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  • Kent Comfort

Staffing Difficulties Can Sometimes be Self-Inflicted Injuries

Once again, because of a Hotel News Now story, I am inspired to share my thoughts about another important challenge we hoteliers are confronted with today.

The source of inspiration is a report filed by Sean McCracken in the HNN August 30 issue about industry wide struggles with maintaining adequate staffing in all positions. The story indicated much of this issue is likely related to the Covid roller coaster ride we all experienced.

In short, a common action in our industry was to lay off much of the staff because occupancy went to near zero.Events were cancelled and business travel ceased, to mention just a couple of reasons. When America began to move again and hotel establishments put out a call to come back to work, the response was tepid, or worse.

No one would argue that Covid impacted staffing leading to severe shortages. But I think we need to admit that the industry already had a staff hiring and retention problem before Covid arrived, just not as serious or visible.

For years, in my conversations with managers, staff shortages came up as a topic very commonly. And this was the case regardless of size or classification of hotel, ranging from large international brands to mom-and-pop roadside locations. And I will say right here that the reason for these shortages was and is essentially the same regardless of type of establishment.

And here is the short version of that reason: the work is treated and profiled as very hard and unrewarding, and the compensation is very low. What a great opportunity, right? I recently enjoyed watching a TED talk by Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor who teaches an internationally renowned course titled “Justice”. In the referenced TED talk, he dwelled for a time on the issue of dignity of work.

Sandel lamented that we have lost our respect and appreciation for so many jobs that are so critical to a healthy society that it would collapse if there suddenly were no one willing to perform them. We have made the mistake of degrading some of these jobs to the extent that people believe it reflects on their self-worth and social status if they accept them. I believe that in part, this problem permeates the hospitality business across the board.

Work in the hospitality sector is very demanding in every position. We are always racing against the clock, resolving unexpected problems, dealing with unhappy and unappreciative guests, coping with any number of physical plant challenges, then we get up in the morning and do this all over again every day. And let’s look another fact straight in the eye while we are at it. Generally speaking, compensation for most hospitality jobs is not top of the class compared to many other categories. I wish that were not the case, but look, it just is.

Many of our staffing difficulties are self-inflicted injuries. For example, the typical pay rate for housekeeping and front desk staff is abysmally low. One need not be a math genius to extrapolate the problems that emanate from that fact. So, I will not go deeper with that. The irony of this reality is that those two positions in any hotel have far greater impact on the guest experience than virtually every other department in the hotel. Think about that! They are our reputation builders or destroyers, no exception to that rule! When contemplating this, what ideas start filling your thoughts about how we can make these members of our guest services team feel proud and fulfilled in their vital roles? This reaches beyond the issue of pay rates, of course. But it is no less important.

And regarding those pay rates, I know from my own experience that a little bump in the rate makes a big difference regarding recruiting new staff in my market, and they recognize that we are trying to improve every aspect of their lives. And guess what? It has not negatively impacted profits at all!

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