In short:

  • When it comes to staffing, hotels were hit harder than most this past year.
  • Safety concerns and unprecedented unemployment benefits put hospitality HR teams in a hole that’s been difficult to climb out of.
  • Now that business is picking up, it’s time to get creative with hiring channels, org charts and job descriptions.

It’s official: Travel is back. In some states, hotel occupancy rates have increased by 80-100%. However, most current staffing levels can support only a 15-20% increase. Most hospitality firms didn’t expect a return to normal until closer to Q3, and they hired accordingly.

Now, the talent acquisition heat is on, and HR is scrambling to develop creative strategies to entice workers back on-property as quickly as possible. The pressure is also on finance teams to weigh in on whether firms can offer higher wages, bonuses and better benefits to lure workers.

Here are seven considerations for hospitality CFOs and HR leaders to consider as the business restaffs.

1. Take a new look at current staffers.

Traditional hospitality workforce structures are rigid and hierarchical, with employees assigned to very specific functions. That won’t work, at least in the near term. In fact, it could cost you rising stars.

Think about when your business was in crisis: Which team members voluntarily learned new skills, managed a department that was not their own or came up with creative ways to save money or add revenue? We saw team members at all levels step up to motivate peers and demonstrate adaptability. As a result, the industry now has a core set of workers who persevered despite the toughest of circumstances.

This should be obvious: Leaders need to identify and reward these staffers. Performing a talent assessment to document newly-developed competencies and skill sets of current workers — and recognizing them appropriately — is the only way to make sure these gems don’t decamp to a competitor.

Employee retention, always a concern in hospitality, must now expand to include formal talent management and employee engagement efforts.

Here are a few best practices as you develop the strategy:

  • Identify modified and expanded roles, then create job descriptions and pay bands that fit them.
  • Identify KPIs for both new and older roles, and understand how you’ll measure performance.
  • Ensure managers understand the factors that drive employee engagement.

10 Keys to Employee Engagement

Company-wide drivers include making sure all employees:

  1. Understand the business’s near-term goals and long-term strategy.
  2. Understand how they personally factor into those goals and that strategy.
  3. Have the knowledge, support and tools to do their jobs well.
  4. Feel valued and respected by the organization.
  5. Believe that senior and on-site leaders are both competent and committed to creating a positive culture.

Line managers play an important role as well. Make sure supervisors:

  1. Seek out and facilitate learning, mentoring and professional growth opportunities.
  2. Communicate regularly with employees, not just when there’s a complaint.
  3. Avoid showing favoritism, which is corrosive to morale.
  4. Establish goals and let employees have as much discretion as possible in terms of execution.
  5. Are seen as advocates for their reports.

2. Toss out the 2019 org chart.

Related to the above, create an updated organizational chart and job descriptions customized to the current needs of the business. Right now, that need is to staff up quickly and cost-effectively.

Job descriptions should emphasize the role expansion and cross-functional skills we discussed, and that will be beneficial for the next six months and into the new year. For example, there may be a benefit to increasing a supervisor’s wage and broadening the job scope rather than adding another salaried FTE, at least until revenues return fully to 2019 numbers.

In addition:

  • Determine if any work is nonessential right now. Reduce or remove responsibilities that do not align with primary business objectives.
  • Empower leaders at all levels to make decisions. Avoid the unending discussion and debate loops that exhaust a team’s energy.
  • Once a decision is made, give the plan a reasonable amount of time to meet KPIs. If a strategy isn’t paying off after a specified time period, though, kill it and go back to the drawing board.

To see that strategy adjustment in practice, take the example of operations in a full-service hotel. The reality: Food and beverage revenue is slowly returning, but it looks different. Grab-and-go is replacing buffets. Menus are limited to accommodate volume while keeping kitchen staff slim. Room service probably hasn’t been reinstated yet.

What are you doing differently to accommodate those changes? Offering those grab-and-go meals to local businesses as their employees return? Pulling in marketing to reframe limited menus as "seasonal"? Making arrangements with select local eateries to deliver meals for guests?

As for KPIs, housekeeping success is traditionally measured by the number of rooms cleaned per day. With few exceptions, however, daily housekeeping service has been discontinued to reduce in-person interaction between staff and guests. This reduces the number of stay-over rooms assigned to a staff member per day and increases the cleaning needed in check-out rooms.

And in laundry, more focus and staffing are necessary because every item in the room is removed, per most brands’ updated cleanliness standards. For example, a room with two beds gets full linen removal and replenishment, whether the second bed was used or not. Towels folded under a vanity are still removed and cleaned. These extra steps are labor-intensive. Instead of a housekeeper being able to clean 14 to 16 standard rooms in a day, the new labor model and standards may prescribe 12 or fewer — or replacing single workers with two-person teams.

Keeping adaptability in mind, determine which positions should be created at each level, and hire accordingly.

3. Source talent creatively.

For hospitality operations leaders, the No. 1 pain point today is finding talent fast, but that certainly isn’t the only headache. Wages have increased due to high demand for qualified workers, and sign-on bonuses and referral incentives are more heavily advertised than ever. At present, it doesn’t look as though simply increasing wages and benefits will solve the staffing problem, particularly in lower-level roles.

Housekeeping is by far the biggest challenge. An open job can go weeks without a single applicant. As a result, organizations have devised clever new sourcing strategies:

  • Don’t wait for candidates to apply. Find them before your competitor does. Most job boards and career sites offer paid resume-search capabilities on a monthly or per-contact basis. Getting notified of a new housekeeping resume within a five-mile radius of the business is valuable.
  • Network with the local unemployment office. Workforce rehabilitation specialists and job developers know who is actively looking for work and where to find them.
  • Flex traditional job assignments to accommodate internship requirements. As the semester ends, technical school students, college students and recent high school grads are looking for experience and summer wages.
  • Advertise flexible hours to attract parents who left the workforce over the past year. Maybe the candidate’s ideal schedule is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a housekeeping position, for example, estimate that eight to 10 standard guestrooms will be cleaned in those five hours.

While line-level positions are posing a challenge to staff, it is arguably an employer’s market regarding exempt positions. Strategic downsizing across many industries, not just hospitality, has increased the caliber of available candidates, and many are willing to stretch their search parameters to be reemployed. Support for relocation and the opportunity to work remotely are more valuable, in some cases, than salary.

As discussed in our first two points, by adjusting job descriptions, desired skills and competencies, candidates who may not have considered hospitality in the past are now in play.

recruitment metrics

25 Recruitment Metrics for Data-Driven Human Capital Management: Show an ROI on your recruiting process by calculating these critical metrics — and get details on making the calculation process easier.

4. Adopt 2021 cleanliness and safety protocols to reassure both customers and employees.

The American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA) has an evolving safety standard for customers and employees called Safe Stay. Safe Stay is endorsed by all major U.S. hotel brands, plus associations in all 50 states and Canada. The initiative presents guidelines for cleaning, social interaction and workplace protocols.

A few points:

  • Supply employees with information about the vaccine and where to obtain it. Many hotels have become vaccine host sites. You can’t mandate vaccination, but a carefully designed incentive can encourage it.
  • Promote use of face coverings, hand-washing and availability of hand sanitizer. They may have been removed from state and local mandates, but a place of business has the responsibility to continue those policies.
  • Provide staff training in guest and updated cleaning protocols.
  • Conduct staff meetings with proper social distancing, and reiterate that housekeeping never enters a guest room during a stay unless requested and approved by management. Consider using technology to reduce customer contact, like mobile check-in and check-out kiosks.

Top 3 Employee KPIs to Track

  1. Overall satisfaction: Base this on a survey that gauges satisfaction with the organization and the employee’s department, supervisor and day-to-day job on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale.
  2. Retention: Calculate your retention rate using this formula: (Employees at end of period / employees at start of period) * 100
  3. Absenteeism: Add up the number of unplanned absences vs. the total number of planned workdays. The delta is your KPI for absenteeism.

Find 9 more employee experience metrics and KPIs.

5. Refresh HR on new legal requirements in hiring.

In April 2021, California passed Senate Bill 93 (SB-93) addressing the right to recall, rehire and retain staff from furlough or layoff. Creating communication systems to comply with the regulation — in California and other states — became a high priority.

SB-93 requires organizations to offer newly posted positions to workers who were laid off due to the pandemic. If an associate was 1) employed for six months or more preceding Jan. 1, 2020 and 2) separated from active work for a COVID-19-related reason, that associate is entitled to be recalled rather than HR hiring a new employee to fill the position. Employers in other states may create policies like California’s, so these best practices are also a defense against liability risks.

Best practices include:

  • Publicize internal and external postings to reach former employees. Rigorously document the avenues of communication used, such as group text, private LinkedIn announcements, letters in the mail or email blast. Ensure outreach is inclusive.
  • Ensure hiring managers are trained on proper interviewing techniques. Some recent interview practices are cringeworthy. For example, it’s not permissible to ask, "Does your family situation, with children schooling at home, allow you to travel?" Instead, ask, "Are you available to travel 50% of the time?"
  • Stay away from medically-based interview questions. "Have you had COVID?" or "Any prior worker’s comp claims?" are verboten.

As always, retain notes from employment interviews for a minimum of two years.

6. Identify your employer value proposition (EVP).

While you need to be competitive, money isn’t the only thing that attracts new employees. Here are some other factors that can boost your value proposition:

  • Traditional paid leave plans are on the wane as companies move away from tiered paid time off policies to PTO banks. However, common questions from candidates now revolve around paid sick leave in the event of short- or long-term illness. A strong EVP response from employers may be to revert back to separately accrued sick days, vacation time and other eligible days off.
  • A medical plan that provides high-quality coverage, accessible customer service and the most expansive network possible is very attractive. High out-of-pocket costs are a primary concern for many job seekers.
  • The organic benefits of working in hospitality can be a draw in themselves. Common and notable perks include free meals, uniform cleaning, and discounts on rooms, food, beverages and amenities. The same goes for free parking, especially in urban settings. If your property doesn’t offer free parking, you might solicit transportation subsidies from local government agencies for little to no cost.

Once you package your EVP in terms of wages, benefits and culture, make sure your team communicates it during the interview, offer and onboarding processes. Failure to sell it can cost you viable candidates and valuable employees.

7. Allocate 2021 talent acquisition monies after measuring KPIs.

We previously covered ways HR can work with other teams to proactively manage KPIs related to human capital and get a granular view of costs across the organization.

Today, HR and finance teams need to know exactly where money is going when seeking candidates. A human resources management system (HRMS) can run reports to compare source effectiveness — helping you determine when a hiring channel isn’t working and it’s time to move your money elsewhere. See if a vendor has a free trial period so you can try before you buy.

An HRMS can also create job requisitions and descriptions, manage resumes, track applicants through the recruiting process, extend job offers, perform background checks, administer pre-employment screenings and more. Consider this: The typical hospitality company currently has four times the open positions it had in 2019 and roughly half the HR or talent acquisition (TA) staff. If prescreen questions during the application process or an automatic virtual scheduler saves a TA a phone call or email, you can reallocate those labor dollars to sourcing qualified applicants.

The Bottom Line

Use the best practices above to appropriately restaff your hospitality business in 2021 — one percentage point of occupancy at a time.