European Employment Will Look Different When It Emerges From COVID-19

March 23 - Hotel, tourism, and hospitality business writer Terence Baker, Senior Reporter at Hotel News Now/CoStar, looked at the European recruitment landscape (click here). He asked, "From a talent and recruitment perspective, will the European hospitality sector look different once it emerges from COVID?". To find out, he spoke with and interviewed industry professionals, including AETHOS' London-based Managing Director Thomas Mielke.  

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Across the United Kingdom and European Union, numerous talented hotel industry professionals have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The question remains as to whether hotels have lost this talent even if demand returns to or climbs higher than pre-COVID-19 levels.

Thomas Mielke, Managing Director, London, at hospitality advisory firm AETHOS Consulting Group, said hotel companies might not return to pre-pandemic numbers of employees, even if business goes back to 2019 levels. “In the short to midterm, I would expect many operators and management platforms to try and do more with less," he said. "In fact, we have already witnessed this in the sector, with organizations looking to identify and implement synergies and efficiencies at property- and corporate-level." This isn't necessarily bad, as it promotes innovative thinking and pushes companies to empower their staff and give them a broader scope of responsibilities, he said. It's also an opportunity for less-experienced staff members to move outside their comfort zones and accelerate their professional development.

Eric Rogers, founder of recruitment agency and advisory Eric Rogers Global, said “certainly the quality and quantity of candidates available today is unusually high, both with hoteliers and the supplier community. COVID-19 has seen many very established careers thrown into chaos. As a recruiter, I am speaking with some great people. The candidates aren’t a problem. The challenge today is to find the roles that meet, or exceed, their expectations,” he said. Rogers said hotel firms have made significant moves to amalgamate regional offices and senior management roles. Costs have been cut, but with that some of the softer skills have been lost. Human resources professionals must keep a close eye on those who have been let go and those who have remained but largely are working at home if a sudden surge in demand requires additional staffing.

“Not everyone who kept their jobs will have been happy with their employment conditions during this time, nor will they necessarily want to go back to the way it was before. This means there will be a fair amount of movement as the world gets back to work. I would recommend the [human resources] teams and senior management don’t wait and find out how their staff feel about their roles, their future,” Rogers said.

Leaders and HR departments need to manage this well, because stress and anxiety levels, as well as potential burnouts, could go through the roof if the necessary support infrastructure and guidance aren't there, Mielke said. Losing institutional knowledge held by longstanding staff members is also a potential risk, particularly if organizations are purely looking at cost-cutting exercises and slashing those on higher salaries. “Undoubtedly, certain functions will be streamlined, but that should not automatically equate to a position being made redundant," Mielke said. "Instead, smart organizations will firstly consider whether, through a restructuring, an employee might have been ‘set free’ to concentrate their efforts on initiatives with a greater value-add."

Job losses seen in the last 12 months might be an extension of the trend seen before the pandemic of technology replacing certain roles or speeding up processes. Sources said such a change currently sits well with guests. Organizations have seen consumers are accepting of hospitality concepts incorporating a higher degree of self-service and those whose staff members wear multiple hats.

“Hybrid models with streamlined and very flat organizational structures have paved the way here. The luxury segment, though, as well as the boutique market, irrespective of positioning, is likely to go the opposite direction,” Mielke said.

“Guest attitude today is a lot less resistant to this. … COVID-19 has simply accelerated things,” Rogers said. Disciplines such as housekeeping might gain in numbers as new cleaning standards await an increase in guests, he added.

Roll Call
Rogers said it would be a huge mistake simply to rehire the same staff in the same roles. “It is time to re-evaluate what is needed,” he said.

Mielke said that “in particular at property-level, this could be by improving the guest experience and customer service. In other words, forward-thinking organizations will recognize the opportunity to better, and more smartly, deploy their existing as well as future talent base by having staff members spend more time on what sets the industry apart — the human touch.” He added in the medium to long term, the drive for greater efficiencies will likely prevail, particularly in the economy to midmarket segments.

Mielke also said hospitality firms are snapping up executives from competitors or from big multi-nationals who were furloughed or made redundant, but those doing so remain in the minority. “There is still a lot of quality talent out there looking for a new home," he said. "2021 is likely to see a marked shift, though, in business sentiment. A lot of organizations anticipate a hiring frenzy once travel restrictions and social-distancing rules ease off. At the moment, one might therefore argue that organizations have a ‘grace period’ where supply still outstrips demand. However, quality always keeps its value." With an improving outlook and greater financial stability, or at least greater financial foresight, expect talent to therefore find a new home relatively quickly, he added.

“Leaders and HR departments will want to make sure they know exactly what they are looking for and what represents a ‘success profile’ specific to their own organization, its needs and company culture and values,” Mielke said. Firms should employ assessments to help benchmark the potential plethora of applicants against set criteria, he said. “On the other hand, though, I would also urge organizations to recognize talent when they see it," Mielke said. "Take a punt, and perhaps create a role, or modify it, if you come across someone who fits your company DNA and can add value in the mid to long term."

Rogers said the loss of hotel staff also represents a massive impact and opportunity for the vendor community as the relationships between hotel groups and suppliers are now up for change. He added he hasn't seen much evidence of hotel firms keeping in close contact with workers who have been let go, which would not be good corporate policy. Both sides need to be allowed to move on, rather than waiting until the pandemic is over, Rogers said. “Every year a percentage of staff will move on because they feel their future lies elsewhere. For the past 12 months, if you had a job in our vertical that was paying you a reasonable wage, you held on tightly,” he added.

Brexit Added On Top
Brexit was the topic of 2019 in the United Kingdom, but it has largely been swept beneath the news of the pandemic. But with the U.K. breaking most of its ties with the EU at the beginning of this year, it has and is having profound effects on the hotel industry, dependent as it has been on non-British staff.

Sasha Lal, corporate immigration consultant at legal firm Gherson Solicitors, said the new points-based system of employing non-British employees and those with permanent permission to live and work in the U.K. suddenly became less of a problem due to the collapse of demand stemming from the pandemic. When demand returns, certain roles might not be as easy to fill as they were before, she said. Lal said the main shortage in the industry in the U.K. is in information technology. “There is a high popularity for hiring EU nationals in the industry,” she said, referring to IT positions. Companies that infringed the new regulations could be fined up to approximately 20,000 pounds sterling ($27,736) per infringement, she said.

Lal said foreign employees with no rights to live and work in the U.K. can still work in the U.K. if companies meet sponsorship criteria, which include the following:

  • to check that foreign workers have the necessary skills, qualifications or professional accreditation to do their jobs, and keep copies of documents showing this;
  • to only assign certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship; and
  • to tell the U.K. Visas and Immigration Department if sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visas.

A company’s license to sponsor foreign employees can be downgraded, suspended and withdrawn, she added, so it is imperative to keep accurate documentation and that individuals' immigration status and attendance are monitored.

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