The COVID-19 pandemic forced many hotels to furlough or lay off workers because travel came to a near-halt across the country. But, as travel has returned, they now have a tremendous number of job openings and trouble finding the people to fill them.
Pineapple Hospitality, the management company of boutique brand Staypineapple hotels, has created innovative ways to recruit new team members and reward the ones it has—including increased signing and referral bonuses and a sweepstakes with $25,000 in cash prizes.
“As the old saying goes, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” said Mike Hirschler, VP, human resources, Pineapple Hospitality. “And we’ve seen it. In fact, there was a meme that came out this last weekend: ‘The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.’ There are staffing shortages across all industries, but…hospitality is particularly acute. And it’s really forced all employers in our industry and space to think way, way far outside the box from what we used to do before.”
Like many other companies, Pineapple Hospitality has taken a look at its pay structure and bonuses. “We’ve said we need to look at making sure that we are going line by line, position by position in making sure that we are very competitive with our wages,” he said. “We already know our benefits package is pretty competitive. We’ve made an investment there.”
It is especially hard for smaller-scale brands like Staypineapple—which only has 10 properties across the country—to attract employees versus those with wide-scale brand recognition. “It makes it that much more challenging in the battle for talent; we really have to do things that capture the attention of people who would otherwise not consider coming to work for us,” said Hirschler.
It has been competitive with the bonuses, both for hiring and referrals. “What has really gained traction for us is kicking those new things that you’re seeing industry-wide up another level,” he noted. “So, if there’s a big-box brand that’s offering $1,000 hiring and a retention bonus, what are we going to do to get noticed by a candidate is double that amount? We’re going to make it $2,000.”
For current employees, the company increased its referral bonus program by 400%. “We know our people know the best people, so they should be rewarded well for bringing us that great talent,” he said.
Hirschler also believes that current employees can best explain the culture of the organization to potential employees. “One of the phrases we like to kick around at headquarters is, ‘We welcome our team members through the front door, not through an employee entrance, so you’re as important as our guests,’” he said. “It’s an overwhelming sense of family. Part of it is just the way in which the culture of the organization has grown over the last 10 years to ensure that as we bring people on; they feel that sense of connectedness to the organization.”
The company has done everything it can to bring back the employees who were let go because of the pandemic. Just before the pandemic began, it had about 600 employees and by the first quarter of 2021, there fewer than 200, about a two-thirds drop.
Prior to the pandemic, the company had a policy on how long employees coming back could bridge their service time to receive the same benefits. After the pandemic, if a previous employee’s position became available, it waived the wait time so employees could receive the same benefits. “They’d be able to capture their PTO accruals at the same rate they were doing before to make sure that the experience was as easy as possible for them to rejoin the family, and to cut the red tape,” he said. “It wasn’t even in response to what we were to find out was the staffing shortage of the industry. It is just what we believe the right thing to do.”
The company is also promoting working at the company by holding the sweepstakes for hourly employees who have been with the company 60 days prior to the drawing date. The first one is set for Nov. 1. The prizes range from $1,000 to $5,000, with a grand prize of $10,000.
“Every property in our portfolio will hold a $1,000 drawing,” explained Hirschler. “That’s going to make a true impact in somebody’s life, and they’re going to go tell that story. It was that their employer that did that, and that’s the kind of place that you’re going to want to come work.”
The idea for the sweepstakes came about after the HR exec presented the dire hiring situation to the company’s executive leadership council. “I asked the executive team members for ideas and said that no idea was too crazy,” he said. “What I like to call the usual-suspect suggestions were all discussed—the hiring bonus and upping the incentive and upping the referral bonus and doing this and doing that. And then, out of the blue, the chief information officer, David [Thomson], who is a tech guy, literally says, ‘This will never happen, but what if we did a sweepstakes?’”
Hirschler and the rest of the team loved the idea and within 48 ours had a plan in place. “It went to our COO and the owner/founder of the company for approval,” he said. “They provided some great input on ideas to make sure it would be equitable for both our new team members as well as our existing, and we were ready to execute.”
The new programs have already shown dividends. Before the programs came into effect, from early June to early July, the company had 110 open positions. From mid-July to early-August, when it introduced the programs, it had 101 open positions. “Between the time periods, the applicant percentage went up by 180%,” Hirschler said. “Our new-hire percentage went up by 223%. The applicants-per-open-position ratio went up by 195%. We’ve doubled the number of applicants for essentially the same number of open positions.”
The number of referrals also rose, going from two referral bonuses in the three months before the enhanced incentives were introduced to 13 referrals in the two months after.
While Hirschler isn’t sure that all the incentives they have introduced will become permanent, some will. “I can guarantee that a lot of what we’re doing will go into permanency in the realization that the more generous we are with our people, the more they’re going to have loyalty to the brand—and they’re going to want to demonstrate their passion forward to the guest,” he said.