Why staff engagement is critical to your hotel success

There’s plenty of evidence, both anecdotal and statistical, to show an actively engaged and motivated staff will dramatically improve a guest’s attitude which ultimately translates to the success of your business. So how do we achieve this while the hospitality sector is faced with the challenge of skilled labour shortage?

October 25, 2021

I was a guest at a hotel with my family a couple of years ago at the start of the pandemic, and the experience has stayed with me for the wrong reasons.

Although the facilities of the resort-styled hotel were top-notch, the property was under-manned. The staff were noticeably overstretched. As a result, the service was poor.

I was not the only guest who felt this way. Judging by some of the harsh TripAdvisor reviews later left by the largely domestic clientele, it was clear that the shortage of personnel had negatively impacted everyone’s experience.

With occupancies in some urban markets registering stronger weekends and softer weekdays, it can be a challenge for hotels to maintain the right number of well-trained staff, not mention the industry had no real choice but to tighten their belts significantly. As was the case with my stay, underestimating the necessary staff numbers can have disastrous consequences for a hotel’s reputation.

This scenario has also take a toll on existing staff, who may be burned out from trying to accommodate large numbers of short-stay guests. Especially during these turbulent times, I have observed many competent hotel staff leaving the hospitality industry for less erratic working conditions or additional income.

Right now, with some recovery in sight, hotel operators are not coping with the added challenge of securing enough workers for vacancies in frontline roles. Most prospective employees in cities are not interested in the less glamorous positions in housekeeping and back-of-house work. Further, entry-level administrative roles do not consistently provide high financial incentives or clearly outline growth opportunities, it can be difficult to attract qualified applicants.

To me, there is a misalignment of what the available workforce is seeking and what the industry needs.

It’s time for the hospitality industry to disrupt its own approach, to perhaps learn from other industries and incorporate best practices. In order to address staffing issues, I believe we need to reinvent how we think about hotel operations, talent management and compensation programs from the ground up. This is the moment to put all the options on the table, evaluate what works and develop viable long-term solutions.

I hear many discussions regarding a multiskilled workforce but have yet to see roles that are actually designed, advertised and structured as such. Clearly outlined multi-functional opportunities are a prime means of attracting talent. By exploring permanent part-time positions instead of standard eight-hour shifts, operators can tap into a potential workforce looking for greater flexibility.

With regard to the existing workforce, I believe that owners and operators need to emphasise communication and engagement more than ever. For far too long, the hierarchy of communication in hotels has meant that frontline workers have limited access to information, which can create a sense of uncertainty, and worse still, speculation. No one can afford to lose skilled employees at this critical juncture. Both owners and operators need to be transparent with their staff about the current state of the industry, the hotel’s position in it and what the future holds.

Based on my asset management experience, when business objectives are clearly communicated, frontline teams become more actively involved in doing everything possible to support the overarching business goals and service standards. We see this through continuous improvement in guest sentiments scores and direct guest feedback albeit under tighter manning conditions.

Finally, training is fundamental to success. While all operators have robust training programs, in my experience, the follow-through of these programs is key to driving results. What is needed is clear target-setting, progress monitoring and recognition programs. For example, when hotels implement a room upselling program in which departments receive financial incentives for hitting set targets, performance consistently improves.

While this model is highly successful, I have noticed that only a few hotels have tried adapting it to other areas of service, such as Food & Beverage outlets or spa operations. What if operators set up clear financial incentives for upselling beverages or for achieving stretched revenue targets? The same strategy should apply to keeping costs low. By offering team incentives for innovative ideas on how to be more efficient, operators can reduce spending.

Highly skilled and motivated staff have never been more essential to success. Through enhanced two-way communication and engagement on all levels, hotel operators can foster a sense of ownership during difficult times. This empowers the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and growth mindset that I believe this industry needs right now. The status quo will only make delivering results more challenging, which means it is time for agile, out-of-the-box thinking to be put to action.