The Fightback for Hospitality Workers Starts with the Employee Experience

If hospitality businesses are to win back the talent the industry needs, then focusing on the whole person needs of newly empowered workers will be key.
Hotel waiter working on tables

As the Great Resignation plays out, hospitality businesses are being hit harder than most. Throughout 2021, hotels and restaurants hemorrhaged workers, and at a far greater rate than other sectors. In November alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs, a record-high 1 million were hospitality workers.

Understandably, a narrative has emerged that hospitality businesses face a labor shortage, but I think that there’s something else happening here. While pandemic-enforced lockdowns disrupted business as usual and saw some 4 million hotel and restaurant workers lose their jobs, these people did not disappear. Workers are out there; they’re just choosing not to work in hospitality. 

Workers’ New Priorities

One theory, and a theory that I subscribe to, is that the pandemic caused many hourly workers in the industry to reassess their priorities. For many, time away from the hustle and bustle of front-line service will have been a welcome break, and these workers are now looking for roles that provide them with a better work/life balance than has traditionally been available in hospitality.

The numbers seem to bear this contention out. For example, 59% of hourly employees cited scheduling issues as reasons they would quit a job, other than pay. While money will always be important to workers in any industry, it is no longer the be-all and end-all. If hospitality businesses are to win back the talent the industry needs, then focusing on the whole person needs of newly empowered workers will be key.

Lessons from CX

Clues to how hotels and restaurants can achieve this goal can be gleaned from how retailers rapidly adapted to the changed needs of their consumers during the pandemic. It’s well documented that consumer shopping patterns have changed dramatically since COVID hit, not least in the increase in demand for digital services and home delivery options. What people look for in a brand has changed, too. For instance, according to a report by Accenture, 60% of shoppers reported making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the pandemic.

Because of these shifts, roughly 15 years of e-commerce development has taken place in just two. Prior to the pandemic, people shopped differently but now, people want what they want, and they want it quickly. With this change, retailers have become hyper-aware of how they can create a shopping experience that brings customers in, gets them to shop, provides them the goods they want and ultimately, gets them to stay longer through activities that lead to them spending more money.

Reshaping the Employee Experience

If hospitality is to thrive, businesses in the sector need to apply the Customer Experience focus of e-commerce success stories to the Employee Experience. Employers should look to put employees at the center of their business by creating an environment where hourly workers feel engaged and empowered, and that they have a voice in their work. If employers don’t adapt and offer a better employee experience, their employees will leave them behind.

What does employee empowerment look like in practice? For me, the democratization of workforce management (WFM) processes is a good place to start. Rather than top-down approaches where management dictates where and when its people work, perhaps now is the time to let employees decide for themselves.

The technology to enable such flexibility is out there. Simple, intuitive smartphone apps can enable workers to indicate scheduling preferences, initiate swaps, request time off, see predicted pay, plus much more. The approach fosters engagement and saves employers valuable administrative time.

For hotel and restaurant chains with multiple branches, employers can give their workers even greater flexibility by enabling them to work across a variety of locations. Using modern workforce management apps, workers can specify where they wish to work, or where they are willing to work, at any given time. Doing so gives workers variety in their work lives and the ability to better manage their work around, for example, seasonal holidays where they may wish to spend time working from a different city. There’s a clear upside for management too, who are better able to fill coverage gaps and accommodate on-demand workers.

Empowered Workers Mean Better Business

We know from the world of retail that winning customer experiences leads to repeat customers. One survey from last year suggests that 90% of shoppers are likely to return to a store if their in-store experience is positive — and especially if the experience is one-of-a-kind. We all know from our own experiences of visiting hotels and restaurants, if the experience is great, we’re more than likely going to go there again.

The same holds true for hourly workers at businesses. If you can offer an amazing employee experience focused on what matters to them, and their needs, then those workers are going to remain loyal to your company. Build a strong reputation as an employer brand, then you’re also going to tempt workers from other businesses – both in the hospitality trade and out.

What’s more, by applying CX principles to employee experience delivery, hospitality businesses can create a virtuous circle. As the global economy ramps up, winning customer experiences will be vital to bringing people into hospitality businesses. And what better way to do just that than through motivated and engaged workers that love what they do and feel in control of their work lives?


Michael Spataro is the Chief Delivery Officer at Legion Technologies, a role to which he was named in 2021. Prior to his current role, Spataro was VP of Professional Services at the Axsium Group, responsible for Workforce Management thought leadership, helping customers and prospects better understand and plan for the changing dynamics of the workforce, and define, develop, and deliver global workforce management strategies for customers. Previously, Spataro was a Senior Manager in Deloitte's Workforce Management consultancy, VP of Global Workforce Dimensions Services at Kronos, and Director of IT Store Technologies at Gap, Inc. He is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.