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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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.