Workday Study: The New Hospitality Front-Line Experience

The hospitality industry was hit hard by the pandemic, but now that many more consumers are in the mood to go out and about, front-line workers are harder than ever to come by. Our front-line worker study shows there are a few strategies hospitality leaders can deploy to find and keep qualified workers.

With momentum across the hospitality and travel industry showing no signs of stopping, front-line workers are under greater pressure to deliver exceptional guest experiences amid ongoing labor shortages. Adding more stress to the situation are evolving consumer expectations, as guest preferences shift steadily toward brands that prioritize convenience and personalization. 

While hospitality has never been a stranger to high attrition and employee churn, these current conditions, compounded further by changing worker expectations, make it more difficult than ever to keep front-line positions filled.

Although hospitality leaders can’t fix societal or economic issues all by themselves, we’re seeing a creative, forward-looking mindset shift about the front-line employee experience emerge in the space. In our recent study “Empathy and Empowerment: The New Front-Line Experience” conducted by Longitude, a Financial Times company, we found a small group of leaders, represented across the four industries we surveyed, blazing a hopeful path forward amid all these turnover woes. 

A small cohort (11%) of organizations surveyed have committed to an improved front-line worker experience as a business strategy and, consequently, report front-line turnover that’s lower than the historical average. We call these organizations the “Front-Line Leaders.”

We surveyed 504 senior executives, including 125 from the hospitality industry, who have oversight of and/or responsibility for decisions about their organization’s front-line workforce (any employee who must be physically present to do their job).

Our research shows that 46% of hospitality executives report experiencing employee turnover that is higher than the historical average. Hospitality was the only industry surveyed where pay was not reported to be the top reason why front-line workers are leaving. Instead, employees are more likely to leave for a senior position elsewhere or a career in a new industry. 

According to Jude Reser, vice president of human resources at hotel and asset management company Atrium Hospitality, many have left the industry because of the hours. “It’s been kind of a reinvention,” says Reser. “People have decided that they would rather work 9 to 5, five days a week, and have some flexibility.”

Front-Line Leaders—who span every industry we surveyed (hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail)—seem to have a greater understanding of how difficult the pandemic has been for their workers.

A Closer Look at the Front-Line Leaders

Front-Line Leaders—which span every industry we surveyed (hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail)—seem to have a greater understanding of how difficult the pandemic has been for their workers. Front-Line Leaders enhance the front-line workforce experience in five ways:

  1. Empowering their front-line workers with more control and flexibility.

  2. Investing in employee-first tools and technology.

  3. Relying on data insights to inform and improve employee experience.

  4. Focusing on front-line workers’ development and well-being.

  5. Listening to their front-line workers’ wants and needs.

By contrast, organizations that are less likely to invest in the front-line worker experience in lieu of the short-term gains of filling positions often do so at the expense of overall organizational outcomes. Like hospitality, the majority of organizations surveyed (56%) are grappling with front-line employee turnover that is higher than the historical average—and half of these organizations (49%) expect even greater turnover in the year ahead.

The Way Forward for Hospitality

For today’s organization heads, now is the time to improve the front-line worker experience, but where should a hospitality leader start? In the hospitality-focused snapshot of the main report, there are two central areas for growth when it comes to stemming the tide of front-line turnover. 

First, hospitality leaders need to institute cultural changes so front-line workers feel as valued as back-office employees. As it stands, only 34% of hospitality respondents say that they value front-line staff as much as office staff. Anecdotally, and across industries, many front-line workers feel ignored

To make people feel valued, you need to show that you value them. This could include many efforts, but offering employees more flexible scheduling options is a big first step. For Front-Line Leaders, providing workers with control and flexibility over their schedules is a high priority, second only to salary incentives. They are 10% more likely to have introduced greater scheduling control for front-line workers in the past two years (39% compared with 29% of organizations overall).

In addition, many hospitality leaders struggle to leverage the people, operational, and financial insights needed to understand the true potential of an engaged front-line workforce. In fact, 33% are unable to connect disparate data sources from across their business. Without a clear view of performance and outcomes, it’s almost impossible to chart the path forward to optimal workforce management.

Front-Line Leaders, across all industries surveyed, recognize the importance of data. The majority (60%) say data guides their evaluation of the front-line worker experience, compared with 46% of organizations overall. And 65% say better access to quality data insights will improve their front-line workforce management, compared with 48% overall.

The challenges of the past two years have brought employee expectations and sentiment to the forefront. Reser says that, at Atrium Hospitality, there is increased awareness regarding the importance of collecting data about employees’ experiences to make informed changes.

“We are now tracking declination reasons,” says Reser. “If we offer a job to a candidate and they decline, why is that? If it’s due to wages, we need to look at our offer. Now, job descriptions are being reevaluated constantly based on the feedback.”

Read the main report “Empathy and Empowerment: The New Front-Line Experience” or the industry snapshot “Flexibility and Control: The New Hospitality Front-Line Experience.”

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