4 truths about hotel employee retention

Employee retention is a critical industry issue. Yet, sadly, most owners and operators are simply feeling powerless to stop the incredible amount of industry turnover.

It’s so serious, there’s an annualized employee turnover rate of 73.8 percent in the hotel industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than 6 percent of staff departing every single month. And every time someone leaves, someone new must be hired and trained. That’s a lot of money and time.

So why is this happening and how can the industry reduce the constant stream of employee departures? I recently had the chance to speak with a professor about this who has been studying this important issue. No surprise, he has a lot to say about it.

Dr. Michael Tews is a Ph.D. and Associate Professor at the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State University and focuses on organizational behavior. He’s done a bunch of studies on employee retention and satisfaction, and though he says a certain degree of employee attrition is typical, there are things hoteliers can do to minimize it.

Recognize People Will Leave

Younger people who are not career-minded hoteliers are sure to leave. Chances are this is a job they’re doing while in college pursuing another career path, he says. Plus, a hotel is easily transferable elsewhere. “Many hotel jobs are highly substitutable: If I am unhappy at one hotel I can get a different job down the street at another,” Tews said. "This is particularly true of entry-level jobs that do not carry a lot of benefits with them."

Flexibility Goes a Long Way

This is especially important in the housekeeping department. We all know this is the roughest job in the building physically, so it’s more important to be flexible for the times these folks work. In speaking with numerous hoteliers during the past few weeks, they all agree. Don’t force them to work 8am to 4pm, for example. If they can’t do those hours let them start earlier or later. Chances are it will not affect hotel operations and they’ll be more likely to stick with the job.

Workplace Relationships

“Coworkers directly impact turnover and retention. Better relationships in the workplace means the employee is less susceptible to other jolts or problems,” said Tews. "This is because of the interactive nature of hotel positions where you work alongside people all day long. It becomes impossible to avoid individuals the employee simply doesn’t like. That create a higher likelihood they’ll leave.”

Coworker attachment is also more important for younger people still constructing their social circles. Older people with families, for example, do not need the same social aspect within the workplace as that is satisfied through other relationships. Tews cited what is called "turnover contagion": the notion that if one person leaves, other people tend to follow the leader.

But it’s even more critical than that. Turns out, in many instances, it’s not the hotel or the job people love, it’s their coworkers. “The emotional attachment to the coworker is more than to the company overall,” said Tews. "So, underscoring the importance of workplace relationships can also curb turnover rate."

Does Fun Matter?

A perennial question. We see this in Silicon Valley as companies such as Google or Facebook turn their offices into fun factories with the notion that if work is fun, employees are happy. Tews said his studies point to the fun factor as being largely irrelevant. Why? For as many say fun matters, about the same say it doesn’t. What does seem to matter is coworkers having fun outside of work.

However, it’s always good to have the occasional ice cream cake to recognize employee performance, or have that event that gets everyone together socially.

The big lesson to take away is what type of leader does the hotel general manager want to be? One that promotes fun and a more laid back workplace environment, or a “hard-nosed taskmaster,” said Tews. "That seems to be a matter of personal preference. One path leads to the manager choosing a looser workplace where performance may not be at peak levels, while the other leads to a higher turnover rate."

What would you do? What are your employee retention strategies? Let me know at [email protected] or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn and share your opinions with me.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.