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Tackling hospitality shortage in 2022: people want flexibility, better salaries, to have a purpose and polish their soft skills

This article was written during my time at a hospitality mentoring company

The latest ONS figures showed there are over 1.1 million job openings in the UK, as a result of a huge mindset shift due to the pandemic. The hospitality industry needs to adjust to these changes, as people want more flexibility in their work, to be paid better, valued, and supported in their career progression.

And it’s not the government support that will particularly be helpful here, it’s more about making hospitality a much better place to work than it was before. 

On Tuesday 1st of March, I was out at another crunchy talk taking place at The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden. The panel, animated by journalist John Porter, welcomed Anna Sebastian, Hospitality Consultant and Founder of Celebrate HerRobert Richardson, CEO of the Institute of Hospitality and Antony Woodcock, Co-founder and CEO of temp recruitment specialist GIG. The experts examined the current state of the industry and shared visions of innovative ways to combat staff shortages.

How can we attract more people to join the hospitality industry? What makes people avoid it and how can we instead make them love it? 

“If you look at the industry now, we’re experiencing a peak in staycation demand. People book holidays again. As a hotel operator we have to do our best to retain our people.” – Robert Richardson, CEO of the Institute of Hospitality 

We’re already seeing brilliant initiatives taking place with the industry’s biggest-ever recruitment campaign: Hospitality Rising. Raising £5m for its launch, the campaign aims to change the perception of working in the hospitality industry and highlight why it is a positive career choice.  

Companies need to come together and support one another in finding actionable solutions. This talk was not about just filling vacancies, but about encouraging young people to choose hospitality for their career to make the industry sustainable. 

“It feels like there’s a divide between businesses that have done amazing things and those that struggled or are still recovering from the pandemic.” – John Porter, Journalist 

We’re in a phase where we’re questioning the industry’s attractiveness to younger people and trying to retain those in early careers. So how to inspire more young people to choose hospitality as a career?  

To get more insights into these questions, I attended a webinar about surviving the workforce crisis. The session was hosted by Heidi Birkin, EMEA Marketing Director at Deputy, the ultimate employee management tool, with Oli Cavaliero, Head of Employer Brand at Honest Burgers, and Peter Briffett, CEO and Founder of Wagestream, a financial well-being app. 

“It’s not only about having a strong recruitment strategy in place, but it’s also about knowing how to retain your staff. When they’re in their jobs, are they happy? Do they have the right benefits? Trying to get staff back in the industry is challenging. We work across the US/AUS, and we observe the same issues.” – Peter Briffett, CEO and Founder of app Wagestream

Providing a flexible working environment 

The webinar highlighted a strong need for flexibility in the industry worldwide, brought by the pandemic and the time at home during the lockdown. So how to provide more flexibility at work? 

Peter Briffett commented: “It’s up to employers to offer employee experience strategies. Staff now have flexibility. We realise that pay is one of the biggest benefits, and a lot of employees are asking for flexibility with the workload, salaries, etc. Honest Burgers have a very clear list of benefits, a clear contract, etc. Visibility and flexibility are key, here. Companies who don’t give that will suffer in the long term.” 

Respecting staff’s work-life balance with making their workload and shifts more flexible, but how much flexibility should companies implement to keep their business going? 

Oli Cavaliero added: “It’s down to leaders in that department or restaurant. Flexibility means different things to people. Ultimately if you’re on a shift, you’re there for that shift. At Honest Burgers, we have single parents, people in college, juggling with two or three jobs at a time. Back in time people were working for us only, not having another project on the side. Now we need to be embracing flexibility.”

Being more open and transparent on salary 

A report by WiHTL on hospitality’s gender pay gap found that the average gender pay gap has increased from 5.4% in 2020 to 7.7% in 2021. Therefore, there is still huge progress to make, as the “highest-paid 25% of positions across hospitality, travel and leisure, 58% are held by men”. And another bad news, “among the lowest-paid 25% of positions, 54% are held by women”.  

At The Ivy Market Grill during the talk last week, the experts made a point that talking about money in the industry is tough, especially with the gender pay gap still predominant. Indeed, salaries vary from one role to another depending on the company culture and the area. 

Anna Sebastian, Hospitality Consultant commented: “From day 1 of being recruited staff should be comforted in the idea of joining a role in the industry. Transparency, a fair salary, an understanding of their lifestyle, certain flexibility at work. Traditions are great but we need to be taking risks. We also need to be talking about salaries more, as some workers in the industry will be paid differently for doing the same role, and fix the gender pay gap.”

Feel good at work 

No alt text provided for this image

© Deputy – The State of Shift Report 2022 

Inevitably, the number one area that seems to be lacking support is well-being and mental health, as we can see on the slide above presented by Deputy during the webinar. Staff who answered the State of Shift 2022 survey say there’s a lot to do to make them feel happier at work. Starting with companies improving culture as a whole and implementing stuff to engage them. Honest Burgers is a great example of how it tends to make staff happy. They took incredible people initiatives and are a model in changing company culture.  

For instance, to tackle well-being questions and maximise employee happiness, the company provides staff with private medical insurance which gives them access to amazing health benefits like free GP consultations, physio and therapy sessions, exercising, online resources, videos, loyalty freebies from coffee to a free Apple Watch, etc. 

Overall, to consider the industry in the long term, people want to feel good, they want to trust, transparency, great communication throughout the entire business, and progress in their careers with soft skills and personal development.

Some soft skills needed as a whole in the industry for front-line workers 

Even though hard skills like accounting, financial analysis and marketing are essential skills for some hospitality positions, soft skills are important for making it in the industry, a very much people-led business. We asked the panel speakers what soft skills they think hospitality staff need nowadays, here’s what they said: 

The psychology of reading customers 

Ability to take initiatives   

Creating experiences in hospitality 

Interpersonal skills  

Communication skills 

Enthusiasm and attitude   

While there is definitely a need for better company culture to embrace staff lifestyle, are leaders really doing enough? Are we providing long-term career pathways and development opportunities in front of our front-line workers? Could we be doing more to keep our front-line workers not only happy in our businesses but also retain them in hospitality? 

If we know what people need, want to take ownership of their careers and love hospitality enough to stay in, surely it shouldn’t be that difficult to get things done for better company culture? There’s an urgency to repair the industry, whose future is at stake, without missing what workers truly want: flexibility.

This article was written during my time at a hospitality mentoring company

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