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Tackling severe labour shortages with active listening

By Ian Barrow, Senior Employee Experience Consultant from WorkBuzz – this article first appeared in Today’s Hotelier.

The hotel industry has always had a higher-than-average staff turnover rate. However, the situation is getting critical with 82% of hotels indicating they are experiencing a staffing shortage, and 26% are so severely impacted that it’s affecting the hotel’s ability to operate.

There are many reasons given for these staffing issues, from poor rates of pay through to toxic workplace cultures, but one thing is for sure – more needs to be done to make hotels attractive places to work, otherwise the time and cost of filling vacated roles will spiral. And the starting point for this must be ‘active listening’.

The key to success

When employers don’t regularly listen to what their people want, and how they feel about their employee experience, this will inevitably lead to a high staff turnover. After all, trying to fix poor staff retention without understanding why your people are actually leaving is like trying to drive a car with no steering wheel – you may be able to move forward, but not necessarily in the right direction.

To obtain an honest and thorough understanding of your employees’ everyday experience and how you can make it better, you must implement an employee listening program that enables feedback to be gathered on an ongoing basis.

First, you need to establish what you want to find out against what you are trying to achieve as a business, and then split this into manageable chunks. It could be that you initially want to know the effectiveness of your onboarding process, followed by the top reasons your employees are leaving. You may then wish to drill down into specific areas of your firm such as the quality of management, employees’ health and wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, and training and development opportunities. Based on the insights you’re after, this informs the questions you need to ask.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The next challenge is to obtain regular feedback from employees who are working different shift patterns and may be located across different hotels. Finding time for one-to-one and team meetings between managers and their reports is important, but this alone won’t provide the detailed insights needed to drive positive change. Plus, bringing teams together on a regular basis may prove too challenging.

Engagement surveys should therefore be used in combination with face-to-face feedback, with a ‘pulse’ survey a great tool for collating regular and anonymous feedback, so employers can regularly ‘temperature check’ employee sentiment. When pulse surveys are used alongside onboarding and exit surveys, you have in place the backbone of an effective active listening program.

Of course, you ideally need employee engagement software to automate and streamline the distribution and management of the surveys, otherwise the process will be too resource-intensive and simply won’t be repeated on a regular basis. It’s also important to ensure that the surveys can be accessed and completed on mobile devices, so your deskless workers aren’t excluded.

Having a dashboard of insights from your surveys that can be sliced and diced will then provide a solid foundation for improving how your employees feel about their work. For instance, you may discover that the recommended onboarding process is rarely followed due to the urgent need to fill roles quickly, and that employees aren’t feeling valued or appreciated.

Alternatively, you may find that the onboarding period works fine but that employees feel abandoned once it’s over, and so introducing a ‘buddy system’ for all new hires, so they’re well-supported during their first few months in the job, could make all the difference.

To make impactful improvements to staff retention means taking the time to find out the root causes of staff disengagement. And this is only possible with ‘active listening’ – the process of asking employees the right questions, listening to the answers, and then acting upon the insights.

Not only will taking this approach reduce staff turnover, it will also help improve other key business metrics – from customer satisfaction and occupancy rates through to revenue growth.

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