Article published by HOTELS.
It’s hard to find workers willing to scrub bathrooms and wash pots and pans.
With the U.S. national unemployment rate at a 50-year low and properties opening every month, hotel operators are scrambling to recruit workers and keep them engaged. Shortages for housekeepers and kitchen staff are acute.
“The availability of staff, cost and retention are our primary operational issues,” says Michelle Russo, CEO of asset manager HotelAve. Managers are raising the hourly rate for entry-level jobs, improving back of the house and establishing channels for workers to provide feedback and suggestions. At the same time, they’re introducing technology to get by with fewer employees, such as vacuuming robots and online check-ins.
Competition for labor is coming from all sides — from IT to fast food. The influx of new hotels makes it difficult for operators to raise room rates, which would make it easier to improve pay and benefits, says Laurence Geller, chairman of Chicago-based Geller Capital. Hotels benefited from a labor oversupply for years, so now there’s a lot of whining, says Geller, whose firm owns and manages luxury properties. “We’ve had it easy. I refuse to call it a crisis.”
“Managers need to use every tool at their disposal — good hourly rates, benefits, working conditions and treating people well,” Geller says. “You have to do a lot of it.”
Rates are going up so quickly in some areas that it’s difficult for operators to keep up. In Washington and Oregon, hourly rates, sometimes mandated by local laws, are rising at twice the rate of the 3%-to-6% increases managers are used to paying, says Brian Latture, senior vice president of operations at The Hotel Group, based in Edmonds, Washington.
Latture recalls opening a new property in Idaho and offering a starting rate of US$9 to US$10 an hour, only to see a nearby sign from fast-food outlet Chipotle offering US$13 to US$14. Another complication: With higher starting hourly rates, newcomers may be close to earning as much as a 15-year veteran. “The veterans aren’t shy about pointing this out,” Latture says, “which requires us to revisit our entire wage structure.”
Reducing turnover can go a long way in helping the bottom line. Russo’s team worked with a hotel in a top U.S. metro market that was suffering from 72% staff turnover. The team established a US$50,000 budget for employee engagement with the goal of cutting turnover in half. The hotel cleaned the locker room, upgraded the cafeteria and established a monthly lunch with the general manager as a way to offer suggestions. “It’s better to invest in your staff instead of always being on the hamster wheel of finding new associates,” Russo says. “If people are happy, they’ll stay.”
Managers are getting creative. One hotel offered English as a second language classes, Russo says. Another gave backpacks with school supplies to employees with kids in school. One hotel staggered housekeeper start times, which enabled parents to drop their kids off at school and relieved cart traffic jams on the elevators at 7 a.m.
Even as they seek to hire, managers are finding ways to get by with fewer workers. Robots are vacuuming public spaces and accompanying some housekeepers as well, enabling them to save minutes per room. Some hotels give guests who stay more than two nights the option of foregoing room service in exchange for points or a small discount. In the F&B department, properties used to staff room service with a couple of people every evening. “Now it’s the host or a cook in the back taking the order,” Latture says.
What happens when the labor shortage turns to a glut? That isn’t expected to happen anytime soon, but when it does, the robots may have taken some of those jobs. “The operational changes will stay,” Latture says. -J.C.
Original article available here.