Professional Comment

Staff Perspectives: How Industry Operators Can Boost Retention

Staff shortages, long working hours and management stress are all accepted facets to working in the hospitality industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has admittedly led to increased pressures around recruitment and retention, but no one can wholeheartedly say this is a new problem.

The challenges surrounding staffing, and the shortage of good candidates, is endemic in hospitality the world over. So how can the industry mitigate this problem?

As a first step, hospitality, tourism and events management operators should seek to understand, train and advocate for their workforce. Businesses must also include the viewpoint of their staff in all management decisions. As it stands, the lack of awareness of the needs of those with their feet on the ground within these industries is illuminating, and this extends to their training and management.

Hospitality is a vibrant and fast-paced industry to be part of, and many would argue it is the best place to work. However, when management ‘manage’ teams within narrow profit margins, and training and career progression are vague and de-pri- oritised, it is understandable why staff are reluctant to apply for work, or remain in employment long-term.

Understanding staff perspectives can go a long way towards solving resourcing issues in the industry. Importantly, there is a gap in existing training and education for their roles, and staff are often not equipped to deal with the challenging encounters present in hospitality.There is a sector-wide organisational cultural assumption that staff should learn how to deal with problematic encounters with customers and colleagues

‘on the job’ and this presumption leads to higher turnover. Instead, management should prepare staff for potential issues in service encounters, equip them with confidence and the ability to deal with issues, and advocate on their behalf in every situation.

Focussing on customer opinion and management need will never solve a problem when the industry is founded upon the staff creating and delivering the service.The hospitality sector is the UK’s third-largest private sector employer, and accounts for 10 per cent of employment, but too often the needs of its staff are relegated.

Improved workforce training across the industry, and at all levels, can help embed effective recruitment and retention strategies within businesses. For instance, if management knows there is a different front and back of house culture, then it’s important it relays this to its team and explains how it should be utilised professionally.

Or on the restaurant or bar floor, if there is a possibility that a customer could respond disrespectfully to the front of house team, then it is vital staff are prepared for how to respond professionally, and understand how management will support them. If a business serves alcohol, and there is a potential for drunk customers to become aggressive, then giving teams the skills they need to manage those situations will help to diffuse difficult encounters – a particularly important issue in the run up to the festive season.

This rule should also extend to company culture and policy. For example, if a business has a uniform which could be seen as ‘gendered,’ then its management team must clarify to potential recruits how they can alter this to suit each individual.

Delivering improved training, and keeping the day-to-day experience of staff at the heart of a business, will naturally lead to increased competence in the labour force, and drive retention. Competent and successful staff will also boost the service experience for customers – a valuable bonus given the current fragility of the UK hospitality industry.

Dr Miriam Firth is a senior lecturer in environment, education and development at the University of Manchester.