They’re calling it the Great Resignation. This is the term coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University who uses it to describe the phenomenon of people voluntarily leaving their jobs rather than going back to the work they were doing before the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Great Resignation may have peaked in April—when a record 4 million Americans left their jobs—or it might pick up more steam as greater numbers of people are vaccinated and more workplaces return to relative normalcy. According to a June survey from the job site Monster, a staggering 95% of workers are considering quitting. Whatever happens next, though, one thing is certain right now; all of these resignations have led to a serious labor shortage—one that has perhaps been felt most acutely in the hospitality industry.
Many hotel employees found themselves out of work during the pandemic, either because they were laid off or voluntarily left. According to a survey by Joblist, many of them have no intention of returning. Citing low pay, poor benefits, and a stressful workplace, half of former hotel workers said they wouldn’t go back to their previous job, and a third said they wouldn’t return to the hospitality industry at all.
This may all sound like a dire situation for the industry, especially as hotels and other hospitality venues prepare for the return of business travelers and international tourists. What it really represents, however, is a challenge—and therefore an opportunity. Hotels that embrace next-generation technology—and understand that the roles of hospitality workers are evolving—will be able to meet that opportunity head-on.
Largely as a response to the pandemic, much of this tech is already in place—particularly on the restaurant side, although the lessons learned over the past year and a half are applicable across the entire hospitality sector. An unprecedented public health and safety threat, COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the demand for contactless technology. In a matter of months, many traditional touch points within the dining experience were utterly transformed by the widespread implementation of QR code digital menus, self-ordering, and self-payment options accessed via smartphones.
This is the new normal. Guests haven’t just adapted to it, they have come to expect the convenience of all of this consumer-facing technology, which bridges their own personal devices and those of the venue. Whether it’s table service or room service, guests like to have options when it comes to ordering, modifying orders, or paying—whether that’s directly through servers or by using their own phones or a venue’s built-in tablets. Digital transformation has changed the guest experience, and it also has the power to transform the role of the hospitality employee into one that is less frantic, more fulfilling, and potentially more appealing to job-seekers.
Servers and other hospitality workers are gradually becoming brand ambassadors for the establishments that employ them. In the case of restaurant staff, there may be fewer of them, covering more tables, but they will have capacity because customers are co-piloting things like ordering and paying. The servers—or brand ambassadors, if you will—can therefore focus less on logistics and more on building relationships and understanding diners’ needs. This attention to the touch points that are truly meaningful adds real value to the guest experience.
It adds value for the brand ambassadors as well, who can earn more through higher sales and bigger tips. With fewer front-of-house staff members and the potential for boosted sales, venues will likely be able to offer higher base salaries, which can only increase employee engagement. The importance of that last factor can’t be overstated; according to research by Gallup, employee disengagement is a leading cause of the Great Resignation and one of the reasons people have no desire to return to their old jobs.
Rebuilding the hospitality workforce is a complex challenge, and it won’t be solved by simply luring workers in with promises of signing bonuses. Digital technology can help by freeing staff up from some of their more traditionally mundane tasks and allowing them to focus on customer service in its truest sense. Creating a more engaging and rewarding work environment for employees pays dividends for employers, too, by reducing the cost of hiring, training, and retaining staff.
The Great Resignation is far from over. Many venues that adopted contactless solutions to address health and safety concerns during the pandemic are now realizing that they also need a plan to adapt to an unparalleled shift in the labor market. The good news is that hotels, restaurants, and bars can harness the power of that same technology to ensure both exceptional guest experiences and increased employee engagement. A robust strategy—and the digital tools—to elevate the role of service staff and increase revenue is now an essential part of any hospitality operators’ repertoire. The industry’s future might very well be riding on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laurent May is the CEO of Ready, a fully integrated mobile self-ordering, payment and loyalty technology solution that’s defining the next generation of hospitality venues. He has over 20 years of product management expertise in the electronic payments space leading high performance teams.