Benedetta Doro on how the hotel industry can implement flexible working options for their employees and why this matters.
The hotel industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and with the uncertainty of different lockdowns looming, many employers had to make cuts to their workforce.
Overall, from March 2020 to April 2021 the UK hospitality industry has lost £80.8bn in sales, according to the UKHospitality Quarterly Tracker. This is equivalent to around £220m of sales lost every day. Also, according to a PwC report, “hotel occupancy rates in 2021 are forecast to be 55% across the UK, and could take four years to return to pre-Covid-19 levels.”
Now, as restrictions are being lifted across the country, hotels are trying to get themselves back into business as many families are forced to staycation this year. But a big issue is staff shortages so one way around it is to open up the talent pool by advertising flexible jobs to appeal to a wider audience and to retain existing staff.
In the past, the hospitality sector has struggled more than others to promote flexible working options. That was partially due to the necessity of requiring staff to work in certain locations at determined times. This often led working parents to move to a different industry to manage childcare and their jobs simultaneously.
In 2019, the majority of flexible working hours requests came from women [around 62%] who were trying to find childcare arrangements following their maternity leave.
However, flexibility can be implemented in any industry, including hospitality, and there are many ways to do so, for instance, through job shares, giving part-time and flexible working hours options or some working from home if possible. One of the companies who has been trying to target parents returning to work is Travelodge. In 2019 they launched a returner programme to fill job vacancies across the UK, and in 2020 they advertised flexible jobs and targeted unemployed parents.
Travelodge also drafted a five-step path to help parents back to work. Besides flexible working hours, it included career advice for parents on their website, a full range of company benefits including discounts on hotel stays, comprehensive training, a work buddy system and opportunities to join the Travelodge Aspire management programme.
The pandemic showed how many jobs, even in hospitality, can be done flexibly and accelerated technological development has allowed different positions to be done remotely. According to CODE, a community created to reward, inspire, connect and educate hospitality professionals, “staff in office roles are likely to want to retain an element of flexibility” and “those in front- and back-of-house roles are likely to be more conscious of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, having spent time on furlough”. Indeed, 76% strongly agree or agree that they will pursue more flexible working patterns as a result of Covid-19.
In the wake of the lifting of Covid restrictions, hotels are getting ready to welcome guests back across the UK, particularly domestic tourism for the ‘staycation’ season. To do so, many are looking for new workers due to skills shortages. Travelodge is looking to fill 680 positions across the UK ahead of the summer season.
They are offering both full- and part-time roles at different levels in the company and are keen to attract returners.
Craig Bonnar, Travelodge Chief Executive, said that they are offering flexible working hours “to help parents work around the school run, so that they can raise their family and keep one foot firmly on their career ladder too”. Adding that “there has never been a better time than now to join the UK hospitality sector, the career opportunities are endless and it also opens a door to the world.”
Giving employees flexible working options not only attracts many skilled workers who had quit their jobs due to previously inflexible working contracts, but it can also increase motivation, diversity, loyalty, quality of service and address the gender pay gap. All of these benefits combined with better retention of staff can reduce business recruitment costs too.
Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure published an interim report with PwC on the gender pay gap this week. It shows that, although many companies didn’t report by 5th April, since the Government gave them a six-month extension, reporting within the Hospitality, Travel and Leisure sector was, at 19%, significantly below the average of 32% and the retail sector’s 36%. The report acknowledges that this may reflect the more consistent impact of Covid on the sector.
It notes some worrying trends, with an increase in the average gender pay gaps for the first time in three years, with 25% of companies reporting a gap above 14.7%. This may in part be due to who lost their job or went on furlough during the pandemic. There was also limited progress in the most senior and junior roles. The report says: “The pay gap continues
to reflect the fact that across HTL there are far more men than women in the best paid senior positions and technical
roles, and far more women in lower paid jobs.” The average HTL company had 61% males in the highest paid 25% of their workforce, but 54% females in the lowest paid 25% which means that female jobs are much more likely to be casual and vulnerable to reactionary business decisions, such as furlough, than male roles.
Greater flexibility in the industry could help to retain women in particular and help to get more into senior positions. As businesses face a new age of tourism there has never been a better time to experiment and innovate when it comes to different ways of working that work for both employers and employees.