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How a New Approach to Staffing Is Helping Hospitality Businesses Become More Efficient

The time has come for hospitality to create a “middle layer” of recurring shifts for workers on flexible schedules.
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The old approach to hospitality staffing clearly isn’t working anymore. The hotel industry is still roughly a quarter million employees short of where it was before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and demand is as high as ever. Caterers, restaurants, and bars have recovered somewhat better, but they’re still behind the pre-pandemic trend. So how can businesses attract and hold onto more workers, without sacrificing too much?

The answer comes in the form of a new approach to staffing. Leaving behind the old temporary-permanent dichotomy, this approach takes advantage of the growing range of options in the labor market to ensure that hotels have full access to all the available talent. And the key can be summed up in just one word: layering.

To understand how and why to use the layered approach, first ask yourself a few questions:

  • Take a look back at your use of temporary labor over the past year. Did you always have temps, just in varying numbers?
  • Now look at overtime shifts. Did they occur consistently enough that they had an impact on your bottom line?
  • Lastly, have a look at downtime. Did you ever have to pause or delay operations because employees were taking personal time off?

If the answer to any of these questions was “yes,” then there’s room to create a middle layer in between the shifts for permanent employees and the shifts for temporary workers who come in on a one-time or seasonal basis.

For example, if you never had zero shifts for temps, what was the minimum you used in any given week? Instead of offering those shifts to temps, you can offer that number of shifts on a recurring basis, every week, to a rotating pool of workers on flexible schedules. In contrast to one-timers, these workers build up experience at your business, and you know exactly who’s going to show up for each shift, rather than taking the luck of the draw from a temp agency.

Once you assemble an experienced group of workers on flexible schedules, you can also start offering them shifts that would otherwise go to permanent employees as overtime. This saves money and may help with productivity and safety, too, since no one will be working back-to-back shifts.

The workers on flexible schedules can help to prevent downtime, too. When a permanent employee calls out, you don’t want to hire another permanent employee just to cover them, nor do you necessarily want a temp doing their job. But an experienced worker who’s already familiar with your business provides the ideal cover.

Maybe you figure out that you never have fewer than 10 shifts a week for temporary workers, and you usually end up paying for five overtime shifts every week as well. Then you can make 15 shifts per week available to your roster of workers on flexible schedules, and maybe a couple more if you want to guard against downtime. These workers don’t necessarily cost any more than temps, since they still aren’t full-time employees. You just raised the average experience level of your workforce, and if anything you saved money by doing it.

As you’ve probably surmised by now, this roster of workers on flexible schedules is a natural candidate pool for recruitment. You’ve already had a chance to see how they work, build trust, and align expectations. They’ve probably covered for some of your permanent employees already, too. Making a permanent hire could be the next logical step.

This is quite a contrast to the usual recruitment process, where permanent hires show up on day one without any experience at your business. Moreover, the recruitment process can be much more costly when you have to pay for job postings and take candidates through multiple interviews. Instead, you can bring in workers who have already been vetted via online platforms for flexible labor. Then you can decide which ones to add to your roster and eventually offer jobs.

Of course, some of them will prefer to work on a flexible basis. A supervisor at a hotel recently told me that he had been able to reduce overtime virtually to zero by posting shifts on a recurring basis for workers on flexible schedules. In short order he had built up a roster of top performers who came in every week. He offered several of them permanent positions, but some declined – they preferred having control of their own schedules.

And this outcome points to a final benefit of the layered approach. When permanent employees no longer want to work a fixed schedule, perhaps because of family obligations or other pursuits, you don’t have to lose their skills and talent. You can simply move them to the middle layer of shifts, where they can keep working for you on a flexible basis.

The labor market has changed, creating new challenges but also new opportunities. Today, the middle layer of recurring shifts for workers on flexible schedules is an essential tool for hospitality businesses looking to build competence, save money, and enhance efficiency. It’s time to leave the old temporary-permanent dichotomy where it belongs – in the past.


Daniel Altman is the Chief Economist at Instawork, the leading online platform for flexible labor.

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