With millennials now the largest demographic in terms of spending power, a key focus for most hotels pertains to how they can modernize the guest experience to appeal to this generation as well as how they can capitalize upon the many lucrative innovations – both guest-facing and back-of-house – that have emerged in tandem with this younger, tech-fluent populous.
However, such a preoccupation with big picture trends like heightened personalization, mobile applications or machine learning, we may be putting overlooking an issue that many North American and European properties will soon have to confront – a general aging of the population, which could have profound repercussions for the hospitality industry.
There are two broad factors to first consider. Without diving too far into the statistics, one side stems from the ever-increasing life expectancy – the United Kingdom, for instance, is now at 81 – with many individuals now opting to forgo the standard retirement at age 65 and carry on with their careers in senior or emeritus positions (and not mentioning how recent financial market uproars may have depleted their pensions, thereby forcing them to continue working). On the other hand, families in Western nations have been having fewer children – the 2015 fertility rate for the United States was 1.84 births per woman.
Together this means older workers are more likely to stick around with fewer young candidates left to fill any available spots. It’s becoming a ‘seller’s market’ situation where the good prospects know that they have a multitude of options to select from and are always on the prowl for a better salary.
Consider the Housekeeping Department
I first started giving this trend some serious thought following the Housekeeping Forum in Toronto this past April where one of the keynote sessions focused solely on labor issues facing this department, with particular attention given to the largely mature age of new hires.
Many managers expressed their doubts about being able to adequately fill shifts without overworking the current team. Moreover, a general consensus, albeit anecdotal, was that young people just don’t seem to be interested in hotel jobs anymore. Or, they are, but then they promptly leave, as is corroborated by the yearly turnover rates for non-manager employees at midscale properties which can be greater than 50% in many cases.
While an aging workforce can bring with it more experience, wisdom and deference for the job, it has quite a few costly drawbacks. Firstly, they may be technology averse and unable to keep up with new onsite implementations. Related to this, older employees may have legacy issues – a polite way of saying bad habits that are hard to reverse. And thirdly, one consequence of aging is the greater risk for injury, both acute and chronic, and all with a serious impact insofar as paid leave of absence or short-term disability compensations.
While there is no singular approach to addressing this issue, I am a proponent of having a strong company wellness program designed to ensure that your team is as healthy as can be and is highly motivated. the key to remember is that your team is your family, and any action taken to support them will result in greater productive and reduced turnover.
As a part of such a program, you might consider group exercise classes, nutritional seminars, cigarette cessation plans and motivational speakers. To specifically address the chronic injury component associated with aging, you can investigate hiring a part-time RMT or setting up your own ergonomic training course.
Aside from back-of-house wellness, a reinvigorated training program is now a must, especially given that the cost of losing an employee can be upwards of one and a half times that individual’s annual salary then all extenuating factors are considered like hiring a new candidate, time to onboard and lost productivity. Recurrent training is a great tool to reinforce employee retention, no matter one’s age, because, simply put, who isn’t motivated by the prospect of acquiring new skills and receiving positive feedback for learning to do so correctly?
To conclude, I’d like to stress how important it is to start tackling this issue for the housekeeping department where there are a tremendous number of non-manager workers who now fall exceedingly into the mature category. For this group, ongoing training and an ironclad wellness program can do wonders for a hotel’s bottom line insofar as better morale, reduced staffing problems, fewer repetitive muscle injuries and increased employee retention. If you consider this department to be your incubator and formulate a plan that works, then you will be successful for all other operations and demographic issues that may come to affect our industry.