Hospitality’s Image Problem (and What You Can Do About It)
May 07, 2017 | 2978 Views
As the economy has gotten stronger during the past few years, it has become harder and harder for employers in almost every industry to find qualified workers. In fact, according to a 2016 report from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, more than two-thirds of surveyed organizations said they were having difficulty filling certain positions, a statistic that increased from 50% in 2013.
The hospitality industry, of course, has not been immune to this problem. When asked “How concerned is your company with the following workforce related challenges?” during the recent CHART Training Trends study, 74% of hotel and restaurant respondents said that they were either “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” about recruitment (the highest percentage among all of the problems listed), and an additional 26% of survey-takers were “somewhat concerned” or “concerned.” Zero percent of respondents said they were “not concerned” for this question.
One of the reasons I believe that recruiting has become such a particular challenge is that our industry, at least when considering all employers as a whole, has an image problem. We are generally perceived poorly by prospective job-seekers, especially in comparison to the science and technology sectors, and often end up near the bottom when people rank career desirability for what I believe is a variety of reasons:
First, whenever there’s a general news article about possible laws to increase in the minimum wage, offer paid sick leave to employees, or improve employee scheduling, it’s almost inevitable that a hospitality business owner will be quoted in that article warning about the consequences of such a law, such as either closing down or replacing employees with robots and kiosks. These owners might be right about the eventual long-term effects if enacted, but they still can come across as anti-progressive profiteers who are unsympathetic to their employees’ needs. After a few years of this portrayal as the “bad guys” in these situations, who can blame folks from reconsidering a career with bosses that place their profits over their people?
What about when the media does a story that’s actually about hotels and restaurants – how are we portrayed then? Outside of thinly disguised press releases about new unit openings or puff pieces that rank local hot spots, the answer is frequently negatively, with common topics covered including foodborne illness outbreaks, business failures, and raids on undocumented workers. Additionally, one doesn’t have to look too hard to find sensationalized internet articles such as “The Manager Was Selling Coke To Staff; The Truth About Top Restaurants” or “Hotel Workers Confess What They Really Do When You're Not Around” that offer to pull back the curtain and expose the worst possible behavior in our locations.
Staff turnover in hospitality is ridiculously high; we might be thrilled if we could lower our rate from 150% to 100%, but in almost any other industry, a 100% turnover would be an enormous cause for concern. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, “workers in leisure and hospitality had the lowest median tenure” of positions in the private sector and “food service workers had the lowest median tenure” among those employed in service occupations. These figures simply do not project an image of stable long-term employment to those looking entering the job market, and it definitely adds to the stress of those already in our industry as their jobs becomes much more difficult with the consistent churn of co-workers (not to mention it’s terribly expensive for the businesses!).
Any guesses what some of the lowest-paying jobs are according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics? Well, the bottom 25 positions in 2016 included cashiers, food servers, counter attendants, dining room attendants, host/hostesses, food preparers, cooks, dishwashers, and maids/housekeepers (front desk clerks didn’t make the cut this time, but they have in previous years). That list comprises many of the jobs in our industry, which again, does not portray us in a positive light to prospective employees.
- Finally, television certainly does not help in this regard, as our workers are often stereotyped as unsuccessful, uneducated, or unhappy people. Characters in scripted programs such as Caroline and Max on Two Broke Girls, Christy on Mom, and Penny on The Big Bang Theory (at least during her serving days at the Cheesecake Factory) are not only shown to be incompetent at their jobs, but also scrape by on low incomes and talk about how unfulfilled they are with their employment situations. Now, we do see some successful folks in unscripted TV shows, such as Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen, but he spends a good deal of time screaming at or berating contestants for their poor performance. These examples of fictional and reality-based portrayals of hospitality might make for good television, but they probably don’t encourage people to join our ranks.
So what can we do to improve this situation and become the industry of choice for those looking for great careers? Obviously it took a long time to get where we are, and it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to change the situation. But there are a few things that I believe that every hospitality professional can do today to start turning things around, and they mirror the guiding principles of CHART:
Learning – Every time you are out in the field, move past the small talk about the weather or recent guest count trends and ask your staffers what they really think about working at your hotel or restaurant (the more candid they can be, the more you will actually learn about them). What do they like and dislike about their jobs What challenges are they facing? What do they want to accomplish while working there? Are they aware of your company’s career path, and if so, what steps are they taking to move up? What benefits are they most interested in earning? Additionally, if you have the authority and opportunity, start conducting exit interviews to find out the real reasons why your staff is leaving (and not just management’s version of events). Use what you learn from these conversations to start building a plan so you can eliminate employee-defined obstacles to success, keep workers employed at your company, and allow them to reach their professional goals.
Sharing – If you enact a strategy, policy, or campaign that proves successful in improving our hospitality image problem, share that information with the world so the entire industry can benefit from your wisdom. You could write an article about it for the CHART blog, submit the idea to our Training High Five, answer questions about that topic on Ask My Peers, or tell your story at a Regional Training Forum, conference breakout, or during an educational session at an industry trade event such as the National Restaurant Association show. We’re going to need every ounce of innovation possible to ultimately strengthen our position as employers. The sharing theme also applies when employees get promoted within your company; those situations should be treated as celebratory events and everyone should be made aware that upward movement is not only possible, but also honored.
Growing – The old saying goes, “what gets measured, gets done,” and it’s just as true for monitoring the growth of HR metrics; the closer everyone pays attention, the more the needle should move in the right direction. You can start by tracking employee turnover at each location, and reporting those numbers just like you would unit guest counts, check average, or revenue per available room. Doing so will help you identify where turnover is highest and allow targeted solutions to be put into place so that this wild beast can eventually be tamed. Another number to follow would be internal promotions per unit, so you know which managers are doing a good job of developing their teams and which managers need assistance. If you are able to conduct regular climate surveys at your company, where employees are asked about topics such as their benefits, training, recognition programs, and communication from top management, tracking these numbers over time will help provide a picture of the growth you have made in these areas.
Caring – When you meet someone who is excited about coming into the industry and hasn’t been discouraged by the negative news stories or statistics, do whatever you can to encourage and support that individual to achieve their dreams. You could help them put together the best possible resume, let them job shadow employees at your company so they can gain insight about the different positions, and connect them with the right people at industry networking events. Most of us could have used a helping hand when we started our careers, and those entering the hospitality world these days probably need them more than ever to demonstrate that it’s possible to have a rewarding and fulfilling career here and prevent discouragement from derailing their upward trajectory.
With regard to the fourth idea about “caring,” CHART has an upcoming opportunity for you to get involved: our annual Silent Auction to provide scholarship funds for collegiate hospitality students. We are seeking donations for this auction, which will take place during the 94th Semi-Annual Conference in San Diego this summer, so that we can invest in the future superstars of our industry. Please take a few minutes to think about what you, your company, or your company’s partners/vendors could donate, and even if you only represent one location or have a small item, we’ll be happy to accept anything you can give. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a donation or would like to find out additional information on the event.
Helping out with the auction might seem like a very small first step, but it’s going to be these types of incrementally positive actions that will ultimately help us succeed in making hospitality a more respected industry among job-seekers.