De Leon: The Why in Goodbye: Addressing employee turnover and fostering employee engagement in hospitality

EMPLOYEE turnover is an expected reality in hospitality. We are in a dynamic and fast-paced industry, where a bulk of the profession is on a mission to challenge the status quo, innovate and set industry trends.

This is a profession that continually pursues advancement, and progression. And where there is progression, expect and embrace change.

While we sure hate to see our good people go to seek greener pastures, high turnover and low productivity in any organization is a serious management challenge. The costs of employee turnover is substantial.

Costs of recruitment and training new employees, and other ancillary costs can be onerous to the company’s bottom line. Organizations need a pool of great talent who can work smarter, more productively, are engaged and motivated to meet overall strategic objectives and goals.

The emergence of Millennials (Generation Y or Gen Y) or the “Selfie” Generation in the workforce have posed a challenge in terms of employee performance and retention. Majority of the Gen-Y’s are ruffling feathers of HR managers all over the world. If you have noticed a considerable increase in turnover in your younger workforce, it might be time to acknowledge that there could be communication and performance gaps because of our failure to understand these unique attributes and traits of the new generation of workers. It is essential that we have a good and basic knowledge of what drives them for better performance and retention. Understanding key characteristics will facilitate for better working relationship and promote effective employee engagement in the organization. From a human resource perspective, several studies have indicated that it is imperative that we harness the strengths and address their weaknesses by refining and improving our recruitment and training methods to become future-proof ahead of the next decade.

Notable traits of Millenials include their fascination and skill with technology and have a good command of the latest apps, hardware, software and the internet. They love networking and make use of social media (SMS, email and other forms) and instantaneous dialogue communications. This heavy reliance on gadgets and digital tools can often be at the compromise of strong interpersonal skills or the appropriate choice of method of communication such as face-to-face contact when dealing with people from other generations. Young workers today are more attuned to the visual, the interactive and instant responses enabled by technologies which, in a way have shortened their attention span, their air of impatience and a nature less willing to spend time building relationships with senior guests, senior management and staff members. Since the ability to relate well with colleagues and guests is integral in hospitality, it is essential that managers understand and consider these traits in designing training programs and employee engagement plans. A training and employee engagement program, projects and activities should harness the ability of this wired generation to communicate and work comfortably alongside people and especially in dealing effectively with guests, which is integral in front line operations and roles.

Addressing turnover requires an understanding what motivates employees and understanding why people leave via interviews. Aside from the obvious greener pasture as a reason for employee exodus, turnover is also attributed mainly due to the following:

Lack of Training. Orientation and skills training for new hires are two essential components of job preparation. Employees embarking on new jobs without any kind of orientation or training are often unaware of workplace expectations, standards, policies and processes that would benefit their job performance. When employees lack the training and orientation necessary to become more productive, their performance suffers and they will either leave of their own volition for jobs that provide training and employee support or they will be terminated for poor performance.

Poor Working Conditions. Employees must be equipped with necessary tools in the performance of their duties. Proper equipment, machinery and computer technology as well as adequate lighting, work space, workplace health and safety are just few of the basic considerations. Poor working conditions due to physical elements lead to low productivity and overall job dissatisfaction.

Ineffective Leadership. Leadership training, employee development and professional-level seminars and workshops demonstrate the employer’s interest in tapping current human resources for higher-level roles within the organization through promotion-from-within policies and succession plans. Leadership training and employee development can help the new hires understand how to balance their dual responsibilities – managing department functions and managing people. Without leadership training, new managers can fail.

Workplace Conflict. Employees involved in workplace conflicts — especially when management or human resources fails to investigate or resolve the issues — leave for other employment or simply become disengaged employees whose performance suffers. Unresolved workplace conflict has a detrimental effect on employee morale. Employer precautions include enforcing workplace policies that support fair employment practices and implementing a process for employees to report incidents that often rise to the level of workplace conflict, such as harassment or bullying.

Employee Communication. Employers who communicate regularly with employees lessen the risk of creating a workforce that feels undervalued and unappreciated. Keeping employees informed about organizational changes, staffing plans and fluctuating business demands is one way to ensure employees remain with the company. Neglecting employee concerns about job security through lack of communication or excluding employees from discussions that can affect their job performance, such as policy or procedural changes, negatively impacts the way employees view their employer. Their views transform to dissatisfaction and finally low productivity due to low morale and disengagement.

The Role of Employee Engagement- Employee engagement is characterized as “a feeling of commitment, passion and energy, which translates to high levels of effort, persistence with even the most difficult tasks, exceeding expectations, and taking initiative. The result of engaging employees is profound. From lower turnover rates to higher productivity, the engaged employee is a valuable business asset.” (Dickson: 2008) “An organization does not succeed because it is big or long established; it succeeds because there are people in it who love it, sleep it, dream it, and build future plans for it.” (Unknown) The problem, say many managers in the hospitality industry, is that since a majority of their employees see their jobs as stepping-stones to more permanent positions, no amount of effort will reduce turnover or fully engage them during their short tenure (Renk, 2007). It is reasonable to ask, therefore, whether fostering employee engagement is a worthwhile effort in an industry known for low paying, often temporary positions. But several studies also concluded that employee disengagement is not necessarily caused by the nature of the work (unpleasant working conditions, inconvenient hours, low pay) but instead, by the leadership style and practices in the organization (DiPietro and Pizam, 2007:15).

Here are some of the employee engagement practices of successful companies which include (Clark, n.d.): •Expressing the value of everyone’s contribution to the organization, regardless of role •Holding high expectations for employee performance in every role •Helping employees develop new capabilities

Firms who want their Employee Engagement Programs to succeed, must consider the following salient requirements: it should promote an engaging company culture, recognize and reward employees; the organization should invest in training and career development, operate ethically, fairly and celebrate diversity, encourage work-life balance and offer inspiring and engaging leadership.

The overall objective of owners, managers and practitioners is to develop a collaborative and participatory corporate culture. This is core of employee engagement which improves employee morale and reduces turnover.

Regarding engagement, yes we need to pay people more – pay them more attention. It’s not just about the money!

*Which is worse: train people and they leave or worse, still not training them and they stay?

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