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By Cathy Cook

With one of my main roles at KTN being to conduct front desk hospitality training worldwide, one issue that always seems to surface is turnover at the front desk. Turnover everywhere in the hotel staff is a major challenge in tight labor markets most hotels operate within, however it seems to especially be an issue at the front desk.  Certainly, working at the front desk can be a stressful job as we are dealing with guests who are arriving after a long day of travel disruptions and frustrations and therefore prone to over-reaction to even the smallest challenges.  Also, regardless of where any gap in service occurs during a guest’s stay, it is most often reported to the front desk associates.  

Although much has changed in the 37 years since I started my career, working my way up from a front desk clerk to Front Office Manager at very large hotels, even with all of the new technology we are still a people business.  Great hotel leaders all know that if we take care of our people, they will take care of our guests. 

I spent my first 16 years at the front desk, most of it as a front desk supervisor and manager before moving on to corporate positions, and turnover was always an issue when I would first arrive.  Yet by respecting my associates and treating them like family, I was able to forge strong relationships that kept my people loyal.  Not only did they stay on board much longer, but many of them are still beloved personal friends to this day. 

The key to reducing turnover starts at the top with you as a Front Office Manager. By following these 5 simple and easy suggestions I am confident you too can reduce turnover at your Front Desk as well as any other department at your property. 

  • Post the work schedule as far in advance as possible to allow associates to plan their personal lives.  Far too often I hear from my workshop participants that schedules come out at the last minute; this is currently a major frustration I know for a fact is causing good people to leave the industry.  Posting the work schedule on a Thursday or Friday when the schedule begins on a Saturday doesn’t allow your team members much possibility to plan social and family activities or arrange for child care. Post schedules as early as possible overall and especially as far ahead as weekends as you can.  Let them know in advance if they will be able to have the rare whole-weekend off.  We all know our business is a 24/7 business, but we can do as much as possible to let our associates have a fulfilling life outside of work. 
  • Honor days off requests when possible. Use the “It’s your turn” system; if the associate has seldom requested a day-off then their request should take priority vs. an associate that has much more frequent requests.  Keep track of who requests off-days when you have previously honored them so you can be fair in honoring all requests.  Be as flexible as possible in allowing associates to arrange for their own schedule-swaps (with final approval of course.) 
  • Recognize birthdays in a personal way. If your property allows a small budget for celebrations perhaps you can celebrate with a cake, helium balloons, and purchase a card for everyone to sign. (Larger hotels with more staff birthdays to celebrate can recognize everyone born that month during a single celebration.)  Even if no budget money is available a simple Happy Birthday message on a white board signed by the team working that day or homemade poster goes a long way.
  • Recognize them for positive guest comments. Don’t just forward a positive review with a short email note.  Instead, recognize associates at the weekly department head meeting or monthly departmental huddle. Personal handwritten thank you notes are also wonderful.
  • Feed them on super busy days. Food is always a motivator!  Order pizza on busy days when no breaks can be taken, have someone make a Cold Stone Creamery run on hot summer day “just for fun,” and let the front desk order some room service breakfast on a heavy Sunday morning check-out day when no one has had time for breaks.

Probably every Front Office Manager I know would love to provide a hefty pay raise and more holidays off, but realistically that is never going to happen.  By treating the front desk team more like family and engaging with them personally, you will be able to increase loyalty and reduce the desire for job-hopping.  

About Cathy Cook

M. Cathy Cook is the Executive Director of Training & Development for the Kennedy Training Network, Inc., a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Cathy also is heads up KTN’s Front Desk “Heart of Hospitality” Certification process. Email her directly at: or visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.con

Contact: Cathy Cook

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February 28, 2019 12:29pm

Don says:

These are all great tips. I think most hospitality managers implement 3 of 5 already. In the end, I believe the author is asking managers to work on their soft skills to help retain employees. The problem is that employee loyalty does not exist. Many employees treat jobs like gigs - a new one every month. I recommend improving your soft skills, that won’t hurt. I also recommend something that has worked for me. Let every new employee know they will be evaluated at the end of their fifth shift. Slackers are set free right there and then. Let’s face it, you probably know which employees fit and which do not after the first day. It is a kindness for them, for your superstars, and for you to set them free the first week. The employee can find something they like, the superstar is relieved not to work with a slacker, and you didn’t just spend $2,000 more to finish their training.