The mention of Brexit causes U.K. hoteliers to instinctively worry about staffing, but four hoteliers at a recent conference said that worry can be negated by some best practices and sound staff policies.
LONDON—If Brexit, the United Kingdom’s proposed divorce from the European Union, is causing hoteliers multiple headaches, the biggest pain is coming from staffing concerns, sources said.
Simply put, the U.K. hotel industry depends on employees from European—and mostly eastern European—countries, as young British workers generally still do not regard the hotel industry as a credible career path.
Panelists who participated during a session at the recent Independent Hotel Show titled “Weaponise your staff training” said hotels must be willing to pay their staff and prospective employees well to attract the best talent and stay competitive among job seekers. The fear is that the very best people are dwindling away, at least as far as the U.K. industry is concerned.
Due to the uncertainty around U.K. businesses in light of Brexit, employees have returned to their home nations, or to elsewhere in the EU, to further their career, sources said. The weakness of the pound sterling also has meant that being paid in U.K. currency might not be as attractive as it once was.
The answer, according to panelists, is to make sure the hotel industry invests in its workforce.
“The goal of the hotelier is the guest experience, and the only way to develop that is people,” said Lesley Pritt, head of training and quality at Hand Picked Hotels. “There is no other way around it, no twiddling with a button.”
Harry Cragoe, owner of The Gallivant, a 20-room hotel in Camber Sands in Sussex, emphasized that devoting time to hiring the best candidates and cultivating the growth of employees is key.
“It is about creating a very happy team of people,” he said. “People are the living embodiment of your brand—and I cannot replicate myself 30 times—to help guests understand what we’re all about. And of course it is about sacrifices.”
Jonathan Raggett, managing director of Red Carnation Hotels, agreed.
“Staff is the only thing that differentiates your hotel, especially at the luxury end,” Raggett said. “After all, we have the same glasses.”
Nevertheless, any concentration on staffing can fall to one side amid all the other strains of being a hotelier.
“There are a lot of things to focus on running a hotel,” said Graham Copeman, group hotel director of The Zetter Group. “We are on all stage saying we focus on people first, but team engagement can slip very easily.”
Raggett added employees’ next steps must also be taken into consideration.
“We try and understand what our staff wants in terms of their next step,” he said. “It is about foundations, building blocks and the steps to build. Yes, you lose people, but it is about providing an atmosphere when they can grow.”
Copeman said not all employees want the same thing.
“There is not just one pathway for everyone. We isolate what we call ‘future stars,’” Copeman said.
A staffer’s first three months
Panelists said an employee’s first 90 days, and how management and other staff members interact with that employee, are crucial.
The first step is to effectively communicate your hotel or company vision to new or prospective employees.
“We aspire people to join us,” Cragoe said. “With the vision of the business, the environment, current staff, our growth story, perhaps how you pay people, all of these things offer a genuine work-life balance, and not only for staff; this is also exactly how you inspire guests.
“Yes, hopefully a little bit comes from me, but it is more about being transparent, by constantly investing in the site and environment, things I have an influence over.”
Copeman said the ideal job candidates will accept this vision readily.
“On a larger scale, look for talent that has warmth and personality,” he said. “You do not want to squash them with a rigid list of rules and (standard operating procedures). That is not easy.”
Mentorship programs with veteran employees can also be effective.
“For the first 90 days, we have a buddy system, and (newbies) learn the culture, the good things about what we are, and it has a positive effect, notably in confidence,” Raggett said. He added that trainers receive an incremental pay increase so no one feels they are teaching someone else on the same pay.
Pritt said one common mistake is that hoteliers focus too quickly on the skills incomers need to learn.
“It is not to say these are not important, but you have to focus on why they are important,” she said. “New starters can get overwhelmed, so when they do, they remember that bit which is important.”
Pritt added that the investment in cultivating employee growth yields long-term benefits.
“There is no golden formula to improve the bottom line, but we do know investing in people pays benefits,” she said.
Another key is to dissolve conflict between departments, Raggett said.
“Encourage respect across silos,” he said. “Management goes back to the floor twice a year, myself to the kitchens, to understand just how tough a role that is. It’s a good reminder.”
Copeman said employees can request a position with another department to gain valuable career experience.
“We offer staff the opportunity to work for a while in another department, too, as a way of having the staff member’s original department work better with other departments. Staff can request which department,” he said.
Cragoe suggested hotel owners and managers might have to think outside the box to foster equality and grow a better work environment.
“We stopped 18 months ago from service charges and tips and raised everyone’s wages, and we close every Monday for training and supply visits,” he said. “We are a small business, so we can do this. And, yes, my wage bill is horrific, but we have seen upside. That took 12 months.”
Each panelist gave one additional tip for improving staff morale:
- Cragoe: “Hire someone who you think will inspire and has the right attitude, someone who gives a damn and is a good team player.”
- Pritt: “Take time to explain to new hires why you want to do things such a way, as hopefully you have spent some time thinking as to why you do those things, too. The why, not the what. Find out what people like and are good at, and give them lots of that.”
- Raggett: “Ask potential hires what they have done to make a guest stay memorable.”
- Copeman: “To instill a clear culture and to communicate that. Make staff individuals.”