March 17, 2023

Increasing Retention in the Hospitality Industry

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Waitresses may smile frequently, and the front desk associate at a hotel may act graciously welcoming, but are these employees really happy? Well, considering that the 2021 turnover rate for leisure and hospitality employees was 84.9% (compared to the average of 47%), it’s obvious that no, the majority of these people aren’t actually happy at work.

Hospitality jobs historically have a higher turnover rate because they are stressful, difficult, and unpredictable. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept the turnover rate where it’s at. High turnover can destroy your culture, cost you money, and make it hard for your company to excel. Luckily, turnover isn’t static—retention rates can be improved, even in the hospitality industry.

In order to know how to improve retention, you first have to understand why people are leaving. These are some common reasons employees leave:

  • Lack of predictability or flexibility
  • A toxic work environment
  • Lack of growth opportunities
  • Unclear expectations
  • Insufficient communication

Pay and benefits are also common reasons, but we’re not going to talk about them here—you should be offering competitive pay and good benefits, no matter what. Employees expect that. Besides that, though, here are some strategies for increasing retention in hospitality:

  • Revamp your hiring process
  • Balance flexibility and schedule expectations
  • Cultivate a classy company culture
  • Offer career growth opportunities
  • Train managers to do their best

Now let’s take a deeper dive into both the reasons employees quit and the ways you can encourage them to stay.

5 Reasons Why Hospitality Employees Quit

Some things, such as rude customers or emergency messes, are unavoidable in hospitality work. However, here are some challenges employees face that you can address and improve.

1. Lack of Predictability or Flexibility

The hospitality industry is notorious for long hours, weekend workers, and irregular schedules. Some of that is understandable, but when employees have to work overtime or weekend hours on a regular basis without any warning, they’re going to start feeling burned out and overworked.

Related to that, employees don’t like waiting until the last minute to know when they’ll work. That makes it difficult for them to use PTO or make plans because they never know if they’ll be on the clock or not. That can harm their work-life balance, which is a big reason people look for different work opportunities.

2. A Toxic Work Environment

Hospitality employees often work in high-pressure situations. Combine that with a toxic work environment, and you have a recipe for turnover. Toxicity can stem from many sources, but one of the biggest ones is the leadership. When managers aren’t open, communicative, or respectful, employees are almost always unhappy at work.

Toxicity also comes in the form of harassment of any kind, a hustle culture, bad relationships with coworkers, or any number of things. When employees don’t feel cared for, valued, or important, they’re going to feel like they’re working in a toxic work environment—and a toxic environment is 10X more influential on employee turnover than compensation.

3. Lack of Growth Opportunities

Many hospitality employees may take a job as a hotel maintenance worker or as a restaurant server when they’re young, but not many choose to stay very long because of the seeming lack of career growth opportunities. No one likes feeling like they’re at a dead-end job, and if they don’t see a clear path for promotions, new responsibilities, and growth, they likely won’t stay.

4. Unclear Expectations

The first few days or weeks of an employee’s tenure at your company are vital. If they show up and don’t know what’s expected of them, chances are they won’t stay. A huge part of this is the hiring process. If employees are given a certain idea of their job during the interview process but then the actual job doesn’t meet their expectations, they’re going to be disappointed and upset, and they’ll probably leave.

5. Insufficient Communication

When work is stressful and high pressure, communication is even more important than it usually is. If employees feel out-of-touch with the company or confused with regulations or processes, they’re not going to enjoy going into work—which means they’re going to look for a new job sooner rather than later.

5 Ways to Encourage Hospitality Employees to Stay

To be clear, some turnover is completely normal. Leisure and hospitality work is demanding, and not everyone is cut out for it. Turnover becomes a problem when avoidable quits happen because of a company’s shortcomings. But these strategies can help you cut back on avoidable turnover by transforming your culture into one that employees love.

1. Revamp Your Hiring Process

Use a data-driven approach to ensure that you hire the optimal talent from the start. And during the interview and hiring process, make sure that you clearly convey everything about your company and about the position—make sure potential employees have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, the structure of their team, and their compensation. 

This includes being open and honest about both the positives and negatives of the job. Employees deserve to know what they’re getting into, and they shouldn’t be surprised by anything once they start their new role.

Bonus tip: Check in frequently with each new hire and ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if they’re unclear about anything and make sure they know who they can turn to with questions or concerns.

2. Balance Flexibility and Schedule Expectations

Flexibility is hard in hospitality, but your scheduling methods should be clear and consistent, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Create and release schedules as early as possible and stick to a scheduling cadence that employees can rely on—this includes quickly and clearly conveying any scheduling changes that may come up. Employees should always have a clear idea of when they’ll need to work for the coming weeks.

You should also encourage PTO to the greatest extent possible. Support employees’ personal lives and let them take time off when they need it. Make it easy to request and approve time off and never, ever make people feel guilty for using PTO. These changes will have a vast improvement on employees’ work-life balance.

3. Cultivate a Classy Company Culture

When your employees come into work each day, they should feel supported and valued—they should feel like an important individual, not an overlooked piece of machinery. One of the greatest ways to do that is with employee recognition. Employee recognition means recognizing good work, effort, and contributions. People need to know that when they work hard, that work is appreciated. (And let’s be honest, hospitality work is often difficult and thankless—you can change that to make work more rewarding.)

With a quality employee recognition platform, you can empower manager-to-employee recognition, peer-to-peer recognition, and event celebrations as well. You can even encourage wellness, empower vacations, and celebrate life events, too. The point is to make employees feel cared for and noticed in both their work and personal lives. That feeling—the feeling of being recognized and cared for—is more important to retention than money or compensation.

Another great idea is to promote team building and work relationships. Most hospitality jobs are very interactive, dealing with people throughout the day. Some of those interactions need to be fun and positive, especially between coworkers. While you can’t expect everyone to be great friends, you can host company parties or team events to help everyone get to know each other better and have fun together.

4. Offer Career Growth Opportunities

One of the greatest things you can do to keep employees happy and engaged is frequent training and development. Nothing is worse than employees who don’t feel empowered or equipped to do their work well, so offer ongoing training to provide both new and experienced employees with the skills and experience they need. These opportunities could also include cross-training, giving employees insight into different aspects of the business, which can help them learn about different growth opportunities.

Employees also need a clear path for career growth. Make raises and promotions a regular conversation you have, and provide helpful feedback on a regular basis. Managers should hold one-on-ones to have these conversations and help with skill development. Leaders should also take into account each employee’s personal goals. Where do they want to end up? What do they want to learn? Help them accomplish their goals in any way possible.

Around 68% of employees would stay with their employers for their entire career if that employer made an effort to upskill and train them. So what are you waiting for?

5. Train Managers to Do Their Best

Managers play such an important part in retention. You’ve probably heard the old adage that employees don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers. While this can be an exaggeration, it’s very true to say that if a manager doesn’t know how to manage effectively, employees aren’t going to want to work for them.

Good managers will develop a relationship with their direct reports. They will provide feedback to help employees perform at their best. They’ll be honest and open, and they’ll treat employees with kindness and respect. Good managers also are open to feedback and criticism from employees, and they’re not too prideful to change their management style if necessary.

Make sure that each of your managers is property trained and prepared for overseeing their people. Provide regular training to ensure all your managers feel comfortable and confident leading those around them.

Hospitality Doesn’t Mean High Turnover

Employees in any industry will stay at a company that supports them, helps them grow, treats them with respect, and keeps them engaged. While work in the hospitality industry may be difficult and often stressful, with the above strategies, you can still create a culture that employees love to be a part of. Who knows? Maybe you’ll play an important part in bringing down the average turnover rate in the leisure and hospitality industry.