A sweeping and long-term fear of mine for the hospitality industry is that we are failing to attract the best possible young talent to usher in the next generation of smart, entrepreneurial hoteliers.
Aside from the greater monetary prospects from entering finance or STEM, hospitality is simply not viewed as an innovative work environment where eager millennials, and soon-to-be centennials, can exercise their creative muscles. Worse, jobs in our industry are often perceived as a form of servitude. Whatever the underlying cause, though, this brain drain will come to haunt us very soon as the majority of qualified and talented individuals choose a career path outside of our purview.
Let me first state that the above reasons for not choosing hospitality are utter hogwash. Hotels are dynamic, bustling spaces where every team member is constantly challenged to think up elegant solutions to a myriad of problems. As money is concerned, hospitality provides a stable and well-remunerated career path to everyone who works hard and is passionate for his or her line of work. Lastly, there is a stark difference between service and servitude, with the former being a tremendously important skill for anyone to possess regardless of where they end up.
But that’s speaking in generalities. The focus here is on the housekeeping department, perhaps the most ‘servile’ of this service industry as no one likes cleaning toilets or making beds all day long.
The Need for Careers in Housekeeping
A common thread I’ve seen and heard from executive housekeepers and human resource directors is that the housekeeping department is not widely perceived as being a desirable place to work, only attracting those candidates who desperately need a job and who are not motivated to stay beyond the base need for a weekly stipend.
Some room attendants end up staying from lengthy breadths of time—decades even—and become cherished members of a property’s team, while others view the job as merely temporary until something better comes along with an exit soon after being put on the job. Moreover, unlike other departments there is no clear path of upward trajectory to entice those youthful candidates looking for employment that promises fruitful returns over the long run.
This current state of affairs simply must change, primarily because this department is often the largest cost in terms of man-hours and its frequently high turnover rate accrues a tremendous hidden cost from having to constantly onboard new room attendants. Adding to this training expense is that each new guestroom amenity adds to the total standard operating procedures necessary to clean a room, which in turn increases the time to onboard, as well as the chance for omissions or errors in the cleaning process.
One other ancillary consideration here is that, with automation of numerous other hotel operations (think mobile check-in), room attendants are becoming the key point of human interaction between guests and brands. By incentivizing our teams through the prospects of career advancement, one’s passion for the line of work will increase and this will be reflected in any conversations with customers.
The last thing a guest wants to hear is ‘I don’t know,’ but that’s what they’ll likely get from a new team member who simply hasn’t been around long enough to answer with confidence. Long-term employees, however, will be far more knowledgeable about your hotel product and be able to assist guests in a far better manner than new recruits.
Aside from the more quantifiable training costs, hotels cannot compromise quality of service delivery as there are just too many options for travelers to find other accommodations for the next trip—for instance, alternate lodging providers or easy access to other members of the comp set through one’s preferred OTA—should the current locale not ‘wow’ them at every occasion. With this in mind, it’s our room attendants who will soon become an insurmountable contributor to guest satisfaction and we must value them as such.
For now, though, the bottom line is that housekeeping is deemed a job and not a career. But by transforming it into the latter, it will help to attract younger and more service-focused associates to thereby increase employee retention and simultaneously reduce the sunk costs of training.
How to Make Housekeeping a Career
With the long-term advantages outlined above, there are three key steps to accomplishing the goal of making housekeeping more than just a job, including:
• Establishing programs to show that the organization cares for all room attendants as more than just laborers;
• Ongoing training as a means towards not only compliance with SOPs but also as a motivation and mentorship tool;
• In-person discussions or literature to demonstrate a tangible upward trajectory for room attendants to earn a higher rank.
For the first bullet point, what each hotel does will vary immensely based upon location and star rating, but the broad theme is the same. While increasing hourly wages is a rather costly venture, supplementing the rigors of daily physical work with, for example, offsite group activities, team lunches, wellness seminars or cross-departmental workshops can do wonders towards instilling an enthusiastic team dynamic so that all housekeepers know that their actions are respected.
For the second aspect, while ongoing training may seem to be in direct conflict with the idea of large sunk costs associated with onboarding, it is in fact the opposite because the intermittent time spent with supervisors in this manner gives management a chance to offer positive feedback and reinforce the group bond. Everyone wants to know that they are doing a good job, after all.
Additionally, ongoing training can be molded within a microlearning structure to better accommodate the modern style of learning and to increase knowledge retention. Specifically for the housekeeping department where many individuals may come from other countries, this can also act as an opportunity to implement a language instruction program, further motivating those who do not speak the native tongue but want to learn nonetheless.
Finally, the career planning element cannot be overstated when it pertains to attracting today’s youth. Millennials and centennials are the smartest generations to date and, rightfully so, they won’t want to limit themselves to cleaning toilets for any significant stretch of time without some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Hence, it must be made clear that starting as a housekeeper before going into a supervisory role can help a new recruit to acquire a range of invaluable skills.
Every employee should know from the outset that if he or she works hard and develops the proper attentiveness necessary to be a service-oriented hotelier, it will pay off. Along these lines, you might also consider setting up a cross-departmental rotation program so that newer associates can experience a variety of operations within a hotel before deciding which is favored for long-term placement.
In any case, a career in hospitality can proffer a myriad of informal yet enriching expertise to any individual who has the passion for this industry. It is now a matter of illustrating just how captivating our line of work is so that we can inspire the next generation of hoteliers, and for this pursuit there is no better place to start than the housekeeping department.