Avoiding a Hotel Labor Shortage Starts With a Promise of Safety

Hotel employee at the front desk

The hotel industry has faced unprecedented job losses and financial challenges over the course of the pandemic. As more U.S. adults are vaccinated and leisure travel accelerates, hotel owners are optimistic that occupancy rates will rise across the country. Yet, a new challenge has emerged as employers in the industry face a labor shortage, stalling recovery efforts.

Recruiting and retaining skilled workers has always been a struggle, but it has been further compounded by the pandemic. Talent is crucial to returning the industry to pre-pandemic performance levels, which is why understanding and a renewed focus on safety will re-energize the workforce.

Rebuilding Trust Is Paramount

First, it’s important to understand the impact the pandemic has had on hospitality’s labor force. Women hold the majority of positions, specifically within housekeeping. Those with families have been more directly affected as they navigate childcare with virtual schooling and closed daycare centers.

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Last year, millions of workers were furloughed, laid off, brought back, and furloughed again. Those who stayed have reached “burnout” levels, as they’ve worn multiple hats, from working the front desk to cleaning rooms and doing laundry. On top of that, hotels are decentralizing front desk operations, reducing labor needs in the future.

Communication and empathy will be essential to rebuild trust with existing and new employees and to help workers overcome the trauma of feeling disposable or distressed. One way to accomplish this is to prioritize creating an equitable and inclusive culture where workers feel valued.

An example of this is ensuring employees who take on more responsibilities are compensated for the extra work. Another is to provide more stability in schedules, allowing employees to plan ahead—especially for their daycare needs. These will help workers feel empowered as they conduct their day-to-day responsibilities.

Reevaluate Compensation if Possible

As debates heat up on why workers aren’t going back to work, the underlying sentiment from hospitality workers is that better pay would help. A higher wage compensates for the risk they’re taking coming back to work, like exposure to COVID-19 and the added stress of facing unruly guests who do not adhere to social distancing or mask protocols. That’s on top of the existing risks in an industry where 58 percent of housekeepers experience sexual harassment on the job and service workers are more prone to injuries due to overexertion.

Increased salaries can also negate workers from looking at switching careers, some economists believe. Some hotels are providing retention bonuses to keep staff motivated as well.

Deliver Peace of Mind With Increased Safety Protocols

Once workers trust an organization and they’re paid fairly, they want to believe that their employer cares for them and will ensure their physical safety. The hotel workforce deserves peace of mind. Historically, that hasn’t been the case. Harassment, injuries, and risk exposure have sapped morale and created hesitation when applying to jobs.

The implementation of panic buttons can help alleviate some of these safety concerns, lowering staff turnover rate and improving employee satisfaction numbers. This technology can be used to report worker injuries and guests experiencing medical conditions, and even as a recruitment tool. It’s not uncommon in today’s environment for job applicants to ask employers if they are protected by panic buttons.

AHLA’s 5-Star Promise, an industry safety initiative that pledges to provide hotel employees across the country with personal safety devices and work on policies, training, and resources that enhance hotel safety, has been backed by tens of thousands of hotels across the country. Groups like UNITE HERE! have also made progress as they canvass around the country to improve wages and benefits within specific labor unions. Support continues to build, and the industry can leverage the urgency of today’s labor shortage to make meaningful change.

As hotels begin to add more staff for an anticipated surge in demand, the most efficient way to recruit and retain employees for long-term success is to help them feel taken care of across the board. When employees’ basic needs and wellbeing are prioritized, studies show businesses benefit as productivity, morale, and retention increase.

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Yasmine Mustafa is the co-founder and CEO of ROAR for Good, a technology company dedicated to cultivating safer workplaces.