Transforming the Employee Experience in Hospitality: It’s Time For Hotels To Up Their Game

Harri’s new report, Transforming the Employee Experience in Hospitality, produced in partnership with CGA, reveals some eye-opening truths from the mouths of hospitality workers.

Surveyed about their satisfaction levels, expectations, attitudes to pay, training, and how well tech is deployed in their job roles, employees revealed that there’s lots of work to be done if businesses are to keep hold of – and attract – staff.

Hotels are notoriously bad at looking after their staff’s needs and particularly behind the curve when it comes to adopting new tech. Here we explore how hotels in particular could learn from the results of Harri and CGA’s ‘Working in Hospitality’ survey, and look at a few examples of hotels doing things right…

It’s not all about the money

Candidates consider a wide range of factors before deciding whether to apply for a position, and with so many job opportunities out there in hospitality right now, making your offering stand out from the crowd is essential.

While pay is a major factor, it’s certainly not all about money – aspects like flexibility and work-life balance have become much bigger priorities since the pandemic. When asked what employees consider before deciding whether to accept a job, pay was top of the list at 63%, followed by flexibility and work-life balance (49%), role descriptions (43%), benefits (37%), and opportunities for progression (35%).

Some hotel businesses are certainly responding to the first factor by upping pay (four out of five hospitality operators have recently increased pay rates to improve recruitment and retention), but what about the other priorities? Can you honestly say that your employees get a good work-life balance, rewards to recognise their hard work, and a clear path up the career ladder for starters?

Hospitality shouldn’t just apply to the guests

Often in a hotel environment the guests enjoy luxurious accommodation, fantastic food – simply, the best of everything – while back-of-house, unseen by the guests, it couldn’t be a more contrasting picture. 

If you want your staff to give your guests the best service, to be happy and smiling (and our report also revealed that friendly, knowledgeable staff and good service are among customers’ essential requirements) you need to make them feel good about themselves and that boils down to them being happy with their working environment.

In recognition of this, The Landmark London Hotel in Marylebone has just invested heavily in its staff facilities, including a new restaurant for employees with its own open-plan kitchens and dedicated team, plus a new academy offering learning and development in a variety of areas. The hotel has also introduced a four-day week for its chefs and a scheme to increase pay for chefs in recognition of the hours they work. 

As we heard at the recent Rooms101 hotel conference, giving staff the reward of staying as a guest in your hotel is a simple but very effective way of making them feel valued, whilst at the same time getting some extremely useful feedback. Many hotels do offer such a scheme, but not all, and yet it’s such an easy and cost-effective perk.

At Rooms101, Anne Golden, general manager at Pan Pacific London, told how the hotel turned a bad situation into a good one by inviting its kitchen staff to stay during Christmas 2021. She described how only eight chefs out of a brigade of 40 were not off with Covid and were “working ridiculous hours”, so Pan Pacific invited those eight to come and stay in the hotel, with their families, so they didn’t have to travel back and forth from home. 

Those with children were given suites, and one staff member was even allowed to bring her cat. 

“We got some little gifts for the children and we had such a great time. People said it was the best Christmas they’d had. Just treat your staff like family – it hardly costs anything.”

Employer qualities count

As well as looking at levels of pay and flexibility, etc, from a job, our survey shows that candidates look for certain qualities in their potential employer. The most common are honesty (47%) and mutual respect (41%), followed by knowledge (39%), trustworthiness (39%), social skills (38%) and equality (38%). 

Mutual respect is certainly something Anne Golden believes is rather lacking in hotels; at Rooms101 she argued that the hotel industry has always tended to take advantage of its staff, and that such practices need to end in order for people to see hospitality as a viable career.

“Hospitality is not taken seriously in this country in the same way it is in Europe, where it’s seen as a really serious profession to get into. We have long taken advantage of people and we do need to get better if people are going to stay in the industry,” she said.

She gave an example of someone who completes a mental health first aid course, or learns to speak another language, getting rewarded for the added value they bring. “You should be recognised in some way if you are moving through the hotel operation helping people, but are we paying those people any more, recognising them more, giving them more perks? I don’t think we’re very good at that,” said Anne.

Appreciating the different qualities candidates are looking for in their employer, and demonstrating these as much as possible in job ads, can really put your company ahead in the race for talent.

Top notch training is a must

Good training is a big want for employees, and current provision appears to be falling below expectations according to our survey. More than a third of employees say either that it has been too basic (30%) or too long (7%), and only a quarter (25%) were very satisfied that their training had left them confident to fulfil a role to the best of their ability. 

When it comes to onboarding, 60% thought their onboarding process was thorough, well over a third thought it was either too basic (28%) or too long (13%), and only 29% said they were very satisfied with it. Clearly, some hotel operators could put a lot more emphasis and investment into training and development.

One operator that’s really leading the way in this area is The Mandarin Oriental group, which maps out “a colleague journey” for every employee to meet their individual needs, while for managers there are various training programmes on offer, including an in-house MBA. 

Kew Green Hotels offers apprenticeships and training “to anyone who is keen to turn a job into a career”, while the Edyn Group provides training stays for staff, along with opportunities to get involved in new property openings abroad.

Edyn operations director Paul Spencer said:

“Our objective is by 2023 that I’m not externally sourcing senior leadership. We’ve created a very clear path so that you can clearly see yourself from when you start to becoming a GM within our business.”

Training is given top priority at Home Grown Hotels (operator of The Pig hotels) and Lime Wood Group too. The group’s people director, Steve Rockey, said: “I’m a massive advocate for putting in place as many apprenticeship structures as you can, because you’ll reap the benefits in five years’ time. The only way anybody gets out of a skills shortage is to find people and give them the skills.” 

Talking Tech

Too many hotels are behind the times when it comes to adopting technology to aid employees’ job roles, and yet our survey shows the majority of hospitality staff want to see more use of tech. Three in ten workers think the technology available to staff – like digital clocking-in and out – is not at all advanced, and 88% would like to see technology in the hospitality sector improve.

Around half (52%) of survey respondents have access to a smartphone app, with the three most popular functions being accessing payslips (60%), viewing and booking holidays (46%) and reading company news and announcements (35%). However, fewer than one in five employees use apps for things like submitting paperwork, contacting managers, enrolling in pensions, booking sick days or leaving feedback for colleagues. 

There is clearly scope for improvement, with around a quarter of employees saying digital clocking-in and out (25%), smart scheduling (24%) and shift management (24%) would make their experiences better. Take up of technology in the sector has certainly increased since the pandemic, with more than a third (38%) of employees saying it has become more important to their role since Covid hit. 

With demand for better tech in hospitality at an all-time high, not investing in tech in your hotel will seriously hamper your ability to recruit and to maintain satisfaction levels amongst employees. Harri has solutions to help with every aspect of recruitment and retention: our Talent Acquisition Suite offers a host of functions to help with hiring, including screening questions to enable managers to identify candidates most suited for the role, video interviewing, and our innovative AI hiring assistant Carri, which can manage the entire application and candidate communications lifecycle via SMS, web-based chat on your careers page, Facebook Messenger, and more. 

Once you’ve found the right person for the job, the advantages of Harri’s tech don’t stop there.

Our onboarding solution ensures new recruits get a good first experience of working for your company, while our communications tools, which are fully mobile, enable staff across different departments to keep constantly in touch.

What’s more, employees can easily clock in and out with the time and attendance module, and our smart scheduling platform enables managers to make sure they’ve got the right people in the right place at the right time, whilst also giving staff that all-important flexibility.

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