The “Staffing Crisis:” Why Back of the House Staff Deserve More and How it Pays Off

Last week, I sat in a socially-distanced meeting room at a beautiful hotel with a Managing Director and VP of Marketing, discussing the challenges that they were facing – like most hotels – in finding employees. The more we discussed their challenges, the more I realized that we have, as an industry, made a fundamental error in referring to the current employment climate as a “staffing crisis.”

I think that it’s time that this industry takes a very sincere, deep look inward to reevaluate how it is that we attract, retain, and reward our teammates, starting from the lobby and working up.

I remember my first DOS job: in my first year in that job I booked about $1.2M in rooms revenue and another $700K in catering revenue. That earned me a nice bonus and a little glass plaque. 

By contrast, across the hall from my desk sat Stephanie, a reservations agent. Stephanie booked nearly $4M in rooms revenue that year and earned about $12/hour. She brought in over twice as much revenue as I did but was rewarded far less than I was.

My point here is that there is a discrepancy in how we reward employees, and – unfortunately – that discrepancy is frequently based upon title instead of accomplishment.

That needs to change, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Current Situation: Painful on all Sides

Since the beginning of the pandemic, roughly 24% of hospitality workers have left the industry entirely. Furthermore, the remaining 76% of veterans are that returned to work are scrambling to stay afloat as occupancies soar in short-staffed properties. Compounding the issue, those hotels that are fortunate enough to attract new talent are faced with the daunting task of training inexperienced employees in how to uphold guest service standards during a surge of “revenge travel.”

If unchecked, this will inevitably lead to burnout, lost revenue, and guest dissatisfaction.

We’ve visited with hundreds of hoteliers and executives across the industry this last year, and here are the solutions that we’ve come up with for accelerating hiring and minimizing burnout.

3 Strategies to Accelerate Hiring

  1. Pay competitive wages, and then some. We recently executed an analysis on the cost of missed phone calls in the Charleston, SC market, and we found that the cost of a single missed call is $337.38! This alone should be helpful in justifying a $2 or $3 per hour wage increase for your Front Desk and Reservations teams. 
  2. Provide good benefits. The average cost of childcare in America is $156/week, and that expense is in many cases the largest barrier standing between exceptionally gifted employees and your property. Another wonderful solution my friend Tony in North Carolina shared is that his company is offering every employee a $150 bonus for every week of perfect attendance.
  3. Invest in technology that empowers your reservations agents to work from home. Here’s an outstanding guide on how to rebuild your team with a remote first model. Recent research shows 96% of workers sent home during the pandemic want to work at home permanently.  

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout  

  1. Automate data capture. Existing staff are currently wearing 1,000 different hats and any sort of manual data capture on turndowns, denials, conversion, etc. has gone out the window as team members triage all of the tasks they are required to do. Setting aside the long-term ramifications of that data loss, the immediate risk is lost revenue and burnout. Automating data capture reduces the amount of time your agents spend on non-revenue-generating tasks and helps them prioritize their workflow and be more effective throughout the course of the day. Already have automated data capture? Great! Augment this by investing in digital marketing tools that will provide “air coverage” for agents to focus their energy on the phones while the email robots nurture leads digitally.
  2. Invest in a lead management system. Give them the right technology tools to work more effectively. The ability to streamline agent workflow and prioritize follow-up based upon lead value provides structure to your team’s day and helps them to focus on the important tasks, not just the urgent ones.
  3. Deploy a comprehensive sales incentive plan. The well-established reality is that people respond well to being recognized and rewarded for their hard work. Every incentive plan is different, but our recommendation is to reward based on conversion improvement, data capture compliance, booking accuracy, and call flow adherence. This will increase job satisfaction among your existing team while simultaneously giving you a competitive advantage in hiring new agents, because word travels fast.

It is imperative that we recognize our back-of-house and front line teams for what they are – the true backbone of this industry. Give them the tools, support, and compensation that they deserve, which will serve them as an employee and generate greater revenues for your property.

Author: Jack Newkirk, Enterprise Sales Consultant, NAVIS