HospitalityProfessional Comment

Disengaged and Disconnected? Improving Interaction With Frontline Employees

By Robert Darling, COO & CCO at mobile-first technology firm Eko (

The hospitality industry has the highest percentage of millennial employees compared with other industries (49.9%) and most of them are frontline non-desk staff. When it comes to interaction and development, research shows that today’s younger workforce don’t want to learn and progress via paper-based methods. They want immediate feedback from their leadership in line with their training and career progression. This can be difficult in what is predominantly a widely dispersed workforce. It’s easy to become disconnected and isolated from the team, which impacts not just on employee wellbeing but on engagement and productivity too.

When staff are disengaged or disconnected they are no longer passionate about their job. Key signs might be reduced concentration, an inability to complete tasks, increased mistakes or errors, lack of visible effort and a lethargic mentality to complete the bare minimum. Going the extra mile for customers doesn’t factor into this, neither does looking for new challenges or taking on new responsibilities. In a similar vein, absenteeism is likely to increase too as employees take regular sick days, which can be particularly hard on hotels and food service businesses during busy seasonal periods.

Nowhere to hide

The difficulty is, hospitality is such a customer-centric and people-facing industry. From the receptionist to the waiting staff and the gardener, there is nowhere to hide. Listening to guest requests and ensuring customer satisfaction is part of the role, moment to moment. The industry attracts a lot of younger workers wanting to avoid being sat behind a desk, with flexible hours and hands-on work.

In a predominantly non-desk environment people are often constantly on their feet and the team is usually dispersed across various locations, responsible for different tasks. Without the ability to connect with team members ‘in the moment’, inclusion becomes difficult and employees can soon feel isolated from their team and leaders. It becomes much harder to communicate with each other and to form strong, personal and professional bonds, which are essential for good team camaraderie and a sense of community and belonging. It also means important workplace updates and changes often don’t reach everyone transparently, accurately or at the right time. Because of this, non-desk workers are more likely to fall out of the loop on changes or updates that occur and can easily become siloed.

As the hospitality industry continues to evolve at pace, so too does the need to retain talent and build close-knit, productive and happy teams. Cases of workplace related mental illness are at an all time high and culture is suffering too. But in an industry saturated with millennial workers, businesses need to work smarter in line with how this generation best responds and interacts. Now more than ever, there is a widespread expectation for technology to support communications in the hospitality sector just as in daily life.

Barriers to tech may impact ability to connect

Interestingly many firms are still hesitant to introduce new channels of communication to their workforce because they fear that the use of technology and digital devices will hinder the ‘human touch’ that the industry relies on. This barrier could impact the ability to engage and connect with staff in real time during their working day. Since most young workers are looking to advance their skills through hands-on experience, businesses have to ensure that they widen the channels of communication and access to development in a familiar way that people can relate to.

Many hospitality firms today are turning to mobile communications technology to reach out to young non-desk talents efficiently and in a relatable way. We live in a very ‘instant-led’ world today and it is important for the industry to be able to connect and give feedback to staff in an accessible way, anywhere, anytime. Whether that means sharing a compliment about a member of staff, rewarding someone for going the extra mile or simply making a company wide announcement.

What a millennial employee looks for in their employer is vastly different to that of previous generations. They want a close-knit relationship with their managers and to receive constant feedback as part of ongoing conversations rather than via annual reviews. They want to learn from a manager that acts as a coach rather than a boss, prefer to focus on developing their strengths rather than fixing their weaknesses, and deem growth has a huge part of their takeaway from a job. Overall, there is a major shift away from prioritising stability and high salary towards prioritising valuable experiences that help them grow as individuals.

Opening more channels of communication

As a sector, there is a need to open more communication channels and encourage more contact hours between frontline staff and management. That means businesses need to look for communication methods that are suitable to the many operational pillars that come with the nature of non-desk work. It’s also important that these conversations happen on an individual, team-based and company-wide basis to ensure that nothing falls through the gaps and all employees are included.

Opening channels for two-way conversations and feedback is crucial, as it enables staff to feel like they can contribute their ideas to the workplace operations with a voice that is valued. Teams will only truly succeed long terms in an environment that is open and transparent and makes staff feel welcomed and engaged.