Flexibility: The staffing trend of 2024?

What’s that sound? It could be a collective sigh of relief as hospitality hiring managers sense some easing in the labor market. With labor numbers returning to pre-pandemic normal, how can employers shift from just trying to get enough workers to ensuring they get — and keep — the best ones?

2024 Labor Trends by the Numbers

According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, job openings in the Accommodations and Food Service sector are continuing their overall decline since the height reached in August 2021. With 979,000 open jobs in November 2023 (a drop of 0.5% from the previous month), numbers are now comparable to levels from 2018-2019.

That being said, rates in these sectors are still higher than in all other sectors except healthcare and social assistance along with professional and business services. There are still a lot of jobs to fill. After all, staffing in hospitality has always been a formidable task, so returning to pre-pandemic numbers means returning to a challenging environment.

What Do Frontline Employees Want?

To fill those jobs, employers would be wise to pay attention to what applicants and existing staff want. Increasingly, that is flexibility. Managers in other industries may be able to offer the flexibility of remote or hybrid work, but in the hospitality field, most workers are considered frontline, and their jobs must be done on site. So how can hospitality employers offer flexible work arrangements for their employees? Gallup recently released some interesting findings showing that flexibility around when they work is more important to frontline workers than where they work.

Digging deeper, the Gallup data demonstrated that the flexible arrangements frontline workers value most are:

  • Choice of which days per week to work
  • Increased PTO or vacation time
  • Four-day workweek (e.g., four 10-hour days)

They cared less about being able to choose which hours per day to work, having a relaxed dress code or even having a three-day workweek (three 12-hour days). Keeping these preferences in mind, employers can design workflows to help attract and retain strong employees.

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What Does Offering Flexibility Look Like in Practice?

A recent article in Forbes highlighted how Hilton is offering flexibility to its frontline employees. They give workers the option to be paid more frequently — even daily — and they use technology solutions such as Workjam to allow shift swapping.

Flexibility can extend beyond where and when individuals work. Creating a family-friendly corporate culture is another way to create work flexibility. Family-friendly work cultures embrace the concept that employees can be committed to both work and their private lives. When given the space to flourish in both areas, employees are more satisfied in their work and less likely to look for other positions.

Building Frontline Engagement

Hiring quality staff is only part of the formula for success. Keeping those employees in their jobs is important for building a positive company culture and providing the institutional knowledge necessary to provide excellent customer service. Interestingly, the Gallup survey found frontline workers (who are, by definition, on site) are less engaged (29%) with their workplace than fully remote or hybrid workers (both 38%).

The hospitality industry is based on serving the needs and preferences of its customers in person, yet it can apply that same thinking to its employees by being creative. Managers may want to consider offering personalized digital training that allows staff to learn at their own pace.

Hospitality professionals work hard to make their locations fun and welcoming to guests. Applying that same creativity to making the workplace attractive to staff can help build employee engagement and fight turnover.

Now that the worst of the labor market squeeze in the hospitality industry seems to be behind us, there is breathing room to return to the basics of hiring the best possible people and retaining them as satisfied team members. Creating a workplace setting and schedule geared toward having employees there when they want to be is likely to build a more satisfied workforce, better customer service and a healthier workplace environment.

George Lessmeister

George Lessmeister
George Lessmeister is CEO and founder of LGC Hospitality.

George Lessmeister

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