Why is teamwork important in the hospitality industry:
Key to Reducing Hotel Staff Turnover
For Ben Whetstone, Housekeeping Director of at the Airport Marriott in Kansas City, the answer to lowering the turnover rate was simple: staff up. In an era of low unemployment, it may seem like high turnover is just a pain point we all have to deal with. For Whetstone, however, it was clear that the answer was not to simply work with a smaller staff and longer hours.
We had people working at full capacity and, in many cases, through overtime,” said Whetstone. “It just wasn’t sustainable.”
Working with staffing agencies like HSS, Whetstone was able to significantly reduce his turnover and, at the same time, stay within budget.
When did you realize that you needed to reduce turnover?
I started at the property about a year ago, and it was apparent that the staff was working at, close or over capacity. There was a lot of overtime and the quality scores just weren’t where we wanted them to be. But the telling thing for me was really the conversation that I had with individuals on the housekeeping staff. They were working too many hours and
it was effecting their time with their families. It’s easy to just look at numbers on a page and see a few overtime hours. We tend to look at that as a negative financially but a positive for the employee.
That certainly can be the case, but often time that overtime is time away from family. And for our employees that is what they’re working for. If they’re too tired to spend quality time with their children or parents or spouse, they lose the positive motivation for work.
How did you add to your staff?
In this day in age, it’s not easy to find qualified housekeeping staff. Working with agencies like HSS we were able to quickly add staff that met our employment criteria. We also increased our numbers of agency-based employees which was a result of staffing up through these partnerships. In order for this type of strategy to work, we have to rely on partners like HSS because that helps us maintain the quality and experience in our employees. Just hiring more people simply wouldn’t work. We needed to hire qualified individuals so that our existing employees felt supported in their work.
Did you do other things to reduce turnover?
Yes. When speaking to employees, we found that they were very family focused. Some were working mothers, others had elderly parents to care for and everyone really valued the family dynamic. Like I said before. This is what they were are working so hard for. And so we looked at how we could build more flexibility into the workplace. Many times they weren’t looking for much – just an extra 45 minutes or an hour to drop kids off at school or schedule around care for relatives – things like that. For the vast majority of cases we were able to work out schedules to accommodate those needs.
And the results were lower turnover?
Yes. And more. Our quality also improved dramatically. It turned out that well-rested, happy employees who weren’t stressed about balancing family and work just performed better. We had fewer errors, a greater attention to detail, and more open communication with between me and my staff.
Why was that communication important?
It’s very important that employees communicate to me about their family situation. When someone is going to be late or needs to call off because of a sick child or another family situation I always tell them to just give me as much notice as possible and tell me the reason. That way when I communicate to the rest of the team that we need to stay an extra half an hour to make up the work, they know the reason and are understanding. They know that the team would do the same thing for them as well. So we’re able to not only reducing turnover and reducing stress; we’re also building a team spirit.
How does that team spirit help with turnover?
It’s not just a vague idea of everyone working well together. I have an education background and have done some coaching. On a sports team there’s a concept of everyone doing their job and doing it well. Before we were able to get our staffing levels right, supervisors where cleaning rooms, laundry attendants were cleaning rooms, housekeepers were clearing rooms – that’s not a functioning team. Now, we’re in a place where people can perform their jobs at a top level. That’s great for our property because we’re improving quality scores and reducing turnover. But it’s also great for the employees because they’re able to accomplish work that they take pride in and they can do it in a way that’s low stress so they can focus on the reasons why they work.
What internal discussion did you have regarding increasing staff levels?
I’ll be honest: it took some convincing. But it wasn’t that difficult once we were able to talk about the shift away from overtime. At a certain point, overtime is really buying you less quality from the same workers. So you’re paying more for the overtime hours and those hours result in less quality. But another result is that you also have fatigued workers so their quality goes down even during non-overtime hours. On top of that, you have issues of lower quality scores, angry guests who can’t check in, and you have some real financial penalties for that. So you have to be prepared to have a financial based discussion. If you limit that to one small area of the budget it looks like an increase. But when you look at from a wider perspective, you start to see that getting the right staff number just make sense from a financial perspective. You save money by having your staffing levels in balance. You improve business by working with staffing partners who can get you the staff you need when you need them. And you grow business and compete by creating a real cohesive team that can do their part so that everyone can succeed.