Company Culture and Human Capital

When it comes to resources, human capital is one of the most important for employers in the hospitality marketplace. Unfortunately for hoteliers, employees are also one of the most difficult resources to maintain. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee turnover rates for the restaurants and accommodations sector in 2014 were 66.3 percent, 2.9 percent higher than they were in the total U.S. private sector. Additionally, people quit hospitality jobs at more than twice the average rate of all industries.

So what can hoteliers do to better retain their employees? At Sustain 2016, the Annual Mid-Atlantic Green Hospitality Conference, which took place on March 14 and 15 at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Dover, Del., experts gathered to discuss how sustainability can be applied to all areas of the hospitality industry, including its human capital. A culture-minded panel, featuring Mireille Cottle, vice president of human resources at Marriott International; Shereen Eltobgy, lead coach and consultant for Delivering Happiness; Marie Fukudome, senior manager of environmental affairs for Hyatt; Tammi Runzler, general manager of corporate social responsibility for Clean the World; and Ed Virtue, general manager for Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Washington, D.C., ruminated on what sets hospitality apart from other industries, as well as what employers can do to retain employees in an environment with such high turnover.

The hospitality industry has a unique culture in the business marketplace, as it requires that all employees must have a very specific inherent quality—the desire to take care of other people. “It’s about heartfelt human connections,” Virtue explained. “You can teach people to run systems, but you can’t teach them to want to be nice to people, and that’s what matters.” Unless employers are able to recognize this quality in potential employees up front, it can lead for a long, hard road that, in the end, often has the candidate moving on to another position.

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Ensuring that an employee understands and embodies a company’s values and culture is a process that starts before someone is even hired. “It all has to start in recruiting,” Runzler said. “Once you hire a candidate and bring them on, it’s almost too late. I’m not saying you can’t [instill a company’s values] through really excellent training and development, but some people may be better fits for a different culture.”

Eltobgy concurred. “Our rule of thumb is that it’s about 50 percent skills, experience, and the right person for the job, and 50 percent cultural elements. And having a very clearly defined purpose and meaning behind an establishment, beyond just being a hotel, is very helpful in attracting the right people.”

The experts agreed that the importance of having a common sense of purpose could not be overstated. Beyond uniting employers and employees under a mission, this feeling of camaraderie can also help to stave off employee burnout, which is a noted issue in the hospitality industry. It especially creates feelings of inclusion, which in turn will increase employee loyalty.

Also, while the numbers may look bleak, the panelists were quick to point out that there may be other factors in play. Cottle said, “Turnover can be defined in a lot of different ways. Is it because somebody moved on to another role within the company? Or did they leave entirely? Both are possibilities.”

Virtue added, “[In hospitality] you have seasonal work, you have people moving laterally and experimenting with their job options. People in this market are much more willing to take a role that maybe wasn’t on their path before because they’re interested in the experience.”

Even with the challenges often presented by the culture of the hospitality industry, all of the panelists agreed that the diversity of the people in it make it remarkable, especially from a cultural standpoint. “It’s striking to me that I’m working with people who have engineering backgrounds, people in culinary, accountants, housekeeping, and each of these people are so unique,” Fukudome said. “And working with such a diverse group requires a huge amount of empathy and the ability to look at everyone as individuals and provide care for them so that they can provide that care back to guests.”