By Luke Butler, managing director, Hastings People

The talent shortage currently facing the hospitality sector shows no signs of easing. As a result, the question being asked by nearly every operator we deal with is: how do we attract and retain talent?

Now, this is not new question. It has been around since I entered the industry in 1999! But the talent market has changed in this time and I believe it is time we asked a new question.

The characteristics of the hospitality talent pool have shifted dramatically after Generation Y (also known as millennials) hit the scene. This demographic is now most highly represented in hospitality – understanding what appeals to them is imperative.

Millennials, often the children of Baby Boomers (aka senior management or owners), typically require instant gratification, place a higher value on work-life balance and generally exhibit a higher level of confidence (even without supporting experience) than previous generations.

This translates into their need for prompt positive recognition and a dislike for negative feedback, the perception that they do not work as hard as their elders and a willingness to move on to new tasks. These behaviours can be jarring to senior leaders and owners.

In reality, there is nothing you can do about this, leaving senior leaders with two options:

  1. Keep doing what you have always done and hope that things change.
  2. Adapt and look for ways to harness the positives. Lean in to it.

Given the very low probability of the first option happening, let’s look at a few ways in which the second option can be brought to life.

Reframing the question

Instead of asking the age-old question, the most successful operations are now asking: How do we create talent and environments that retain them?

Clearly, talent is not going to just arrive on your front door in this market. More needs to be done at a venue level to ensure that the next bartender or glassy you hire is being groomed to be your next duty manager.

It’s also time to lean into your employee’s skillset. It is my observation that job descriptions in the on-premise sector really haven’t changed much since I started in the industry. This is a glaring issue considering how much customer needs, and employee characteristics have changed in the last 20 years.

Create roles that play into the characteristics of your team and build a framework in which the creativity and confidence of millennials can be celebrated rather than inhibited.

Engage more team members on your marketing activity, product development or strategic forward planning. Understanding the long-term objectives along with contribution to the day-to-day will be highly valued by staff and lead to engaged talent remaining in your business for longer.

Consider hiring for personality, rather than experience. Attitude trumps experience every day of the week, and those with well-formed social skills and emotional intelligence will become better team members. Supporting this approach can lead to positive outcomes and a happy work environment.

A positive work culture is created when the environment is populated by people that complement each other. Cultural diversity is the more effective strategy than cultural alignment, so avoid hiring several versions of the same person.

I’ve used the terms ‘create’ and ‘build’ throughout this article because culture doesn’t just happen, it is an intentional pursuit, built on trust, communication and clearly defined values.

If you are looking outside your business for solutions to the talent issue inside your business, stop. Work on how your staff feel, their training and experience within your business from the day they enter it, and your culture will take care of the rest.

This piece was first published in the September issue of Australian Hotelier, which you can view here.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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