In the lead up to the summer trading period, we revisit Luke Butler’s column from the August issue of Australian Hotelier.

While many operators are seeking perfection from new staff, Hastings People managing director Luke Butler argues that in a tight labour market its better to invest in the personnel you already have.

The current hospitality market is tough to comprehend, purely because we have never seen a labour market this tight. The shortfall in numbers is staggering and, from my perspective, the majority of operators are taking too long to adapt in any meaningful way.

Before we get too deep into this, it’s important to identify the specific areas of the market I’m referring to. Yes, the whole market has been impacted, but here I’m focusing only on junior roles within venues: Assistant Managers, Duty Managers, CDPs, Commis Chefs and casual staff both front and back of house.

This is not an area that Hastings dabble in outside of our Temp business, but based on a wave of feedback from our clients, it is clearly the most challenging part of the market.

It would appear that many operators are still expecting ‘perfection’ to walk through the door. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen in the vast majority of cases. ‘Perfection’ in this context means someone who has great relevant skills and is an excellent culture fit for the organisation. While that might seem reasonable, herein lies the problem.

In this market, attaining this simple measure of suitability is exceptionally challenging and rather than hanging on to this expectation, employers need to re-think. I know some will read this and think I am copping out, but this is the reality of the situation. Several high-performing organisations who have already made this shift.

A shift in focus

The market has changed dramatically and by default, operators also have to change. The new motto we all need to adopt is ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.’

Is this such a bad thing?

Yes it is, if you continue to focus on the negative of not having the staff you really want. But if your focus shifts to the positive and the resolve to show some love to the people who are currently committed to your business, well then it can be a thing of beauty.

If you go to a party and they’re not serving your preferred beer and wine, do you choose to have nothing, or do you adapt and have what is on offer?

This is a simple example, but the relevance is clear. The fact is we make concessions based on availability every day, whether it is what we consume, the time at which we can attain something or the relevant price.

It is a supply and demand issue – there is a significant lack of demand for the supply of jobs in hospitality, so we adapt.

The lack of experience in venues is palpable right now, no matter where you go. No one is immune to it. The proactive action here is to focus inwardly and invest in and learn to love the people you already have working in your team. Give them the training they need; offer incentives that will keep them in love with you and the industry more broadly.

We need this to be an industry-wide practice so we can rebuild the stocks, ensuring more demand for hospitality roles now and into the future.  

No matter the skill level of an employee, if they fall out of love with you as an employer, they will walk down the road and quickly fall in love with someone else. Remember that relationships are a two-way street.

Showing your team love is more than giving them more training, it is about understanding what makes them happy. It’s about how you can enhance their entire lives, not just their working experience. It is showing them genuine love.

It might feel strange, but it’s a paradigm shift demanded by this new talent market. Appreciate your team for what they bring to the business rather than focusing on what they are lacking.

Emphasise the good, not the bad. It’s all too easy to get stuck in the ‘woe is me’ mindset and that could just be your greatest enemy in this talent market, or any other market for that matter.

If the time, money and energy that is being spent on finding new and ‘better’ staff was invested in showing love to the ones you are with, I believe your business would be better for it.

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