The next generation hotel workplace requires putting our people first

By Jessica Kramer

Airports are crowded. Conferences are selling out. Rooms are booked. Hotel lobbies are bustling. By most accounts, the hotel industry should be stronger than ever. But that’s not how it feels if you’re a hotelier.

The foundation of our industry is the workers who create the magical guest experiences for our guests. But as is much discussed, they are becoming increasingly difficult to find and we are desperately struggling to fill open positions.

A recent survey from the AHLA found that nearly 87% of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages and 36% of those hotels say the shortage is “severe.”

This is the result of a seismic shift in worker expectations, set off not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by recent cultural and societal changes: Hotel associates are rightly demanding greater flexibility, increased transparency and a renewed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Those are benefits and rights they are finding in other work environments—and the hotel industry needs to keep pace.

At the same time, the impact of wage inflation coupled with unprecedented retirement from the baby boomer generation with decades of hotel experience, means hoteliers are working harder and paying more to find new staff and retain the great teams we already have.

In order to be competitive for this new generation of workers, the entire industry must come together and take equally powerful measures to create workplaces that meet—and exceed—this new set of expectations.

The good news is that it’s possible—and the right technology can help us make progress quickly. Doing so will not only help fill open roles and retain existing team members, it will also have a positive impact on guest experiences and the bottom line.
How do we create workplaces that are attractive to this new generation of workers and what role can technology play?

Here are five principles that can guide hoteliers:

Cultivate engagement and community
It may sound obvious in an age of hyper-connectivity, but today’s hotel employees value and demand a sense of engagement and community more than any previous generation. At every level, team members want a sense of purpose, to understand how their work fits into the organization’s overall goals, to feel that their work has value beyond pay alone.

Many of the most successful brands begin this community-building with ongoing and interactive training on mission, vision, core values and business goals that help individuals connect their work to the larger organization. Creating support and mentorship networks can also help drive personal connection. These networks are especially valuable for younger team members, who benefit tremendously from having peers and supervisors to lean on and learn from.

More than ever, today’s workforce values a culture of recognition. Managers can be empowered to build in a combination of structured and impromptu recognition moments that ensure team members feel seen for their work.

Hotels can begin by evaluating the technology systems its team uses to ensure they provide opportunities for connection and celebration. Honoring personal and professional milestones helps create a strong foundation of community.

These efforts will pay off: Research has demonstrated that work environments that foster community and connection earn greater employee trust, loyalty—and ultimately, productivity.

Empower team members (with the right technology)
The digital transformation era is often discussed in relation to transforming the guest experience with digital engagement tools like OTAs, metasearch, mobile check-in and guest apps. On the business side, we talk about PMS, revenue management software and marketing automation. These are all important elements of a transformed digital hotel technology stack.

At the same time, the employee experience is crucially important to a business’ bottom line—and the right employee-centered technology can deliver equally transformational benefits.

The key point is implementing solutions that support productive collaboration among associates. Social media-like features, gamification, goal tracking, transparent reporting and messaging can come together inside operational tools to not only increase productivity, but help make work more fun and less frustrating for individuals.

Every piece of your tech stack must deliver a positive ROI to your bottom line—that’s a given. For that reason, it’s important that the ROI conversation include employee experience—because the right technology helps hotels attract and retain the best talent. This can be as important to your bottom line as technology that impacts costs or revenue streams. The best tech can do all three.

Commit to diversity
According to recent research, minorities and women comprise, respectively, 60% and 40% of the hotel front line.

Fostering diversity involves hiring a diverse force, pushing for equity in pay and equal working conditions, but it also must extend to ensuring we listen and learn from the wealth of experiences and perspectives provided by team members from different backgrounds, upbringings and geographic origins.

The right technology choices can help ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion extend beyond just hiring practices, and actually help shape and respond to the day-to-day experience of a team’s member job.

Consider tools that include translation. Ensuring that the technology everyone is using is accessible in their preferred language—not just the language of hotel management—can have a tremendous impact not just on staff productivity and the ROI of the software, but also helping to create a culture of inclusivity and belonging. Our ability to hire often depends on a strategy that utilizes a global workforce, and our tech must be able to keep up.

The same is true for literacy. The best hotel operational systems are usable regardless of a person’s level of literacy—everything from onboarding, training and daily usage should be supported with features that make the technology accessible to anyone doing the real-life job these tools support.

Envision the future together
If we want to hire, nurture and retain talented team members, we need to help them envision their future and ensure that future reflects their personal priorities and career ambitions.

This begins with involving teammates in discussions related to their own growth, and the growth of the company. Individuals need to understand what success looks like, including what criteria are used to judge performance and how achieving those personal success metrics help the overall business succeed.

To achieve that, hoteliers should consider developing transparent growth plans that tie specifically to metrics associates can monitor. For example, a housekeeping success metric to be considered for a promotion might be to beat expected turn times, 90% of the time, without sacrificing quality. Relying on the right operational platforms for that insight will allow the manager, and staff, to monitor their performance against that goal.

This can help drive positive engagement with your technology systems, while removing ambiguity around what success looks like and what the business values.

Never lose sight of the guest
Happier employees deliver better customer experiences—that’s more important than ever in a post-pandemic world in which guest expectations are sky high and staff are being asked to do more with less.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Powerful words from Sir Richard Branson that ring especially true in hospitality, where every guest interaction is a “moment of truth” that helps define a hotel’s brand, reputation, profitability and, most importantly, customer satisfaction and loyalty.

To be clear, there is no silver bullet to solve our industry’s labor crisis.

But with all industry players coming together—and prioritizing a people-first approach driven by the right kind of technology—we can make the hotel industry an even more attractive place to work, grow and succeed.

Jessica Kramer is CEO/cofounder of Lodgistics.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.