Pre-pandemic, “Jena” worked fulltime as a server in a mid-sized restaurant in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Tips didn’t always cover the bills, so she supplemented her income by tutoring grade school students in math.
Then came COVID-19 and the lockdowns and Jena’s job disappeared. Things are up and running again now in Texas. Jena could go back to work in the restaurant, but the pandemic-created employment uncertainty led her to re-think her situation.
Like many tipped employees, Jena’s unemployment benefits – based on minimum wage – didn’t change her situation much, but she used the “extra supplement” to buy a new computer, upgrade her broadband package, and invest in resources to upskill her abilities as a tutor – something she could do remotely, paid more per hour, and had the added attraction of providing a real sense of purpose, of doing something good. It also gave her more control over her own life. “For the first time in 5 years, I spent Thanksgiving with my family. Our restaurant was always open at least half-days on holidays, and somehow I never got those shifts off.” Jena also has more weekends free so she can participate more in her children’s sporting events. “We’re still struggling to make ends meet, but it’s getting better, day by day – and I can see the results of my own work.”
To maintain some of the personal interaction that she enjoyed as a server, and to supplement the family’s income, Jena also works part-time at a local grocery store.
“Still pays better than tips, lots of customer interaction, pretty flexible shifts, and I work just enough hours to be eligible for basic health benefits – something I did not have as an employee of the restaurant.”
Jena’s story is echoed around the world. Employees whose main job functions couldn’t be carried out from home gave thought to what’s next for them in the working world. If employers, especially in travel, tourism and hospitality, think that their furloughed or laid-off staff have just been waiting for their doors to re-open, those employers could be in a world of hurt as they welcome their customers back.
While employers were struggling to stay afloat and scrambling to invent Work-From-Home policies, procedures and logistics during the height of the lockdown, many employees, like Jena, had the time to re-evaluate what they do, what they want to do and how they want to do it. Lockdowns also gave folks time to reconnect with family, and many are unwilling to go back to a situation of missed family occasions, exhausting schedules, juggling work, family and self.
The Pew Research Center FactTank publication from February found that 66 percent of the unemployed had “seriously considered” changing their field of work, a far greater percentage than during the Great Recession.
After the rather dismal U.S. April Jobs Report where new nonfarm payroll jobs missed the Dow Jones expectations by more than 700,000 jobs, the figures for May are certainly better at 559,000 jobs added, but the numbers are still not adding up to the recovery that economists and politicians had hoped for. And definitely not for the owners of many businesses, particularly in the labour-intensive hospitality sector.
Staff shortages are suddenly the “topic du jour” and a serious worry for businesses trying to recover from months of little or no revenue. As customers begin to pour in, restaurants and hotels across the globe report their struggles to provide product and service. Reduced hours or fewer opening days, cutback menus, more self-serve models, accepting fewer reservations, owners and managers taking on the daily tasks of their operations and employees suffering burnout faster as they take on extra duties and hours. These are some of the aspects of the new normal that many face.
Factors keeping employees from your jobs:
- Fear factor – safety for themselves or vulnerable family members
- Vulnerability in the industry to future layoffs and pandemic effects
- Better pay/benefits/hours and working conditions and atmosphere
- “If I can’t work from home, I would rather work closer to home and family support”
- Lack of childcare
- Exposure to “gig” work – opening of new opportunities and flexibility
- In countries like the U.S. without public, or affordable healthcare systems, access to affordable health benefits is a major concern
- Extension of Unemployment Benefits – chance for employees to consider options [NB: fewer jobs were lost in the European Union countries than in the U.S. as the EU focused more on a number of varied job retention schemes, while the U.S. relied on stimulus money and unemployment benefits.]
“We’re going to have to learn to attract and recruit people in new ways. A lot of that has to do with flexibility because the gig economy offers that,” says Clayton Krueger, Director of Marketing and Communication for Farelli’s Pizza in Washington state.
Tips and takes
Consider offering employees a range of benefits to attract and retain them:
- More flex time and flexible schedules, job sharing
- Bonus structures and profit sharing – tips are not the answer!
- Expanding your delivery and take-out business, rather than chucking them now that the doors are open
- Basic affordable health benefits
- Childcare supplements
- Assistance with transportation – bus pass supplement, maybe even access to a company owned scooter if you work within a certain distance from the facility
- More emphasis on social/community consciousness
- Assistance with upskilling – create and encourage real career pathing
- Practice Emotional Intelligence in your management style. Engage employees in recruiting and retention strategies – and mean it!
Over the years, hotels have adapted and innovated to keep their guests happy and loyal – maybe we need to consider our employees and their wants in the same light.
Workers are getting creative about their working situations. Are you getting equally creative about how you attract and retain your staff?
About the author
Andrea Worker is the Executive Editor, The Adapters.