Sustainable Hotel Careers: 5 Tips for Strengthening Your Workforce
By Ron Mitchell CEO & Founder, Virgil Careers | May 10, 2020
As we begin decade and assess the state of the industry, hotel and hospitality employers are facing a growing problem when it comes to filling their workforce. They have a staggeringly high turnover rate of 73.8% and the highest month over month job growth of any industry, with a new job being added every 2.5 seconds. The industry is growing too quickly to keep up with, and employers are sifting through a narrowing pool of job seekers to find those with very specific skills to fill positions in a demanding, fast-paced environment.
So how can hotel employers regain confidence in their workforce and customer service ranks? By refocusing their recruitment and retention efforts in a way that personally connects with the job seeker they want to reach.
The Problem: Information Overload, Increased Turnover & Suffering Customer Service
When I graduated from Harvard 25 years ago, I went to work in investment banking because that's what everybody told me I should do. Back then, before the 24/7 connection to internet and apps on mobile devices, there was very limited transparency or access to information about available job opportunities. Consequently, students and entry-level candidates were severely underprepared for the job search process. In addition, there was virtually no dialogue around critical factors that influence the employment decisions of today's generation, such as corporate values, growth opportunities and flexible work arrangements.
Today, access to information that can help job seekers identify the "right" opportunity is a keystroke away. The largest technology companies in the world, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, provide one-click access to countless employers and a seemingly unlimited amount of information on each one. These platforms also enable increased transparency and social conversation around a company's employment brand, creating the potential for damaging negative exposure.
And this isn't just a human resource cost problem, although that is a top of mind issue for any employer facing a turnover challenge. For an industry that is so customer centric, this lack of consistent labor can result in a poor internal culture - which perpetuates the retention problem - and also present a lack of order to customers who are looking for a familiar friendly face behind a hotel front desk or confident, well-informed answers from a concierge, valet or bartender.
The Goal: Create Sustainable Careers in the Hotel Industry
While all of this presents a great challenge, I also believe that these circumstances offer hotel employers an even greater opportunity. There is a significant need for sustainable careers - especially for unskilled workers - and hotel and hospitality employers have the unique opportunity to create them. First, hospitality is a people-centric business. Even though automation is seemingly making its way into every industry, at the core of hospitality is people. Automation can certainly help with efficiency and consistency, but nothing can replace a warm and welcoming smile or a helpful and gracious hand. Second, hospitality is one of the few industries that can credibly attest to the fact that entry-level employees have the opportunity to work their way up to executive-level positions, including CEO.
Step 1: Prioritize Personal Development
To make the best use of this potential, it's up to the hotel and hospitality employers to make their case as to why they are the best company to work for long-term. In my experience, the best way to do that is to invest in your employees' career and skill development. The reason is quite simple. If you properly identify the skills, experiences and behaviors required to advance; provide full transparency on those things; and personalize the experience with a custom career roadmap, you will find that people are more motivated to work towards those goals and – consequently – will likely find success.
It's also important to note that employees who thrive in the hospitality industry are prime recruitment targets for other industries because of the underlying skills of customer service, which are both highly transferable and highly sought-after. There are many healthcare, property management and financial service businesses realizing that in order to differentiate themselves in the market, they need to have people in their business that truly understand customer experience. They are actively seeking to hire professionals from the hotel and restaurant industries into their company. For hotels who want to keep their most valuable employees, the best thing to do is to invest in their personal career growth, so that when they're ready to grow, they'll grow with you.
Step 2: Attracting the Right Candidates with a Tailored Job Posting
If hotel and hospitality employers want to find employees who will excel at the job and show potential for long-term growth, they need to begin thinking about the long-term before a hire is made. Assessing a candidate's skills, experience and potential for growth from the beginning is an important first step to 1) getting to know the candidate on a personal level will help with the creation of a personal career plan and 2) ensuring that the candidate has the potential to see and work towards growth in the industry.
The first step to making sure that a potential employee is the right fit is to accurately present the job posting in a way that attracts the right candidate. Too many recruiters and HR reps spend far too little time crafting a job posting that appropriately spells out the skills, duties and most importantly the potential growth and benefits of a job opportunity. Most postings simply include a salary range and or a set of responsibilities, but these are hardly differentiating characteristics that will draw desired candidates in. I've found that to start a healthy and fruitful relationship between employer and employee, it's important to speak to 1) exactly what the job entails and 2) what candidates are looking for.
Step 3: Ensuring the Employee-Employer Fit Through Values and Culture
The second part of attracting the right candidates is through employment branding, or how an employer convinces a job seeker that they are the right company to work for on the basis of values and culture.
Our companies, Virgil and Hcareers, were curious about the rising generation of workers and what they are looking for in a job. We partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Association to survey 3,000 Generation Z and Millennial job seekers on their attitudes towards working in hospitality and general career preferences. We found that compensation, benefits and the type of work they will be doing is only a fraction of the criteria they use in making an employment decision. Other significant and more differentiating factors include 1) personal growth opportunities, 2) flexible work rules and 3) corporate social responsibility.
For employers who haven't changed their HR strategies since they started hiring Baby Boomers decades ago, these new priorities might sound foreign and fanciful. But in this age of technology and change, these shouldn't be viewed as 'perks' that candidates are looking for, but instead as tangible evidence of a forward-thinking company. In order to market a job to its full potential, recruiters need to address these additional factors in their recruitment marketing process.
Step 4: Invest in Marketing to Multiple Populations
But there is a caveat with generational recruitment marketing. It's important to present the job in a way that is appealing to a newer and younger sector of the workforce, but I have always felt there is a danger in treating an entire generation as a single monolithic group that all think alike and have the same wants and needs. For instance, people constantly say "Gen Z does this…" or "Millennials do that…." In reality, neither Gen Z nor Millennials are homogenous groups. For example, a 25-year-old man on the south side of Chicago has very different interests, needs and preferences than a 34-year-old woman on the north side of Chicago.
In our Gen Z & Millennial survey, we found statistically significant differences in the criteria that different races, ethnicities and genders prioritize when evaluating a job opportunity. For example, African Americans are significantly more likely to respond to greater financial compensation than their White, Asian and Latino counterparts. White men respond more positively to opportunities that relate to the type of work they will be doing in the role. Latino individuals are more concerned with benefits, and Asians tend to prioritize opportunities to gain new skills.
From this, we see that employers first need to invest in marketing to multiple populations in specific ways and not fall back on generic messaging for an entire generation. When you have generic messaging, you get generic results. Second, employers need to keep that same idea in mind when it comes to retaining employees. Once you have them, you must deliver on what you advertised and get more personal. This is where personality surveys can become a powerful tool. You must get to know your employees and then work with them to motivate them with personalized career plans.
Step 5: Grow Together
I've seen the results that can happen when employers take a vested interest in their employees professional growth. I've worked with Fortune 500 clients in many different industries including energy, consulting, retail, advertising, and of course hospitality. For one large client, we found that over three years, individuals utilizing this development strategy completed 25-30% more of the skill milestones needed for a promotion, stayed at the organization 30% longer, and got promoted at almost double the rate compared to their peer group who didn't use the resources we provided.
The benefits for the employee are very clearly spelled out - increase in compensation, job security, and professional growth and satisfaction. But in taking this employee-first mentality, employers stand to benefit from decreased turnover, a more committed and enthusiastic staff, lower HR costs, and a stronger presentation of customer service.
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