A complete absence of business due to COVID-19 lockdowns forced many hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and lodges to let go of staff as they could not pay their salaries.
Now, as the hospitality industry continues to battle challenges brought on by the pandemic, a new set of staffing challenges is cropping up for many in the hospitality industry as occupancy levels are now very difficult to predict.
“Uncertainty about the virus has made it extremely tough to anticipate the expected occupancy levels for next week, next month or next year. Without that visibility and ability to plan, money can be lost,” said Neil Markovitz, CEO of NEWMARK Hotels, Reserves, Lodges & Residences.
He gives an example: “A hotel creates its weekly staff schedule based on bookings and the incoming guests expected for the upcoming weekend. However, a COVID-19 spike causes widespread travel cancellations that decrease occupancy by a huge percentage. This, in turn, significantly reduces the number of employees needed on duty over this time. If the hotel fails to adjust its schedule accordingly, or is unable to pivot in time and ends up paying for the staffing costs for the occupancy volume it originally expected, its profitability suffers severely.”
Because of this, many businesses within hospitality are not re-hiring staff that were let go through hard lockdown, and are keeping their employee numbers to a minimum, operating with a smaller team to maintain as much profitability in the current reduced income circumstances.
Markovitz advised that, with profit margins unprecedentedly tight, companies just didn’t have the wiggle room to overspend on staff.
Enter the age of adaptable, multi-skilled hospitality staff
“The COVID impact meant that operators within the hospitality sector had to react agilely, battling the need to operate with significantly fewer staff whilst still delivering a premium level of service. As a result, we saw employees became incredibly adaptable when it came to learning new skills,” said Kate Zaaiman, HR Director of NEWMARK.
“In order to remain profitable, hotels have had to cross utilise their staff, so employees often fulfil multiple positional responsibilities during a single shift. Staff have had to learn how to efficiently perform a diverse range of tasks during a single shift, switching from front-of-house responsibilities to serving during peak dining hours to room-cleaning and preparations, all in one day.”
She added that, in NEWMARK’s experience, the COVID crisis had made employees much more open and receptive to learning new skills.
“Before, if we had asked a front office executive to help with housekeeping, they would have turned their nose up, but this is not the case any longer. It has become accepted that hospitality staff need to multi-skill themselves for increased employability.
“Regardless of responsibilities, employees must now be trained for tasks rather than positions. A versatile, cross-utilised team is what provides hotels with the adaptability needed to have the right labour costs without sacrificing service quality.”
According to Zaaiman, small, multi-skilled teams within the hospitality sector are a silver lining consequence of COVID-19 and a trend that she believes will continue to shape the industry into post-COVID times.
“Now as we prepare for full reopening, the need for multi-skilling is more prevalent than ever. Not only does having a cross-trained workforce offer significantly more flexibility and responsiveness to fluctuating demand, it also reduces labour costs at a time where, financially, our industry is still reeling from the effects of the last 18 months.”
The benefits of smaller multi-skilled teams didn’t just lie with the operators either, Zaaiman pointed out. “Interesting to note is that our staff have reported increased job satisfaction, increased confidence due to higher employability with their new-found diverse skills set, and our absenteeism rate, apart from COVID-related absences, is close to zero.”
“For hotels, the road to COVID-19 recovery will be an ongoing process that is, to some degree, out of our control. The virus will determine when the industry officially returns to prosperity. Though in the meantime, the steps hotels take now will determine their ability to regain stability when that day does finally come,” concluded Markovitz.