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Why a different approach is needed to hire and retain hospitality staff

We’ve said all along that the staffing crisis in the hospitality sector wasn’t going away anytime soon, and sadly we were right. A severe lack of available talent is still a huge thorn in the industry’s side. But the ongoing reality of the situation has forced some employers to start thinking outside the box with how they attract and retain their talent.

Hiring firms are realising that the world has changed, and so they must adapt with it. And yet some of those we speak to are still reluctant to make changes, and with that comes the risk of losing staff and not being able to secure quality people to hire.

In this blog, we take a look at the current market hiring trends, including some of the different and sometimes radical approaches employers are taking to get ahead in the “war for talent”.

The current state of play

The reality is that it will cost you more to replace your current staff than it will to keep them in the first place, so investing in your existing workforce is a no-brainer. And when it comes down to it, you just need to pay people what they are worth. Gone are the days of cheaper labour, and with quality candidates in so much demand, firms need to pay the going rate or accept that they will likely always have that hiring gap.

However, we regularly hear of companies saying they can’t afford to pay people more and are happy to wait. But unfortunately, it often means they’ve still not hired anyone weeks and months down the line. We’ve seen a few instances recently where clients are wanting to pay £10-12k BELOW the market rate for a head chef.

We understand the pressures that hospitality businesses are under right now. However, for those who say they can’t afford to pay the competitive salaries necessary to attract the right people, they will sadly end up hiring the wrong people because that’s all they can afford. This can do so much damage to your business, not only in terms of impacting customers, but the potential impact on the rest of your staff too. The short-term view of wanting to save on salaries needs to be balanced with the longer term view of how the business might be impacted.

Sadly, as we all know an all-too-common occurrence is the constant candidate no-shows and ghosting. Candidates are dropping out of recruitment processes without notice, not showing up for interviews, or they simply stop responding to any communications. It’s incredibly frustrating for us all facing an already challenging hiring environment. Engaging with and managing candidates through the recruitment process is now more important than it’s ever been. We do everything we can to mitigate this and if we sense a problem, we inform the client.

The battle for talent

Fact: if people are happy in their current jobs, then they need a REALLY good reason to move. Some of the most common reasons people will want to move roles include feeling undervalued, lack of promotion prospects, having a bad line manager, feeling burnt out or simply wanting more money.

Some companies are now recognising that they’ve got great people, so they’re doing all they can to keep hold of them, by paying good salaries and really looking after them. But other companies are desperate to hire and wondering how to attract those people to come and work for them.

A big factor at the moment for workers and job seekers is, of course, the cost of living squeeze. Workers more than ever will take into account how much it will cost them to get to a job; parking costs, petrol costs, and travel time. Many people we speak to are looking to reduce their travel time in order to reduce the cost of petrol, so location and commute time is more of an important consideration than it’s ever been. It’s an area that employers can look to support further if they wish to retain and attract staff.

Despite the challenges faced by the hospitality industry, there is still lots of money floating around. There are lots of cheaper leases and rent deals to be found, so companies are snapping them up. We’re also seeing lots of new concepts and expansion plans taking shape. All of this is adding pressure on an ever-shrinking talent pool!

So, what are hospitality firms doing to attract and retain people?

We’re seeing quite a few examples of different and sometimes radical ways firms are now approaching their hospitality hiring. Some of the things we’re hearing about include:

  1. 4-day week - a London hotel trialling a 4-day week for its chefs, offering a better work/life balance and to attract and retain more staff. If successful, they plan to roll it out across other locations as a permanent feature.

  2. Providing on-site staff accommodation – we know of two hotels in particular that are constructing purpose-built staff accommodation. With many big hotels often being positioned in beautiful and yet often remote and/or wealthy locations, this is a great way to attract people from outside the area, and also to provide affordable accommodation. By providing places to stay for staff, they can live on site and afford to be where the work is. We also have a couple of bakery clients who are considering converting the buildings above their shop premises into flats for their staff.

  3. Wellbeing allowances – giving staff an allowance e.g. £50 a month, to be spent on reflexology, yoga, or anything which takes their fancy and supports their wellbeing.

  4. Apprenticeships - introducing apprenticeships and training for school leavers, to support people entering the industry at an earlier stage.

  5. Better contracts – some clients we’ve spoken to are reducing their contracts from 45 to 40 hours and/or paying their staff overtime in a bid to overcome burn out, underpaid workers and improving work/life balance.

  6. Improving benefit packages – such as increasing holiday entitlement, offering profit shares, other rewards and joining bonuses. Also, contributing towards accommodation costs and travel/parking costs, and giving alternate/one in three weekends off.

Think outside the box

We are starting to see a shift, with more clients willing to think outside the box and to compromise on what their ideal candidate might look like. Clients are beginning to realise that sometimes a great candidate will present themselves, but perhaps only matches 60% of their original specification. But they are great nonetheless, and they have potential.

So consider, could you restructure to accommodate them, or change your requirements slightly? It’s really important that employers can begin to work with the candidates that are coming through, rather than waiting endlessly for a candidate who might not come along or even exist. You could be waiting forever! And this can have a far more detrimental effect on the rest of the team, who might then leave, which creates more staffing issues and roles to fill.

Our advice to employers is this:

  • If you’re thinking about recruiting, plan well ahead and make sure you can move quickly…good talent isn’t hanging around and be prepared to compromise.

  • Pay people what they’re worth and be competitive! Because your competitors will be and otherwise, you’ll end up hiring someone not as good and then they’ll eventually leave or potentially damage your business - it’ll cost you more in the long run.

  • Be open-minded to the candidate pool. Would someone matching 60% of your requirements suffice? Could you hire someone at a lower level? Also look deeper at your existing workforce – is there anyone there you could train up?

  • Look at part timers, even at management level. A lot of people retired from full time jobs during the pandemic and are now looking to work part time. A reliable part time work force is a great resource.

It’s tough at the moment, but planning ahead, looking after your staff through good pay, benefits and working environments, and remaining open-minded during the hiring process, will all help to give you that advantage during this ongoing staffing crisis.

If you need help with your hospitality recruitment or would simply like some advice on the current market, please get in touch.

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