Industry Update
Opinion Article24 September 2021

Successful Talent Retention in the 21st Century Workplace

Focus on Hospitality & Leisure

By Jens Busch, Vice President at HVS Executive Search and based in Macau, China and Florian Kittler, Managing Director-Europe & Asia Pacific, London

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With the developments over the past 18 months, it is more important than ever for hotel owners and operators to retain their top-performing employees.


Major benefactors of the recent developments have been the industry sectors of finance, logistics, medical and technology. Businesses in hospitality and leisure find it increasingly challenging to recruit the skilled talent required. Therefore, now is the right time for hotel owners and operators to implement a strong retention strategy that sets a foundation for the future.

From a staffing standpoint, the pandemic has added an additional layer to the pre-existing challenges of finding and retaining key employees. If hotel owners and operators do not have a strategy when it comes to recruitment and retention, they will face even bigger challenges to overcome versus those who are prepared in this critical area.

Where do we stand as of mid-2021, 18 months into the most significant pandemic in recent human history:

  • Hotel, Resorts and Restaurants development: Financial institutions are limiting their risks, which includes avoiding or deferring lending to higher tier risks, such as the lodging industry.
  • Continued payroll and staffing cutbacks: Due to very limited international travel and canceled meetings & events, the hospitality and leisure industry has experienced significant redundancies to improve cash flow and ensure survival, many at times with focus being on the regional and domestic demand drivers.
  • Redeployment of manpower: Senior level positions and corporate-office personnel have been laid off or moved to other areas, e.g. on-property to support the day-to-day operation as rank and file employees are very difficult to hire, partly due to changing sectors to other industries, partly due to prolonged international border closures.
  • Talent is changing industry sectors: With the current state of hospitality and travel, and the uncertainty surrounding the coming times, it has led to employees seeking more secure roles in other sectors utilizing their transferable skillsets.
  • Employees prefer not to return: Hospitality professionals are not coming back due to continued significant government unemployment benefits (e.g. United Kingdom / Australia) or being uncomfortable working in the front line due to health and hygiene reasons, and the perceived risks that come with a pandemic.
  • Additional expenses by owners and operators: Trying to keep hotel employees and guests safe and healthy has resulted in additional expenses for hygiene and safety, these cannot be avoided or cut back in the short to medium term.

The Key Focus Points

Understanding Turnover and the Why: What Makes Employees Leave?

There are many reasons why employees may choose to head for other pastures. As an employer of choice it is critical to understand why employees make these decisions. There's an entire toolbox available to prevent this from happening in the first place and foster a company culture which supports individuals and their level of happiness and engagement on a daily basis.

Employee Satisfaction Surveys

These are usually conducted at least once a year and provide a snapshot of the state of employee satisfaction at any one time. When conducting these, it is critical to then develop a follow-up action plan with the team together after sharing the results. The action plan will require some critical thinking and a leadership team which is prepared to face the challenges head-on, leading from the front. An example for a company which conducts these is: "Great Place to Work "

Ongoing Pulse Surveys

There are excellent tools available in the market today, utilizing smartphones or email and other technology to gauge employee's satisfaction anonymously and on an ongoing basis. These pulse surveys typically ask random questions to a select number of participating employees and results are then shared in real-time with the appointed leaders. Again, this requires an environment which is conducive to such feedback but one of the many advantages are that this is done continuously, not just a one-time snapshot. Grouping the results by department and location will quickly identify the areas of interest for an organization. An example for a company which conducts these is: "TINY Pulse".

Exit Interviews

The "good old, trusted way" of obtaining feedback is from those who decide to depart the organization from the information they decide to volunteer upon leaving. It will be beneficial to look for non-verbal clues when conducting these discussions to get a complete picture of how the person is really feeling. What was the trigger point that brought them to this place? Asking open-ended questions, allowing the person to speak freely and without the fear of retribution or making them feel uncomfortable, these discussions should always be held in a closed-door, private setting.

Benefits Beyond Money: It's Not Just About Paying More

Providing Employees Opportunities for Learning and Development

On-the-job training, coaching and mentoring by leaders and peers, e-learning, conducting training in conjunction with other reputed organizations, the benefits of having an environment where employees are able to learn and develop themselves are manifold. Ideally, there should be time set aside at least each month for staff to be able to have training, which then ties into the company KPO's, e.g. a minimum of 10 to 20 hours per month, depending on the role in the organization. Employee development should be a win-win area, where employees gain additional skills and grow as members of the team, which in turn benefits their department and the company as a whole.

Career Development, Besides Promotions

These can include specialist task-force assignments to other locations on or off properties or pre-opening support roles. It may also include off-site learning courses or other specialist support coming to provide specific guidance for someone's development.

Cross-Training, Multi-Skilling, Flexible Work Schedules and the Ability to Work from Home

This being especially critical in today's day and age, so long as the company can ensure goals are flexible and the Cyber Security infrastructure setup provides the maximum of safety. Someone's personal environment will provide obvious distractions, so a more generous and caring approach will usually provide the same if not better results over time. 4-days work week, anyone?

Internships and "a Day in the Life Of"

Prime opportunities abound of connecting with the community and local media to showcase what the leadership team and company culture is all about, providing a fertile environment for the next generation of leaders.

Assisting Employees During Times of Personal Hardships

Employees will never forget how we made them feel, even more so in challenging times of a family or friends passing, during severe illnesses or other traumatic events. Providing support and assistance, showing our care and being there when it matters the most, these are the most simplistic yet often overlooked in today's corporate culture and when faced with working hours of 9-9-6.

Creating a Workplace Which is Truly Engaged With the Local Environment and the Town

Being part of the community, connecting with local media, chambers of commerce and associations. Celebrate local festivals, support the town during special events and focus on the environment and sustainability. Conducting clean-ups, showcasing new technology and reducing our carbon footprint, to show that the organization truly cares.

Company Culture and Engagement

Five generations in one workplace – each has their own set of motivations and trigger points.

For the first time in modern history, five generations are working side by side. Each of these generations has their own style when it comes to leadership, communication, and career development. That does not mean we as leaders should have different ways of handling the generations, it just means we need to understand the specific needs of everyone in our organization and the specific reasons why they are here, what motivates them and what may trigger them to move on.

A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in each "birth cohort" tend to exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes. Generations exhibit similar characteristics, such as communication, shopping, and motivation preferences - because they experienced similar trends at approximately the same life stage and through similar channels (e.g., online, TV, mobile, etc.).

The five generations we find in today's workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: born 1927–to-1945: Motivated by: Respect, Recognition, Providing long-term value to the company
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-to-1964: Motivated by: Teamwork, Duty, Company Loyalty
  • Generation X: born 1965-to-1980: Motivated by: Diversity, Work-life-Balance, Personal interests vs company interests
  • Millennials: born 1981-to-2000: Motivated by: The Quality of their Leader, Unique Experiences, Responsibility
  • Generation Z: born 2001-to-today: Motivated by: Individuality, Creativity, Personalization

With challenges come opportunities, with opportunities we become stronger and better as it forces us to think outside of the box and find new ways of doing things. Retaining our best talents can be as simple as a pat on the back and a sincere "Thank you for doing a great job!" Showing that we care as an individual goes a very long way. Ask yourself, what can I do better now, today and tomorrow to positively touch the lives of those around me?

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from


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Jens Busch

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