Over the turbulent course of the pandemic, the hospitality industry has been served a buffet-sized portion of uncertainty, confusion and just a side plate of workers, as the industry faces a labour crisis and mass staff shortages. This is due to a number of reasons; from workers simply not wanting to return, to those unable to re-join the workforce as a result of the virus and Brexit.
That said, reports state that with the reopening of the economy there has been a surge of younger workers returning to the hospitality and leisure sectors after furlough, but that doesn’t necessarily mean recovery will be a “quick-fix”. In fact, difficulties were expected to worsen following the 19th July Freedom Day, after hospitality businesses have been expected to fully reopen following months of trade restrictions and were running at roughly three-quarters of capacity to comply with social distancing measures.
Although the surge of interest in restaurants and bars reopening implies the industry will hit the ground running, reopening and recovery is something that needs to be treated with caution. This is why Business Minister, Paul Skully, has launched a new scheme; ‘The Hospitality Strategy’ to ensure England’s pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues can thrive in the long-term and adapt to accelerating consumer demands. The focus is on the 3 R’s: reopening, recovery and resilience. These new measures will also help the sector build back “better and greener from the pandemic”, which will involve business and university collaboration to boost innovation, and reduce waste and plastic consumption.
Customers don’t just enjoy wining and dining for the sake of food alone, though. It’s the all-encompassing experience; from the breaking of bread between friends to the warm interactions with staff. Which is why the sector must prioritise its people first. After such confusion over the course of the “pingdemic”, businesses must proceed thoughtfully when incorporating structures that safeguard their people and streamline shift patterns.
Furlough set to defrost
As furlough draws to an end on the 30th of September, recent data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) reports that in April 2020, under 1,650,000 employees in the hospitality sector were on furlough as businesses paused trading. This figure has since fallen to just under 590,000 employees furloughed at the end of May 2021, representing 25% of all furloughed employees.
Following an extended period of chaos, furloughing staff and then onboarding them back into the workplace was a tricky task for management, with little experience to draw upon. Going forward, management must check in regularly with employees and involve them in changes to procedure and accommodate shift changes. With clear, streamlined communication, leaders can clearly present the reasoning behind decision making processes. This sets the pillars for an inclusive culture whereby staff feel both heard, supported, and therefore more likely to feel a certain amount of loyalty and want to return to work rather than looking elsewhere.
Above all, whatever the outcome of furlough-related staffing decisions, it’s crucial that mutual respect and understanding between management and employees is the focus; it’s achieved through honest communication.
New safety policies, staff retention
Anyone with first-hand experience working in hospitality understands its fast-paced nature, with servers darting throughout the kitchen shouting orders and working in close proximity. This is perhaps an experience of the past, as businesses invest in safer working conditions. Now, although legal restrictions on social distancing have been lifted from the UK population, some businesses have kept certain procedures in place, for instance the wearing of facemasks.
Months following the initial eat-out-to-help-out scheme, businesses have gained valuable experience and hindsight having trialled and tested the best ways to adhere to government advice when it comes to ensuring correct safety measures are in place. This involved social distancing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and managing shift patterns in a bid to offset viral transmissions. With this came a lot of extra planning, preparation and admin.
Considering this, hospitality businesses must now decide for themselves how they want things to look post-pandemic and factoring in staff opinion on safety measures is a must. Everyone’s emotional response to the pandemic is different, so feeling safe is very subjective. Employers must take this into account when building out new work policies to ensure they retain the best staff.
In every situation, managing shifts to avoid overlap or late-minute swapping is a persistent issue which can be solved with technology. Managers should review existing management processes as businesses adapt to new settings.
Technology and innovation have thrived over the course of the pandemic, with tonnes of tools and software services that accommodate the new Hospitality Strategy goals of rebuilding the sector. These include; sustainable laundry services to ensure full disinfection of PPE kits, to other digital workarounds such as Apps for taking orders and contactless payments to facilitate social distancing when this was a mandatory requirement. Business owners must look carefully into adopting new technologies and figure out which are most suited to help businesses adhere to general safety guidelines in the long term.
A real pain-point over the past few weeks and adequately named the “pingdemic” has caused difficulties for management, as in many cases whole teams have had to isolate due to staff having to self-isolate after being “pinged” by NHS Test and Trace, with calls to reform the app and allow people to work after a negative test. With this to incorporate into the planning of shift patterns, there is barely any space for thinking about the long-term goal of resuming business as usual. This is why I would advise management to focus on ensuring rotas are watertight to avoid confusion.
Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there designed to remove the administrative burdens when managing shift patterns to reduce the risk of working overtime, streamlining processes and freeing up time for leaders to focus on recovery. There will always be shift swaps, sickness and annual leave to plan around, but working in line with increasingly ever-changing health and safety measures means there is little room for error, particularly as the hospitality industry houses the majority of our social lives.
Post-pandemic planning points
In line with the three R’s, to ensure your business can get back to full capacity safely, venues must place their people at the heart of their decision making, nurturing staff and the wider business for recovery, whilst putting measures in place to ensure longevity in managing a business in a post-covid world.
Some final thoughts to consider:
- Be as accommodating as possible to furloughed staff, setting the pillars for an inclusive, respectful workplace culture. Ensure open communication around salary and contracts after the furlough scheme ends
- Invest in keeping your people and customers safe by staying up to date with government guidelines whatever they might be; it’s always better to be safe than sorry
- Investigate rota management tech options on the market to alleviate time-consuming admin
Lastly – although there is still an undertone of anxiety following Freedom Day, we must be reminded that people are exhilarated by the thought of uniting with friends and welcoming back the hospitality industry, and with schemes in place to offer further support and resilience, the sector will surely bounce back stronger than ever.
Credit: Jonathan Richards, CEO & Founder at Breathe