How hotels are tackling turnover and other challenges

Fifteen years ago when Matt Burros was working in the housekeeping department of the Embassy Suites Convention Center in Charleston, S.C., he felt it was treated as a separate entity from the hotel. Since then, Burros has moved on to become GM of the nearby Crowne Plaza Charleston Airport Convention Center, and has noted a culture of inclusion that has helped make housekeeping feel at home in hotels, something Burros said can be attributed heavily to technology and evolving social norms.

“The effects on housekeeping have been pretty profound in terms of training through computers,” Burros said. “There is more of an assembly-line approach to cleaning a room now, which has helped with safety and efficiency across the board.”

One of the greatest challenges facing hotel operations, and particularly housekeeping, is employee turnover. A 2015 report from Deloitte titled “Hospitality 2015 – Game Changers or Spectators,” found that employee turnover in hospitality is 31 percent for non-management staff, a number that could climb higher the further we move from the recession. While high, this number has been worse in the past, with Burros claiming that integrating the hospitality staff further into hotel processes has had positive effects on turnover in the long run.

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“Hotels have always held team appreciation events, but in recent years there has been a more specific focus on housekeeping,” he said. “We have to make sure our associates have pride and ownership in the business.”

Max Wolhfarth, GM of the Embassy Suites Dallas Park Central, said high turnover and finding new employees is the hardest part of the business today, with recruiting and retaining employees a challenge in all departments. In addition, the level of training employees have to navigate after being hired is only going up.

“There is a fine line, or an art, to training practically because you have franchise training, hotel management company training, department-specific training, hotel-specific training… there is a lot to go around,” Wolhfarth said. “It’s important to be practical about how much information you give these folks at one time to keep them interested and focused.”

A new trend Wolhfarth is thankful for, and was quick to jump on, is the availability of training programs in a variety of languages. Training an employee in his or her native language, he said, is now easily accomplished by properties affiliated with a franchise through web-based programs and software, and improves training retention across the board.

Wolhfarth also recommends incentivizing day-to-day operations in order to bring housekeeping employees closer to the property and keep their attention focused on the job. For example, he has housekeepers look for bedbugs before guests can find them, and rewards them for every bug found.

“Frankly, I don’t care if it’s a bedbug or not, I want them to find bugs!” Wolhfarth said. “You have to get creative with some training, and focus on the quality of work as opposed to the tools you wish you had. Bring focus back to the details.”

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