The Coming Hiring Spree
The travel industry is finally starting to see signs of real recovery. Air traffic and hotel occupancy are starting to pick up, and future travel plans are now being made at a robust pace for the summer and fall of 2021. Many hotels that have been operating at reduced or skeleton staffs, or closed entirely, are now starting to make hiring plans. Even with returns to reduced staffing levels, this will likely lead to the largest hiring spree in the industry’s history in coming months.
My next two installments will address technologies designed to facilitate a successful restaffing surge. This week, I will focus on software designed to plan for, acquire, and onboard staff, particularly front-line hospitality workers. My next column will then address software to help retain staff, because as an industry we do not need to return to the costly turnover levels of the past. I looked at a total of nine companies in some detail for these two columns, and several others in less depth. Some were more focused on the first problem, some the second, and a few addressed key elements of both. Which ones will make sense to you will depend on your needs and what you already have, but I will outline some relevant factors to consider.
A key one is that many, even most of the staff that hospitality companies furloughed or terminated in 2020 have moved into new jobs in other industries and many will likely never come back at all. Essential retail, mail-order, healthcare, and delivery jobs have picked up many low-wage hospitality workers, often offering higher wages and greater job security. That means hotels will likely be hiring many people who have no experience and may well have to pay more as well. It is more important than ever to find the right people and to bring them on board in a way that makes it likely they will stay for a while.
So how can technology help hotels find all the staff they will need? The first question is how many each type of worker is needed, when, and on what schedules. This starts with a fairly detailed occupancy forecast out several months. Many analytics and revenue management systems do this, but they mostly rely on historical data, which right now provides very little guidance. To the extent they can, hotels can certainly use it, but future booking pace is what matters the most right now.
Next, hotels that are not already using a good scheduling package may want to consider one. Demand is fluctuating much more than in normal times, with many hotels experiencing little travel on weekdays but full weekends, and last-minute surges of demand or cancellations as local regulations change. This situation does not lend itself to traditional five-day, eight-hour shifts, so packages that can adapt to flexible shifts are essential, for example by offering some three-day, twelve-hour shifts to meet weekend demand. Further, hotels will likely be hiring heavily from the Gen Z and Millennial cohorts, many of whom place high value on flexible working hours.
The better scheduling packages automatically ensure compliance with local regulations and union rules. They can also “cascade” staff requirements sequentially across different sources of labor, starting with full-time staff, adding in part-timers and recallable or on-call staff, offering overtime hours, calling on excess staff from sister properties (if they are using the same system), adding in contract labor, and finally turning to temp staff or even gig workers. There is a lot of cost optimization work to be done here and it is almost impossible to do manually. Many hotels have paid for scheduling software just from the savings in overtime costs. Good scheduling systems can understand both specific resources (people already on staff or available when needed) and unidentified ones (people you would need to source), and some now have third-party connectivity to temp agencies, union halls, or the like. They also address the flexibility needs of Gen-Z and millennials by making it easy bid more flexible schedules (if offered) or to swap shifts.
Owners and management companies with multiple hotels in one city should consider scheduling software that facilitates the sharing of front-line staff resources across properties. This is a common practice in other industries but not frequently used by hotels. It can give employees a break in an otherwise boring daily routine, and it can save or reduce overtime costs. But the software also needs to consider the complications that are introduced when two workplaces share an employee – the laws require overtime based on the combined hours, and there needs to be a fair way to assess the overtime costs to one or both locations. Resource sharing can have the added benefit to employees of creating more opportunities for preferred working hours or shift swaps.
Many departmental hotel software packages (such as for housekeeping) offer scheduling modules, and most standard Human Capital Management (HCM) systems do as well. Department-specific products have generally cannot manage scheduling for other departments, which can be important for larger, more complex hotels that have lots of front-line employees in other departments (front office, food & beverage/catering, security, spa, etc.). Non-hospitality specific HCM systems may not handle the big daily fluctuations in staffing needs that some hotels face, such as ones with large banqueting operations that rely on on-call or gig workers. Two companies that offer cross-departmental scheduling packages that are optimized for hospitality, each with many or all of the above capabilities, are UniFocus and Hotel Effectiveness.
Hotels can also use scheduling software that is specific to each department, but in all but the smallest and simplest hotels, this can be more challenging for human resources staff to manage. It also makes it harder to connect the different hiring needs to the labor sourcing software at the next step. On the other hand, departmental management may be more comfortable doing scheduling in the package they already use and that is optimized for departmental processes, rather than learning a new one that may be more flexible but cumbersome and challenging to integrate with the operational system.
Once a hotel knows what additional staffing it expects to need, it faces the task of finding, attracting, evaluating, qualifying, selecting, hiring, and onboarding them. This is a complex process and can vary a lot depending on specific needs; hotels may not find a single solution that addresses all of them. Key elements are connectivity to sources of willing workers (job boards such as Indeed and Snagajob, staffing agencies and union halls; and casual, hospitality-friendly casual labor sources such as Hyre and Instawork); and analytics and/or data that can help target recruiting efforts and messaging to get the best response rates (including competitive pay rates). Also useful is analytics and data that can help identify candidates who are most likely to stay in the job for a while; talentReef, for example, has data on many millions of applications and hires, tied to their ultimate disposition (how long they stayed in the job and why they ultimately left it). Information like this can be used to help profile candidates with the best fit, who are most likely to stay.
Having found a potential candidate, the next important consideration is making the application process painless and engaging. Increasingly, front-line hospitality jobs are being filled by digital natives who expect mobile-friendly, easy-to-navigate experiences, and will get frustrated, drop out, or simply ghost the employer if the experience is not seamless and simple. The best systems provide this, with simple mobile-friendly web pages or even (as in the case of Harri) artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to answer questions and guide the applicant through the process. Chatbots can also help engage the candidate with automated proactive messaging to remind them of their interview (“we look forward to seeing you on Wednesday”) and provide useful information to help them feel prepared and welcome. The best systems can also be customized to deliver the look and feel that is appropriate to your company and/or brand, and to automatically send timely messages from specific individuals, such as the interviewer or hiring manager. Compliance is another important aspect that is handled automatically by many systems; there is no point wasting time on a candidate that does not qualify to be hired based on the laws of the jurisdiction, so automated verification of employment eligibility is useful.
Many HCM systems do an excellent job of tracking the talent that is on-board or that reaches the interview stage, but fewer help manage the candidate “funnel.” Many also concentrate more on managerial and professional development than entry-level front-line staff. You may be tempted to “make do” with your existing HCM system for the coming hiring surge, but it is worth spending a few hours evaluating the systems that specialize in talent acquisition for front-line staff to see how well your HCM system stacks up and whether it needs augmentation. Much time is expended in human resources departments that do this manually, and the result is often employees who turn over too quickly, creating even more costs.
The last stage of the hiring process is onboarding. As with the application process, there are new forms to fill out, and perhaps badges to be issued, uniforms to be fitted, and other one-time activities. Once again, AI technology can both make the process easier for the new hire and reduce the administrative burden on the hiring manager by managing communications and answering questions. Then of course there is training, feedback and evaluation during the first weeks of work; I will focus on that more in my next installment.
Among the systems I evaluated, Harri stood out for its approach that, rather than just optimizing the hotel business processes, puts the candidate and employee at the center. A goal is to make them feel welcomed and important from the first step in the hiring process until the end of employment (or even post-employment); each step of the process is just a continuation of the environment they first experienced at the time they first applied. It is well established that business performance is driven to a large extent by employee engagement, yet no other product I found made the employee experience the center of its reason for being.
My next installment will continue the human resource theme, focusing on software that facilitates employee engagement and improves retention and completing the life cycle of the employee from recruitment through departure. Several other interesting products have emerged on this front – stay tuned!