Fixing staff retention issues in the hospitality industry

Staff retention in hospitality is among the poorest of any sector. Here, we reveal what hospitality businesses can do to address the issue.

Staff retention in hospitality is at just 70 per cent, against a UK average of 85 per cent, with unsociable working hours, low pay and benefits, and lack of career prospects the top three reasons, according to a study by Deputy.

The hospitality sector in the UK has an employee turnover rate of 30 per cent (three out of ten workers leave their role within a year), which represents double that of the UK average. And it’s forecast to get worse as a ‘Brexodus’ of EU workers are set to rock the hospitality sector over the next few years, according to the study.

EMEA general manager of Deputy David Kelly says, ‘The UK hospitality sector is the third-largest private employer in the UK, but it looks set to face an even greater shortfall of skilled workers. Everyone in the hospitality sector is worried about what Brexit will mean for the workforce.

‘As the willing talent pool dries up, increasing retention in the hospitality sector over the next few years is vital. Beyond the obvious, we wanted to discover the real reasons people leave the hospitality sector and what might be done to retain more talent.’

Why do people working in hospitality take a job?

When asked why they took their most recent role in the hospitality sector:

  • Two thirds (40 per cent) of respondents who have worked or currently work in hospitality say they took a job in the sector because it was the only one available at the time
  • Some 44 per cent of those who have worked in the hospitality sector say it is their main occupation, while 38 per cent say they do it while in education, with 15 per cent saying it is a second or third job, meaning more than half could be labelled ‘casual workers’
  • The majority of British employees (55 per cent) feel more control over work and shift patterns would make hospitality workers less likely to leave or look for a job in a different sector

Why do people working in hospitality leave a job?

UK employees were asked why someone working or looking to build a career in the hospitality sector would decide to leave or look for a job in a different sector. The top three reasons are:

  • Unsociable working hours (69 per cent)
  • Low pay and benefits (63 per cent)
  • Lack of career prospects (35 per cent)
  • Just 3 per cent answered that they chose to work in hospitality for the career prospects it offers.

How to address retention issues in hospitality

Employees were asked what would make employees in the hospitality sector less likely to leave the sector. The answers suggest the key factors that could improve retention are:

  • Better pay and benefits (63 per cent)
  • More control over work life and shift patterns (55 per cent)
  • More stable income and guaranteed hours (52 per cent)
  • Better career prospects (42 per cent)
  • More transparency from employers regarding shifts/scheduling (32 per cent).

Susy Roberts is founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts and works with hospitality businesses internationally. Here, she gives tips on retaining staff in the sector. 

When your team is working really long hours, including evenings and weekends, it’s absolutely crucial that they feel valued. This means ensuring the back of house is a pleasant and positive experience and somewhere people can feel comfortable, with a high standard of food that reflects what’s being served front of house.

The absolute key is employee engagement and strong, positive leadership. If someone’s working late at an event that doesn’t finish until 2am and they have to be back early the next day for their shift, they have to feel valued. I spoke to someone recently who had worked 68 hours in their first week and 60 in the second with no thank you or acknowledgement – they just left and didn’t go back.

“Whatever the role, training and personal development should be a priority”

Be flexible with people; empower them to make decisions that will allow them to deliver a high standard of service without the constant need for checking back or referring questions from guests to their line manager. Give them the training they need to be able to establish what’s required in their roles so they can see that they’re achieving something, rather than just performing routine tasks. People need to feel like they’re learning and making decisions.

Whatever the role, training and personal development should be a priority. Keep up a constant and open dialogue about what works and what doesn’t and listen to the people who are actually delivering the service, rather than imposing rules about how they perform their role. Let them shadow people with more experience and responsibility so they can see clearly how they may be able to progress; ask what they want to achieve from their career and keep an open dialogue about whether they’ll be able to do that within the organisation.

Also, valuing diversity is incredibly important in making people feel comfortable in their work. The nature of the service industry means people will be working holidays, and there are a large number of different cultures, nationalities and religions to take into account. Respect different traditions and offer special meals or longer breaks during the holidays that are important to people within that culture or religion. It all comes back to feeling valued, not exploited.

Springwood B&B is a 13-room luxury art deco themed B&B in Horley. Owner Sue Denman discusses the ins and outs of employing and retaining staff. 

We bought Springwood B&B as a going concern in 2007. However, it was unloved and we have done everything from a new roof downwards including the introduction of the Art Deco theme.

When it comes to employing staff, we have used postcards in local shop windows quite successfully. We have also used Indeed and Gumtree, as well as word of mouth. The calibre can vary hugely; many hospitality posts do not require any formal qualifications so you have to be explicit about your requirements/experience or you can be swamped with inappropriate applicants.

The challenges of recruiting come because the sector often includes unsocial hours. Most positions are poorly paid so hospitality personnel are always on the lookout for better money and conditions.

“The key thing to remember to retain staff is to treat them as you would wish to be treated”

Also, I do think sometimes managers and proprietors use up all their charm and good manners on their guests and have little left over for their staff.

It is a problem in the sector. Many of our neighbours in the industry are constantly looking for staff. Fortunately, we have had one housekeeper who retired after six years and the current incumbent who has been with us for the last five years.

Retaining staff

The key thing to remember to retain staff is to treat them as you would wish to be treated. Provide a calm but industrious atmosphere. If an establishment allows raised voices and slanging matches it is unlikely to retain staff.

Staff do sometimes need to told that their work is substandard or they are shirking. This can be done sensitively without humiliating the individual. If you are clear about measuring their performance and give realistic time frames for them achieve improvements you can get a properly functioning staff member without the need for further recruitment. Make sure you praise and often as you criticise.

Also, it sounds obvious but staff should be paid on time including any holiday pay entitlement. If staff have really put themselves out during an unusually busy time, pay them a bonus with a card telling them that you appreciate their efforts. You will be rewarded.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.