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Tips on recruiting candidates by appealing to what they value most

Published November 18, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every industry around the world, especially those that aren’t conducive to working from home—like the restaurant and healthcare industries. While the pandemic initially led to millions of people losing their jobs or being furloughed, we’re seeing a very different trend now.

This past summer, employers throughout the country experienced what Texas A&M psychologist Anthony Klotz dubbed “The Great Resignation,” a once-in-a-generation phenomenon that saw about 4.3 million U.S. employees quit their jobs across nearly all sectors in August alone. Just to give you an idea of scale, that’s about 2.9 percent of the country’s entire workforce.

Following this movement, the current job market is filled with open positions and recently vacated roles, especially within the restaurant and hospitality industries—yet companies are struggling to fill them. Why? Pollsters and economists are still trying to pinpoint the biggest driving factors behind the Great Resignation and the labor shortage it’s caused across the country. Some evidence suggests that stagnant pay, lack of flexibility, poor company culture at many places of business and a growing focus on work-life balance have all played crucial roles in prompting employees to walk away from their current roles or pass up new job openings.

So how can you attract and retain workers at a time when employees are quitting in droves and new applicants seem to be few and far between? The key is understanding what kinds of benefits and work environments people are looking for in the current job market. If you can meet most of their general demands, weathering the current labor shortage, attracting good workers and retaining top talent should be much easier. 

Areas impacted by the COVID-19 labor shortage

Nearly every sector and industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 labor shortage and the Great Resignation, but the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit. From restaurants and bars to hotels, the industry has faced ongoing challenges both recruiting and retaining quality candidates in the current environment. This is despite the fact that many former hospitality workers who were furloughed or laid off during the pandemic are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.

A recent poll by Bloomberg interviewed 13,000 job-seekers. It found that more than 50 percent of U.S. hospitality workers don’t want to return to their former jobs. More than a third said they wouldn’t even consider going back into the hospitality industry—at least, not without significant changes to the compensation structure, industry culture and work-life balance.

When trying to determine why the hospitality industry has been so heavily impacted by the COVID-19 labor shortage, some experts and industry insiders say a big reason is that employees feel their employers have failed them. Demanding more for less, eliminating training and keeping wages low are just some of the ways employees feel shortchanged. While many chief economists have proposed ways to solve this labor-shortage paradox, the fact is that listening to what employees want and doing your best to fulfill these asks is a no-brainer.

At the end of the day, the labor shortage continues to impact everyone in myriad ways. Customers are often faced with long waits, reduced hours and diminished capacity at understaffed restaurants, and poor service and limited amenities at hotels—and that’s just speaking about the hospitality industry. At the same time, lots of businesses have been forced to partially or fully shutter because they can’t find enough help to meet demand or even operate on a basic level.

While many hospitality businesses may have been able to pivot during the pandemic by introducing new business models, expanding delivery and outdoor dining and implementing contactless experiences, there’s no way to get around a labor shortage if you can’t attract new employees. 

How to source and retain employees through a global pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact labor availability, businesses need to understand how to source and retain employees if they want to weather the crisis. While many former hospitality workers have turned to industries that offer remote work opportunities, there are still plenty of people out there with specialized hospitality experience who would return to the industry if conditions improved.

In many cases, these conditions include better or more stable wages, more flexibility around scheduling, better work-life balance to promote mental health and a more positive company culture. Understanding what employees want and expect from their jobs and employers—and effectively delivering on those demands—is key to boosting employee retention.

Once a company has made the decision to enact some of these new policies, whether it's raising wages, implementing a PTO policy or investing in programs to improve the company culture, the next step is figuring out how to effectively source employees.

One of the easiest ways to spread the word about your company’s open positions is to promote them within your brick-and-mortar shop or place of business. We’ve all seen signs posted in restaurant windows or on shop doors advertising roles for immediate hire. But it never hurts to take this a step further by posting open positions on a job listing site or working with a recruiting agency.

That said, one of the most effective—and cost-efficient—ways to source new candidates is to incentivize your current team members to refer potential new employees. Research has shown staff referrals tend to result in better-quality hires. This could be because employees are more likely to refer candidates they feel will do well at the job—a bad candidate would reflect badly on them, after all. Whatever the reason, though, most hiring experts will agree that a referral system is one of the best ways to attract new talent. A system with strong incentives, like cash bonuses or paid time off for every successful hire, also encourages your existing employees to stick around.

In addition to sourcing new talent, businesses also need to think about how they can retain these employees during these challenging times. As mentioned above, decent wages and flexibility can go a long way in encouraging staff to stay onboard. So does improving workplace culture. This can include steps such as making more of an effort to recognize and reward hard-working employees, encouraging staff to take vacation, promoting communication between staff and management, and inviting employees to regularly share feedback on the work environment and company culture.

Related: Can past pandemics help reveal COVID-19’s silver lining for businesses?

How to train and engage new employees

The last element to consider when coming up with a plan to source and retain employees during COVID-19 is how your company will train and engage them. In a nutshell, what measures will you take to make sure the onboarding process is seamless and built for success? One area to focus on is training. It’s a crucial part of employee onboarding, and something every company should invest in.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things, prompting business to usher in new business models and more contactless experiences. The average consumer has also changed—some research shows customers are more aware than ever of value, timely results and quality of service. Therefore, it’s imperative your training plan addresses all of these shifts.

How well you can adapt your employees’ skills to new customer expectations and changing processes will deeply impact how resilient your business is in this new normal. It’ll also play a major role in boosting employee morale, as better training typically leads to more confidence on the job.

To keep your employees engaged, think back to some of the things you’ve considered for improving company culture. A lot of the measures aimed at making work better for employees also helps to keep them engaged. Like rewarding top performers for their effort and achievement. Or offering incentives to refer new candidates to the team. Even quarterly giveaways, inter-team competitions and milestone celebrations can make employees excited about the work they’re doing and proud to be a part of the company.

Now that you have a little more background on what’s caused the current labor crisis and what elements are holding candidates back from applying to open positions, taking the next steps to source workers, keep them engaged and promote retention should be a little clearer. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s a job-seekers’ market. How well you’re able to attract and retain quality talent depends on how well you’re able to meet candidates’ demands. Understand what matters most to employees and make an effort to deliver on those needs, and you’ll have an advantage when it comes to winning over potential hires. 

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