Put your money where your mouths are on labor issue
Put your money where your mouths are on labor issue
11 OCTOBER 2018 7:51 AM

Here’s what attracts good entry-level people to an industry where they can learn about service culture and sow the seeds for a lifelong career: money.

There’s no doubt in my mind the buzziest topic this year in the global hotel industry is labor.

Every conference, every main stage, almost every panel discussion finds a way back to the labor issue.

I’ll be honest here: A lot of the conversation I hear around it is full of platitudes: Executives talking about how we simply must solve this problem, with a regretful little shake of the head, but no real solutions.

But as the topic gains traction, we’re hearing more useful stats and tips from middle and property-level managers, who are the people actually dealing with the problem regularly.

The most interesting conversation that I’ve heard recently on the topic was at the Southern Lodging Summit. CBRE’s Robert Mandelbaum shared data on labor trends, and consultant Judy King moderated a discussion with some (finally!) meaty tips for addressing the problems.

I found Mandelbaum’s data particularly compelling around two points in particular: One, the U.S. labor force, at least, is moving toward more contract labor; and two, the overall number of hours worked is going down.

I know I’m oversimplifying here, but doesn’t that mean employers are cutting hours and outsourcing more? I’m sure there’s more to the story, but that’s got to be part of it.

And that’s often a perfectly acceptable strategy for dealing with high costs in certain categories. It’s common knowledge that labor cost is always the No. 1 expense on any hotel P&L.

But what strikes me is that at the same time, on the same panels, executives talk about how tough it is to attract quality people to the industry, people committed to service excellence and career development. Then they talk about how tough it is to keep those good people on their teams.

I’m no economist, but I think it’s time to put your money where your mouths are.

I’m a big believer in a strong workplace culture and non-monetary perks for good employees, but the fact is that money talks. You won’t even have a chance to impress new hires with your great culture if you can’t even get them in the door! And I’ve heard from more than one person over the last few months about how they held a property-level job fair and had zero people show up. Newsflash—when that happens, it means the word on the grapevine is that your company is not great and/or doesn’t offer competitive pay.

Don’t moan about poor entry-level work ethic, either. People aren’t dumb—they’ll go where the money is, culture be damned, and if you’re not offering competitive wages, you won’t get the people. And if you don’t get the people, you can’t nurture and train for hospitality and the customer service expectations that come with it.

And while I’m on my soapbox, I’ll say here too that I’m tired of hearing executives offer up the solution that labor automation through technology is going to free the industry up to focus on fewer, better-paid (and all-around better) employees. Judging by the hotel industry’s adoption rate on technology efficiencies, it’s going to be a long time before that happens in a meaningful enough way that actually has an impact on long-term employment trends.

If you want good people, pay them competitively. And for Pete’s sake, do not go up on a stage and with one breath talk about how the industry can’t seem to find and attract quality people with hospitality skills, and with the next breath talk about how challenging it is that favorable employment numbers are putting upward pressure on wages.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this issue, and how your company is managing it. Comment below, email me at sricca@hotelnewsnow.com or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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