By Cindy Johnson
You know, we all have done it — worked our way up the ladder, pushed ourselves to physical and mental limits or sacrificed our personal plans — just to focus on our upwardly mobile hospitality careers. Over the last several decades, that is how industry leaders as well as new entrants forged their path to success: working hard, working long hours and “paying their dues” to move up. However, here we are in a world since the start of COVID and we find ourselves in the most acute labor shortage the industry has ever experienced. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by closures, layoffs, and furloughs and now companies are eager (ok desperate) to get enough competent staff members to cover all levels of guest experience. For so long, ours has been the industry of long hours and intense work schedules and ultimately an industry that still to this day bodes well for those with that right attitude and skills to move up quickly.
The problem is, that fewer and fewer employees want to follow the old path to success. Many students and new entrants into the hospitality industry now seem to take a long view, not least because of the many implications of COVID, and they have decided that rather than adopting the “live to work” mentality so long shared, embraced and cultivated in hospitality, they would like to work to live and preserve some of their personal time to do so. Recently I heard a class of young students say that they do not want to follow in the footsteps of other successful hoteliers and leaders working 60+ hours per week and “be owned” (their words) as salaried managers. Instead, they were resolved to work 4, 10 hour shifts as hourly employees and have 3 days off to live out their personal lives with less stress, more flexibility and more time away from work. These students and many current hospitality workers covet the time off and flexibility in their schedules that they feel are needed for a healthy and balanced life.
So, what are we to do? The industry is experiencing a labor shortage like none before and is at a crossroads to re-examine what work will look like in the industry. Should we change the work schedules? What will full-time really mean and how should employee benefits change to reflect the new mindset of the hospitality worker? Does the hospitality industry have the courage to reinvent itself to find new ways of structuring work and providing flexibility and purpose for those serving our guests? What will pay structures look like and how are we to retain our top talent and convince them to stay in the game?
Well, to begin, we could create more cross-functional positions within operations and revenue-creating departments, adjust pay upwards as new skills are demonstrated and rethink benefit options for new hires with no waiting periods. We should also be more open to creating and providing hybrid work arrangements for certain positions and embrace new, innovative ideas in general. The important thing is not to get stuck yearning for the days of the past at the cusp of a new era which, judging by the steadfast attitudes of its proponents, is clearly here to stay.