By Phil Bruno

It’s not a big secret that the hospitality and tourism industry is desperate for workers. During the pandemic, the industry lost a whopping 75% of its workforce, and it’s nowhere near filling all of those vacated positions.

Think about that: 75% lost. Imagine if your car lost 75% of its engine. Or going to a family reunion where 75% of your family wasn’t there. How do you build back that workforce? How do you get your current people to stay while also acquiring good help?

That is the question the industry is now facing with The Great Resignation. Workers are quitting—or simply not returning—at a rate that is unsustainable, even as travelers have started traveling again. Consider: In 2019, the hospitality and tourism industry quit rate was two times the national average (4% versus 2%). Today, there are as many travelers as before the pandemic, but the industry quit rate is now up to 5.2%…still close to double the national average of 2.9%.

In other words, overworked and burned out employees have finally given up and walked away to other industries. They also discovered that the skills and work ethic that they learned in hospitality are usually more advanced than their new co-workers in other industries. Skills like reading people and situations, a sense of urgency, and getting things right. Those skills are turning out to be highly valued in other industries. (By the way, we should mention those skills as we recruit new hires—there is value in a career in the hospitality industry!)

So is Money the Answer? Or Something Else?

But I hear employers saying things like “people got used to being paid to sit at home” and “nobody wants to work.” I don’t believe it. Ask most people if they would flip hamburgers or collect trash for $350,000 a year and banker’s hours. You’ll get a resounding “Yes!” every time. There’s nothing bad about those jobs, mind you. The point is that people are willing to work a job if they are paid well and treated right.

It’s that second part— “being treated right”—that the industry must work on. Across the industry, there has been a 22.9% (roughly) hourly rate hike. That’s unprecedented. And yet the quit rate has still accelerated, and we can’t attract new hires. Yeah, the burger flipper might grind out a few shifts for a six figure salary. But honestly, attracting and retaining talent is not about the pay; it’s about how employees are treated on the job.

That’s something that the hospitality and tourism industry seems to have forgotten. Not only do you need to treat visitors and customers right, to give them a good experience. Employees need to be treated right, too. As Richard Branson is famous for saying, “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.”

So how do you do that? Honestly, for most organizations, there needs to be a cultural shift. We’re in a new era, and systems that worked in the past just won’t work in today’s economy.

Starting the Cultural Shift

Here’s what that shift would look like:

  • Teach management the soft skills they need to manage. Yes, you need to start with your frontline managers. Most are taught the systems, but they are not trained to communicate well or interact with others. Yet it’s precisely those soft skills that will be the “make or break” for employers going forward.
  • Give them a sense of purpose. Sure, people work to make a living. But they also want to be a part of something bigger. Give employees, new and old, a sense of what your organization does and why. Do you give families a chance to bond? Put smiles on kids’ faces? Instill a sense of adventure? People will naturally work harder if they can see that their efforts are aimed toward some greater good.
  • Give them opportunities. Most people are eager to learn and advance their careers. In fact, career development is one of the top benefits job seekers want today. Time to review your internal training and see what more you can offer.

Of course, people also want a fair wage and reasonable hours. But let’s face facts: With attrition so high, you are going to be asking more and more of your current employees, and for some time. But treat them right, and they will perform near-miracles.

Credits: Headline photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels. Some statistics courtesy of Tourism Economics.