Talent gurus Sandy Gentles of Marriott International and Ed Gallier of Jury’s Inn share how employee communication technology can be leveraged to solve today’s talent crisis
By Andrada Paraschiv
Finding dedicated workers and retaining them once they are trained has always been a challenge for hospitality, but in the current economic and social climate there is no time to waste on retraining workers only to lose them in the short term. In a market where acquiring skilled workers is the greatest challenge, retaining them becomes imperative.
As leisure travel begins to return and hotel occupancy increases, operators will be challenged to provide a high level of service to every guest on a limited staff. Hotels are not alone in seeking out new hires, as retail, restaurants, delivery services, and more are all bringing their workforces back at the same time.
According to Edward Gallier, head of Learning & Development at Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotels UK & Ireland, a number of prior hotel employees were forced to find new positions during the pandemic. A significant portion of them are either not returning to hospitality or are actively considering new sectors.
“Hospitality has to fight for its place in the recruitment market,” Gallier said. “People today are making sure the next job they take is reliable and fits the lifestyle they’ve found for themselves over the last 14 months.”
Hoteliers will need to embrace digital communication technology in order to onboard new employees and stay in contact with existing associates in the coming months. On one level, digital communications can help automate some of the onboarding process, freeing managers to continue to operate their properties at a high level. They also allow management to stay in contact with all associates in order to keep them up-to-date on operational changes, shifts in schedule, or for distributing training tips.
Hospitality turnover creates a number of unique challenges for operators right now because hotels are excellent training grounds for the development of a variety of professional skills, which often leave the industry never to return. According to Sandy Gentles, Vice President of Talent Point at Marriott International, hoteliers need to embrace communication as a key theme going forward when retaining employees, and seeking new ones.
“The key words right now are change, expectations, and communications,” Gentles said. “Everything about how we do business on property has changed. We need to communicate directly with returning front line associates in terms of what those changes are and why.”
Gentles elaborated that this should be an ongoing process, as hospitality is an ever-changing industry and associates may require weekly—or even daily—updates in order to operate at the highest level in some markets. Gallier agreed with this strategy, and challenged operators to foster a positive internal culture and a willingness to teach through improved internal communication.
“People will pick employers based on their reputation, but ultimately employers have to create a job role that is enticing, attached to a company culture that shows workers it is a great place to be,” Gallier said. “Hospitality has always had these elements, but in a discerning market it is necessary to find ways to stand out. A good employer will try harder to make their roles attractive.”
Over the last year, frontline hotel workers adapted to face masks, plastic barriers erected between them and guests, and sanitation guidelines that seemed to change each day. With vaccination rates increasing and the global economy slowly picking up steam, more changes are inevitable. Hoteliers must stay on top of shifts in the travel ecosystem, and they must be able to quickly, efficiently, and confidently share that information with guests and employees.
All across the industry hoteliers have been finding ways to “do more with less.” Fewer guests meant fewer amenities and services, lower rates but also lower operating costs. Now hoteliers are being asked to do more with fewer associates, and this is simply not possible without the use of advanced communication technology. With it your hotel can operate at high level with a more efficiently sized team, while keeping these workers engaged.
Employee engagement comes in many forms. According to Gentles, operators showing a willingness to provide small concessions in order to improve an associate’s work or home life go a long way toward maintaining their interest at the property.
“Due to the pandemic there has been a need for greater flexibility when working with employees, since everyone’s lives have been disrupted,” Gentles said. “As hoteliers, we need to do whatever we can to keep our best employees on property. Something as simple as engineering a schedule that allows parents to spend more time with their children, or even arranging for childcare as kids come home from school, could eliminate the barriers to hospitality employment for many.”
Digital communication tools such as Beekeeper’s are perfect for organizing schedules such as these, allowing management to stay up to date on each employees’ status and needs. By organizing schedules this way, all hotel associates will be consistently informed as to who is working when, who needs assistance covering shifts, and how to get in contact with anyone necessary.
“Having a close and effective team has never mattered so much,” Gallier said. “The number of people on a shift team is definitely less. [Associates] need additional knowledge of products and services that are available, must stay updated on restrictions being lifted, and be able to share that information competently with guests and their co-workers. They can achieve this through support with data, technology, and their line manager.”
Teamwork has never mattered as much as it does today, and as furloughed employees gradually step back on property hotel leadership will have to address the divide that may have formed between them and workers who stayed on during the pandemic. Gallier clarified that both groups of employees were forced to overcome different challenges during the pandemic, and both need to be addressed in unique ways in order for workers to feel valued.
“People have been forced to overcome a great deal of mental and physical tiredness during this period, and now some of them are coming back to work,” Gallier said. “Everyone dealt with the pandemic in their own way, but returning employees are coming back to a work environment that is very different from what they are used to. Employers cannot underplay the significance of that element.”
It has been often said that those who have returned to hospitality are the workers who truly want to be there, but Gentles cautioned the industry against relying on this way of thinking as a crutch to avoid confronting the current labor shortage and the retention challenge around the corner.
“When we say [workers] are coming back for passion, there is only so far that attitude will get us during this rehire,” Gentles said. “We have to understand what is driving their search for employment this time around, and that will be different for each associate and market but we have to become more efficient at understanding what those drivers are.”
Returning workers must also find commonality with those who stayed on during the pandemic, as both groups went through demonstratively different experiences following worker furloughs. Beekeeper’s technology can help new and returning workers stay in touch to speed up the onboarding process for each role, while providing a communication platform for workers to build rapport. These tools are also useful for helping existing employees acquaint themselves with newly developed roles during the labor shortage.
“[There is a need for] a team that can work cross-departments, cross roles, and have greater understanding and empathy for colleagues doing different roles,” Gallier said.
The biggest trend going forward is the need for hoteliers to make their properties destinations not only for bookings, but for applicants. This means flexibility where it did not previously exist, a willingness to understand the hotel worker as much as the hotel guest, and a desire to extend hospitality to everyone under your property’s roof. Most importantly, hotels must use the visibility modern video and social media presents to get the word out about the value of their property and the potential for future growth within the industry.
According to Gallier, the long-term impact of labor disruption will be the rewriting of hotel roles, creating an environment that enables collaboration across the property, supported by a shared learning of hospitality skills.
“[Hospitality] has always been a business where it is easy to move sideways based on associate interests, and we have ladders in place for promotion and personal development,” Gallier said. “We are beginning to cultivate teams within hotels who are capable of working across departments and roles, based on the training we can provide both on hand and digitally.”
Gentles is optimistic about the future of hotel employment, and he looks forward to hospitality’s growing search for talent outside of typical channels.
“Opening the door to have [outside workers] move into hospitality is a game changer,” Gentles said. “We have the technology and the system in place to make anyone with a hospitality mindset successful on property. If we can connect with the right personality, the sky’s the limit.”
Even as the industry overcomes the current hiring challenge it is facing, hoteliers will need to confront the challenge of doing more with less and retaining these workers. Both Gentles and Gallier agreed that technology and a willingness to experiment with new operational strategies are key to overcoming these difficulties. Hospitality has just come out of one of the most difficult periods in its history, and the tools exist to help operators find continued success even in a landscape dominated by constant change.