The Hospitality Staffing Challenge

5 Ways to Keep Service Levels High When Understaffed

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Just as hoteliers are beginning to see bookings rebound, a new challenge arises: Staffing the hotel. Finding and keeping staff is proving to be this year’s monstrous challenge. And, no one is immune. A survey we commissioned in September 2021 reveals that 94.5% of surveyed hotels worldwide are struggling with staffing.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of early June, there were more than 8 million unfilled positions in the United States. Hospitality accounts for almost one million of those open jobs. How serious is the problem?  During the pandemic, The World Travel and Tourism Council predicted that 121 million of the 330 million jobs tied to tourism around the world would be lost in 2020, leading to nearly one in three jobs needing to be rehired when travel returns.

Why Hotels Are Having a Hard Time Hiring

It doesn’t take an economist to uncover the reasons why job candidates are few and far between today. Many hospitality employees furloughed or let go during the pandemic found other trades. Some chose to accept government help in lieu of working and found that they could make ends meet. Others decided to stay home to manage homeschooling or childcare. Essential businesses, such as grocery and DIY stores provided big bonuses for hospitality workers to make the switch. And, of course, Amazon entered the fray.

The e-commerce giant enticed many workers with higher wages and great benefits, including mental health and educational opportunities that others weren’t offering. CNBC reported the company hired more than 450,000 people in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic and is now the country’s largest job-creator. 

But not all hoteliers are suffering. What seems to unite the fully-staffed hotels? They all made their people a priority during the pandemic. Here’s how one hotelier explains his fortunate position:

“We believe that our team members are the main asset at the hotel. We work as a team through both good and bad times. We kept all our team members during the pandemic, even those that had recently been hired, even though the hotel was closed for six months. Because we spent money and effort to train these employees, we didn’t want to lose that investment by losing them. We knew that if we let them go we wouldn’t be able to find good candidates when we needed to rehire.”

Travel is Back – – But Workers are Missing

So, here we are. As hoteliers continue to navigate the pandemic and look towards the holidays, they desperately need to catch a break. After more than a year of guests being afraid to travel, they’re now ready to return to hotels, pockets full of cash, but hoteliers aren’t. They can’t sell rooms if they don’t have the staff to clean them. They can’t open restaurants at full capacity if they don’t have wait-staff and line chefs. And, they can’t deliver their best service. 

Many hotels have taken an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. Management is moving to the front of house, checking in guests, delivering meals, and filling in where needed. They’re even cleaning rooms and emptying trash from the lobby. But, this isn’t sustainable long term. Working the employees you have to the bone will only lead to more resignations, especially with so many open opportunities in the market. So how can you keep service levels high to ensure your guest experience doesn’t suffer? 

Be Supportive

First, let your staff know you understand the pressure they’re under. Acknowledging that they’re being asked to work under difficult conditions will go a long way towards maintaining their trust. Show empathy. Let staff see that managers and leadership are also going beyond their job duties to pick up the slack. 

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Ask them how they’re feeling and listen when they respond. Find ways to help them manage their mental health and stress, whether it’s 15 minutes to take a walk, a subscription to a meditation app, or a hand-written note of appreciation. With irregular hours and stressful jobs, hospitality workers are prime contenders for mental health challenges and today it’s worse than ever. Luckily, these issues are now being discussed and resources are available to help. Use them.

Be Realistic

Second, set manageable expectations for staff so they don’t think that they have to single-handedly make up for the staffing shortage. Prioritize what’s important and help them understand what needs to get done and what is secondary. 

A great prioritization tool is the ICE score, which is calculated by looking at scoring impact, confidence and ease, on a scale of 1-10.

ICE score = Impact X Confidence X Ease

To help determine the measure you give to each item, consider these guidelines:

  • Impact is an estimate of how much the idea will positively affect a key metric – – eg a 5-star review or a repeat booking. 
  • Ease (of implementation) is an estimation of how much effort and resources will be required to complete a task or project. 
  • Confidence is how sure you are about impact and ease of implementation.

When you score each project, the ones you should do will quickly rise to the top, allowing you to focus your time and attention on the most worthy projects that stand to make the biggest difference in your business.

Set Expectations

Third, set expectations with guests before they arrive on property so they understand the challenges that the industry, and your hotel, are facing. A viral picture that you have likely seen on social media is a sandwich board in front of a cafe that reads, “The whole world is short-staffed. Be kind to those that showed up.” These simple words have the power to remind customers that employees are doing their best with fewer resources and there are far bigger challenges than waiting an extra minute for coffee. 

While this sign wouldn’t be appropriate in front of a luxury hotel, it is appropriate to send a pre-arrival email letting guests know that the in-stay experience has changed since the pandemic and the hotel, like most businesses in the area, is under-staffed. Revinate Marketing makes it easy to automate this email so it is sent to guests prior to arrival. You can even segment recipients based on the number of stays with you.

While you don’t want to alarm guests who read the email, share service elements that might have changed due to the staffing crisis that downplays the impact. For example, “Due to the labor shortage, pool-goers must now order drinks at the poolside bar. But, we’re pouring them strong and with a wider smile to make up for it.” Or, “You might notice our staff is wearing comfortable shoes. Due to the labor shortage, they’re hustling like never before to provide you with the best service in the industry.” 

A good practice for pre-arrival emails is to provide the GM’s contact information and encourage guests to reach out with any questions, comments or concerns. This small token signals that you care deeply about the guest experience.

Automate or Self-Serve

Fourth, see what services and amenities can be automated or serviced directly by guests. 

Automation & Optimization/Self-Serve was the least used tactic by hoteliers but seemed to be the most effective in managing work capacity. This tactic allows hoteliers to not have to put the burden on staff to keep up, recruit as heavily or increase pay and incentives.

Your ability to alter services will vary depending on your service level, but there’s likely room for any hotel to make small changes that free up staff time. For example, instead of delivering morning papers, can you leave them in the lobby for guest collection? Rather than offering turndown service, can you leave a few extra towels in the room? Can you encourage guests to check in via your mobile app versus the front desk? Can you encourage self-parking at a discounted or free rate? All these changes will reduce dependencies on staff and free them up for more important tasks.

Reward Staff

Finally, find ways to reward the employees that are working hard to make a difference at the hotel in a time when fewer staff members are causing an increased workload for those who are working. Everyone appreciates cash bonuses, and most hotels have increased pay and direct incentives to staff. In addition, you can give your best shifts and management responsibility to the workers that show initiative and are giving it their all. Publicly mention their contributions during staff meetings.  For many, recognition goes a long way towards making them feel like their sacrifices and hard work are worth the effort.
Looking for more ideas around how to navigate this challenging time? Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we will share how technology can help you make up for lost staff. And, as always, please reach out if you would like to learn more about Revinate’s solutions for Hotel CRM, guest feedback, or guest marketing.