demanding and fast-paced, leading to high levels of stress and burnout among employees. When their employers implement employee wellness programs and initiatives, such as stress management workshops, flexible work schedules, and providing opportunities for relaxation, workers are more likely to feel more supported and less overwhelmed. This can increase employees' job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Long and irregular hours are common in the hospitality business, and this can have a detrimental impact on employees' sense of work-life balance. When employers offer more paid time off, allow for family-friendly schedules and encourage employees to take breaks, workers are more likely to stick around for the long term.

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Health and wellness benefits

Providing employees with extended health benefits and wellness programs can enhance the physical and mental health of employees. This, in turn, leads to a more engaged and productive workforce and reduces the likelihood of employees leaving due to health-related concerns.

In a Joblist survey from 2021, a lack of benefits was one of the biggest reasons listed by hotel staff who weren't planning to return to their jobs in the hospitality industry. It may be time for hoteliers to reassess and revisit their employee-benefits packages to include traditional benefits like health and dental coverage for part-time and hourly staff as well. 

As other industries rewrite the standards for paid sick days, personal days and vacation days, consider what you can offer your entire staff.

The risk of getting sick and not being able to work has loomed over the heads of hospitality workers who don’t have medical benefits throughout the COVID-19 era — and while these fears may be less acute now than they were in the early days of the pandemic, they are still a factor for many employees.

Getting creative with perks

In a time of labor shortages, offering greater stability to the full team can make the hospitality sector feel far more supportive, and position a hotel job as realistic as a lifelong career option. 

Alongside the typical benefits, there are some creative perks that hotel brands can include to entice new employees, like access to great hotel amenities outside of working hours.

Such offerings could include a day at the on-site spa, unlimited gym access, yoga and meditation classes, special VIP menu preview tastings or access to digital amenities like PressReader, where they can read newspapers and magazines from around the world. 

Recognition and appreciation

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Recognition for their hard work is crucial for employees' job satisfaction and retention. Acknowledging their efforts, providing opportunities for growth and development, and offering competitive compensation and benefit packages can boost morale and loyalty.

Career development and training

Providing clear pathways for career advancement and offering regular training and skill development opportunities can motivate employees to stay with the company. When employees see a future for themselves within the organization, they are more likely to stay and invest in both their own growth and the growth of the brand.

McKinsey points out that, traditionally, staffing in the accommodation business involves distinct roles with separate promotion paths.

In times of staff shortages, hoteliers might build resilience by redesigning roles so that fewer workers are needed to perform the same number of tasks. This could involve combining similar roles — as an example, McKinsey suggests that housekeeping management could be combined with front-desk management to form a single set of duties.

According to the McKinsey article we cited above, such an approach could have many benefits

Redesigned roles could potentially improve employee satisfaction by empowering staff to explore new career paths within the hotel’s operations. Combined roles build skills across disciplines—for example, supporting a housekeeper to train and become proficient in some maintenance areas, or a front-desk associate to build managerial skills.

Open communication and feedback

Creating a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas can foster a sense of belonging and engagement.

Although this may not seem like part of a wellness program per se, it's part of a holistic approach that recognizes the impact that employee engagement can have on productivity and the emotional health of the workforce.

Research released by Gartner in 2021 — the results from a global survey of 4,000 employees — suggests that there is a significant and troubling divide between how employees and executives feel in several key areas. (These stats are not specific to the hotel industry, but they certainly have implications for hospitality companies.)

Taking a "human-centric approach"

Here are a few of the most concerning numbers:

  • Only 41% of employee respondents believe that senior leadership takes their best interests into consideration, compared to 69% of executive respondents.

  • Only 47% of employee respondents think leadership teams integrate their perspectives into the decision-making process, compared to 75% of executive respondents.

  • Of executive respondents, 77% felt "they are a part of something important at their organization," while only 59% of employees reported the same.

But there's also good news: Gartner reports that what it calls "human-centric work design" — an approach that includes flexible work experiences, intentional collaboration opportunities and empathetic management — can increase employee performance by as much as 54%.

In addition, regular feedback sessions and opportunities for two-way communication help build trust and improve the overall work environment.

Diversity and inclusion

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Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the workplace creates a more welcoming and supportive atmosphere.

To illustrate the importance of this issue, consider the following statistics from the 2023 Inside Hospitality Report, which surveyed 3,120 people working in hospitality at all levels across the United Kingdom:

  • 1 in 3 respondents had witnessed and experienced discriminatory behavior at work.

  • Only 52.4% of the respondents who encountered discriminatory behavior in their workplace had the
    opportunity to report it

  • 52.5% of respondents did not know if their employer had undertaken any equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives in the past year

  • 46.9% of respondents are unaware of any well-being support for employees facing discrimination

It's clear that the hospitality industry still has a lot of work to do in this area, but the results are worth it; employees are more likely to stay with an organization that values and respects their individuality and the perspective that people from diverse backgrounds can bring to their teams.

Creating a more positive work environment

By focusing on workforce wellness and implementing strategies to support the well-being of employees, hospitality businesses can create a more positive and attractive work environment, leading to increased employee retention and reduced turnover.

This not only saves costs associated with hiring and training new staff but also helps to build a loyal and dedicated team that can contribute to the overall success of the organization.

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