Optimizing Millennial Labor

Moving Away From Set Shifts Towards Flexing Your Staff

By Mark Heymann Chairman & CEO, Unifocus | November 08, 2015

Millennials now represent one in three workers in the U.S. By nature, they are less risk averse than previous generations and better prepared to succeed on their own footing. And as they assume the majority in the workplace, the old rules of employment – where one works, who one works for – are shifting, spurred by millennials' desire for flexibility and enabled by mobile workforce management technology. This presents an opportunity to change the way hoteliers schedule labor, specifically a move toward more flexible shifts and, taking it further, a flex workforce.

Short-interval scheduling technology provides today's hotel managers with the ability to create flexible shifts. Why structure schedules to the standard nine to three or three to eleven when Monday demand might look very different than Saturday? Flexible shifts allow managers to increase or decrease labor by the hour, half hour, or even quarter hour according to when their guests want to be served. They also remedy unexpected labor gaps caused by no shows and employees who call in sick. Armed with a good flex system, the manager can fill shifts to meet demand quickly and easily, using a mobile app to instantly broadcast an alert to an available pool of employees who have the right skill set for that particular job.

If there are not enough employees to fill the shift, the manager can open it up to the market in a tech-enabled adaptation of the day laborer's "corner work office." The airline industry, too, employs a version of this: an airline posts its available shifts and flight attendants and crews bid on them in a self-selection process. The difference is that with flex work, the self-selection process will repeat every day, or every couple of days, depending on need. If demand falls below expectation, the manager will bid out fewer shifts and if it increases, he or she will bid out more. In an advanced scenario, the organization can possibly raise the pay of particular shifts to ensure they are filled.

Flex vs. On-call Employment

There's a significant point of difference between this kind of flex system and the on-call employment favored by some environments like the retail industry. On-call workers are required to keep themselves available for a particular shift but only report to work if they're needed. This creates an environment in which the employee cannot make any plans, thereby limiting his/her personal life while also running the risk of losing income when demand is low. The flex model, instead, gives workers the power to structure their time as they choose, whether they actively check for available shifts or simply accept and decline requests sent to their mobile devices. This makes it attractive for workers who want to set their own hours and vary them from week to week as well as those who need to supplement their existing income. The flex model has the added advantage of increasing available employees, thereby helping to ensure shifts are covered.

At least one major retailer has made the move to a flex system. According to a 2012 article on the Center for Public Integrity website, Macy's phased out call-in shifts in 2011 in favor of a flex team model through which workers can log into the scheduling system and choose shifts left after full- and part-time employees have been scheduled.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.