The hospitality industry currently finds itself facing a strong, abrupt need to adapt. The National Restaurant Association reports a shortage of more than 3 million workers from expected levels. Hotels are struggling to attract hourly workers, just as a post-COVID boom in travel is expected, and the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from March show a whopping 8.1 million open positions. As many restaurants and hotels return to their full capacities for the first time in more than a year, the industry is challenged with significant pressure to attract good and reliable talent – especially in the hourly category, which is vital for everyday operations and meeting customer service expectations.In a new twist for operators, low-wage workers find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having the upper hand. It’s absolutely a job-seeker’s market right now.
Help Wanted: Everywhere
Here are some recent headlines from Hospitality Technology: Chipotle has taken to TikTok in an effort to hire 15,000 employees. Papa John’s International Inc. announced new hiring, referral and appreciation bonuses for its 14,000 front-line team members in the company’s corporate restaurants and supply chain. Taco Bell launched a hiring spree to hire 5,000 employees in one day. These moves come as most restaurant operators say that their current staffing levels are below normal. Some believe low wages are driving away restaurant staff.
To date, expanded unemployment benefits have provided a cushion for workers who might otherwise be making comparatively lower wages on the job – in some cases affording them the ability to be more selective as they seek jobs that offer better work-life environments and more attractive perks.
[[According to a recent report from JobList, hospitality workers are transitioning out of the industry in search of a different work setting (52%), higher pay (45%), better benefits (29%), and more schedule flexibility (19%).]]
Hospitality jobs often require close interaction with constantly changing groups of people. It’s no surprise, then, that some workers might feel safer moving to “lower-contact” jobs, or having more flexible work schedules, particularly as concerns over COVID-19 transmission and the potential of new strains continue to be top of mind for frontline workers. Restauranteurs can use this insight to incrementally automate certain responsibilities and invest that freed up human labor toward newer, more efficient areas of the business to achieve both a better customer and worker environment.
Navigating the New Workforce Dynamics through technology
Given the current environment, this is the time for business owners to embrace change – many see the labor shortage as the most pressing danger for revival. Some restaurants and hotels have begun to reevaluate their culture and the benefits that they have offered employees. Many now are offering unprecedented incentives to attract and retain workers, such as offering upfront cash to come in for an interview, bigger referral bonuses and higher pay for current employees, sign-on and retention bonuses, more flexible work schedules, and even providing tuition reimbursement or assistance in paying down student loan debt. Providing early access to earned wages is another way that many employers are helping smooth out cash flow issues that employees may face.
Activating an instant workforce requires a robust infrastructure and strategic execution, and technology can be a tool to help manage the immediate gaps in the workforce both in recruiting, onboarding and in engaging and retaining employees. Having a cloud-based human capital management solution is one consideration. Being able to set up career pages that reflect the culture and benefits means that employers can attract and hire people that will more likely to stay. By offering flexible pay, distributing sign-on bonuses and managing benefits and scheduling seamlessly – right at hire – is a real-time solution to help operators quickly scale their staff.
Beyond the back-end labor support, the hospitality industry shouldn’t forget there’s been significant progress in new technology tools that make the workplace more attractive to staff up and get back in the black. Restaurants in particular have an opportunity to focus on roles with flexible schedules. During the pandemic, many eateries, from expensive steakhouses to local establishments, began offering their own food delivery and pickup options for the first time. This new dining option was greeted with such enthusiasm that many restaurants are expected to continue the service even after the world completely reopens. Restaurants could take advantage of this trend by embracing the novel idea of using remote employees to take delivery and pick-up orders, continuing to feed into the gig economy and the desire for autonomy many new generational workers seek.
There are also new areas in automation to streamline back-of-house duties that can be labor intensive and unappealing to workers. Operational management is another area getting a boost with easier scheduling tools and facial or app-based clock-ins that don’t require complex schedule management. These tools benefit both hourly workers and managers and can help attract talent by creating a more manageable work environment. In the long run, these tools can help reduce labor expenses through the efficiency they bring to the table and place workers in more stimulating areas of the business, thus increasing job satisfaction for a more positive workplace culture, which is highly correlated to retention.
But, of course, some of these new technologies might be a bit difficult to deploy from a cost perspective for smaller operators, which is why owners should consider an incremental approach to adding certain large investments, like self-ordering kiosks. It takes time to see a return on investment for assets like this and with lower margins for many owners timing is very important. Regarding easier-to-adopt technology, of the small-business clients I speak to daily, many have been asking how they can start to move the needle by constructing more effective job descriptions and use tools and resources they either have in place or would consider implementing to make their communication with employees simple and insightful. Using social media is one everyday technology tool any operator can tap into; there’s also an opportunity to use things like app-based surveys built into some HR systems that can help keep a pulse on what’s working and what isn’t to keep satisfaction and retention high.
Plenty of room for growth
Owners are rebuilding the foundations of their businesses knowing they need to be more mindful of their workers when it comes to customer interaction, employee benefits and workforce management. At a time when workers are a hot commodity, no business wants to be branded with a reputation of being a “bad” or “difficult” place to work. Likewise, when employees are treated right, word gets around.
When it comes right down to it, there’s no question that technology can have wide-ranging benefits for the whole industry, for both patron and employee. Some immediate approaches operators can put in place include:
- Implementing technology that helps operators find and attract workers and bring down topline costs; this enables them to offer more competitive salaries and benefits.
- Automating certain routine tasks such as payroll or clocking in-and-out of shifts, which can streamline these processes, making it possible for business owners to shift employees to customer service-oriented positions and pave the way for more advanced and attractive technology for the future workforce.
- Adopting the right software to reduce time spent on paperwork, which can improve overall operational efficiency and reduce costs.
- Offering low-touch solutions for both customers and staff, which demonstrates a serious commitment to health and safety practices that can help attract workers.
I am optimistic that the current state is a temporary transitional period that is giving birth to even better business habits and new attention to workers’ needs. Seeing such a positive development emerge from one of the most difficult years for the hospitality industry is possible when operators have the right technology, insights and strategy in place.