A scarcity of qualified candidates for jobs in hotels means hoteliers need to spend more time and energy keeping their best current employees and broadening their searches for potential employees, according to members of the Lodging Industry Investment Council.
NEW YORK—The current tight labor market is making it more important than ever for hoteliers to go above and beyond in taking care of their employees, according to members of the Lodging Industry Investment Council.
Speaking during the council’s meeting in conjunction with the 40th annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, LIIC members said things like employee wellness programs and recognizing employees for their achievements are key.
“The more you can strengthen your culture, the better opportunity you have to not have to replace people,” said Mary Beth Cutshall, SVP and chief business development officer for Hospitality Ventures Management Group. “That’s easier said than done, but it’s key for any successful organization.”
She said HVMG has partnered with the Dan Marino Foundation to hire and train employees with development disabilities, which she described as a “win-win.”
“It’s a fabulous way to give back, and we win by having fantastic associates who are dedicated to what they’re doing,” she said.
A labor crisis
Doug Dreher, president and CEO of The Hotel Group, described the current labor environment as the worst he can remember in his 34 years in the industry.
“We’ve really been feeling it acutely over the past six or seven months,” he said. “We recently had a job fair for jobs paying above minimum wage and had zero room attendants apply. What can you do in that situation other than take your wages even higher?”
Dreher said his company is doing what it can to ramp-up recruitment efforts, focusing on human resources best practices and referral programs, but also has had to resort to “using more contract labor than ever before.”
The issue is only going to get worse in the near future, he said, with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump taking a hard line on immigration policy, which restricts the pool of labor from which hotels can hire and even poses a threat to some current staffers. He said one property within his company currently employs seven people from Nepal who were in the U.S. under temporary protected status but were recently told by the Department of Homeland Security that status was being revoked.
“That’s a big chunk of our housekeeping team,” he said. “Now they have one year to leave the country. These are people who have kids who were born here. The immigration impasse is really hurting us.”
Bill Blackham, CEO of Condor Hospitality Trust, said he’s seen a dramatic uptick in the use of contract labor across the country, as the limited pool of available employees affects more than just hotels. He said the use of contract labor is less than ideal for hoteliers because the standard of work is often lower than in-house employees.
He said one way hotels can try tackling the issue is by focusing on hiring the right people for key management positions who will create the right culture.
“One of the things we’ve found is that it’s critical to start with (hiring) a highly respected and liked head of housekeeping,” he said. “That person brings a team with them.”
Andrea Foster, SVP of development for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, said her company has a similar strategy.
“It’s not so much that people go to work for companies,” she said. “People go to work for people.”
She said her company benefits from a long history in the markets it operates in and has earned the status of “employer of choice,” which she attributes to hiring decisions for general managers and other leadership roles.
“We take care of and develop these people,” she said. “It’s really critical.”
Mark Rosinsky, SVP of hotel investments for The Dow Hotel Company, said it’s important to note that the limited labor pool isn’t just a U.S. issue, but an international one. He said the issue is exacerbated in other countries where jobs in hotels and hospitality carry a stigma.
“In Greece, there are tremendous problems,” he said. “And in Israel, people don’t want to work in hotels in particular.”
Wellness as a retention tool
Foster said Marcus is approaching health and wellness initiatives as one solution to the tight labor environment, noting it’s “really sad to hear how many people in the industry are lost at young ages” due to health issues.
“If we want to retain them, first we have to take care of them, so they can live long and be productive,” she said. “That’s one of the ways you have to start caring about people.”
But Mike Cahill, CEO of Hospitality Real Estate Counselors and co-chairman of LIIC, said hotel companies need to be careful not to cross a line when it comes to monitoring employees’ health.
“My personal philosophy is I want employees at HREC to have a personal private life and a company life,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to get into their personal lives, and I shouldn’t know their medical history.”
But Dreher said hotel companies can leave the decisions up to employees while offering healthy programs for things like smoking cessation.
“What ultimately happens is up to you,” he said.