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4 big staffing challenges facing hospitality firms as the sector reopens from COVID-19.

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

There’s no doubt that the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline for the hospitality industry since the pandemic began, with estimates of 8 in 10 workers (that’s 2 million people) having been furloughed in the first lockdown alone.

The furlough scheme is scheduled to run until the end of September 2021, beyond initial dates for reopening. But while it has been a lifeline, it has also thrown up its own challenges for the industry to manage, with many businesses facing multiple staffing issues.

We take a look at some of big staffing challenges facing those in hospitality, particularly around furloughed staff.

The continued uncertainty around reopening

With the roadmap out of lockdown and the various steps with earliest dates for reopening now detailed by the government, many in the hospitality industry can at least start to make tentative plans for the future. However, those dates are not set in stone and will only be confirmed to go ahead a week beforehand if the data and the science allow, creating continued uncertainty for the immediate future.

As lockdown is eased and lifted, hospitality businesses will still face challenges as social distancing measures will very likely remain in place – a big challenge for a sector built around socialising! The majority will not be able to operate fully for quite a while yet.

In another blow to parts of the sector, we’re also hearing more and more that people are simply postponing their weddings until 2022 because of the continued uncertainty for 2021.

Communicating with your staff and managing their expectations of returning to work can be hard when you don’t know when this will end, let alone being able to plan sufficiently for your business reopening and surviving. The continuation of the furlough scheme beyond planned reopened of the sector will provide some comfort, however, the threat of redundancies still looms, and makes for a stressful time for both employers and their people. Even for those who do return to work, there will be fears if they will still have their job further down the line if the business needs to cut costs due to trading challenges or restrictions.

Managing the return to work

With many hospitality workers having been on and off furlough for almost a year, successfully managing the return to work of your furloughed staff is a highly important consideration for employers in the sector.

The complexities of managing phased returns of staff, potential lack of motivation from some and a reluctance from others will be a big test for employers. We’re already hearing from some clients whose staff are stressed out simply by the thought of returning to work or are unable to return with short notice due to self-isolating.

Many people will find it a big shift going back into the workplace after being off for so long. Some may struggle if they are given short notice of an imminent return without time to adjust and get their head in the right space. Of course, many will be pleased to get back into their old lives and routines.

Employers will also need to consider that some staff may need retraining in certain skills, others will need time to reacquaint themselves with their colleagues and work processes. For back office staff who may have been working from home, consideration will also need to be given to future policies on this and possible expectations from staff who have enjoyed newfound benefits of working this way.

Hospitality firms will need to ensure they have adequate support systems, processes and regular communication in place to account for these scenarios and to get their valued staff back to their best as quickly as possible. Firms should also continue to stay close to their staff while they are on furlough - those who haven’t been looked after will jump ship quickly when the opportunity arises.

Hiring new staff

For those businesses who find themselves in the position of needing to hire new hospitality staff, there may be different challenges ahead which impact the supply of available talent.

With the hospitality sector being hit especially hard during the pandemic, lots of talent has already moved into other sectors. The question is, will they come back as the sector opens up, or will hiring firms need to consider new talent from outside the sector?

With Brexit thrown into the mix, there is also the lack of European staff coming over which has reduced the pool of available candidates and could seriously impact business’ ability to fill jobs.

Depending on the role type, some employers may also find that they are fielding far more applications than usual when they do advertise roles, which poses its own issues in trying to filter out the best people and manage the volume of applications.

Employer brand and your reputation

How well you looked after your furloughed and non-furloughed staff throughout the pandemic could well affect your business long after we’ve returned to ‘normal’. People talk, and what your employees say about you speaks volumes about your employer brand and your ability in the future to hire good talent.

Sites such as Glassdoor have given employees (current and previous) a platform to voice their positive and negative feedback about employers. Those looking for new jobs will often check out such review sites to get a flavour of what it’s like to work at a company.

People will be feeling particularly passionate about how their wellbeing has been looked after in the past year, including how any tricky situations have been handled. Everyone appreciates it’s been incredibly difficult for businesses and that some tough decisions have had to be made, but for those companies who have looked after their staff throughout, kept up meaningful and regular communications and handled issues sensitively, then your reputation should be safe.

To say it’s been a hard year for our sector is an understatement, but those companies who have looked after their staff during the tough times will find they are at a distinct advantage as we reopen and return to some normality again.

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