You wake up at 6 a.m., get to work by 10 a.m., take a break at 3 p.m., return to work at 6 p.m., and finish at 11 p.m. By the time you get home, it is 1 a.m. and you need to wake up at 6 a.m. to start the cycle again.

On Christmas, New Year, school holidays, Easter, and public holidays, when most people are on break, you must work. When others party, you are the one servicing and creating the party. Try to call in sick and your shifts will be cut or you will be given the jobs no one wants to do. Forget about going out for dinner with your family or having weekends off. Enjoy getting used to split days off, if you are lucky to be on five days a week or five and a half days a week.

It sounds like a good life, doesn’t it? It is no wonder that the hospitality industry had the highest turnover rate in the country and the world in 2016. The accommodation and foodservice industries recorded an average of 15 percent turnover for the year. To put it in perspective, for every 10 people you work with today, at least two will be gone by yearend.

For people who have just started out, chances are that nine times out of 10, you will not be working in the industry in a decade’s time. Nine out of 10 people will have run away, escaped, and gone to find freedom. Of those who will have survived more than 10 years in the industry, 50 percent of them will have possibly gone through strained marriages—to the point where they are no longer in a traditional marriage.

Incapable and unfit

In the Philippines, we are facing a huge labor shortage problem with the rise of the BPO industry. But even more concerning is the major job skills mismatch for applicants. The industry is no longer getting the same quality of applicants applying for jobs. The major reasons for being unqualified for a job in the industry in 2016 were the following:

  • Poor written and spoken English
  • Poor social skills, flexibility, adaptability
  • Poor or no practical skills or industry experience
  • Lack of determination, or job seeking without caring about what type of job it is

What the industry is finding is that the majority of qualified applicants know that they can get higher wages in other industries. Due to the tough labor market, the industry has started to kill itself. We find that with each new opening, establishments are poaching employees from their competitors in a fashion our industry has never seen. In the past, the employees would approach you, but now, owners and HR personnel are actively going out and throwing business cards around, poaching who they feel is the best. This atmosphere creates the survival of the fittest mentality, which is dangerous to the future of the industry.

A little attention to staff and employee welfare can greatly impact the industry
It’s astounding how a little attention to staff and employee welfare can greatly impact the industry

Sound staff advice

We tell our clients that “no one wants to or can survive the industry,” so when we set up systems, this mentality drives people to think creatively to retain staff and make them survive the tiring cycle. In terms of lower-level jobs, they are still easy to fill, but we have a big problem in the Philippines with our middle and top management as we lack enough qualified people to fill these roles. So what’s to be done? Here are a few recommendations for the industry:

  • Realize that your employees can be split into four categories: less than two years, two to five years, five to eight years, and 10 years plus. Once you acknowledge this, spend the first year of their employment identifying where they fit. If they are in the less than two years category, then you know to either find a replacement or just to have them perform their role to the standards set, but do not invest too much time in development as they will eventually go. Usually, these are students who just work for the money and possess a low work ethic.
  • Make sure your company has an orientation process to ensure employees assimilate into your company culture and that they feel welcomed and taken care of starting from day one. A good number of small businesses still do not realize how critical this is to employee retention over the first few weeks.
  • Have a training plan and growth plan. Ensure that you have a clear one- or two-week starter training plan for all new employees. Make sure they learn your standards and expectations from the get-go, as this will eliminate most of the stress they will experience in the first few months. It will also ensure that the basic standards are clear to them, eliminating conflict between existing members who get frustrated when they need to fix the mistakes of new personnel.
  • Develop a culture that respects all members of your team. Ensure that “please,” “thank you,” “well done,” “good job,” and “teamwork” are all entrenched into your team’s vocabulary. If you develop a culture that respects one another, then you will find that people look forward to coming to work, as they feel safe in such a motivating environment.
  • Identify strengths within the first six months. Once you identify strengths of your new employees, find ways to harness this for the benefit of the company and the benefit of the other team members. This is a powerful tool, as the employee will enjoy and find pride in using their strength, while the others will feed and learn from them during the process. This will develop a teaching and mentoring culture.
  • Have a discussion with all team members every three months. Have the meeting away from the workplace, and during this period, ensure that both parties are honest and open. If your staffs’ goal is not in line with the company’s, find a way in which both parties can help each other achieve mutually beneficial goals.
  • Be sensitive to your staff needs and requests. Have a guideline for this to ensure that each employee receives the same opportunities. Ensure that you have a fair process where employees can request time off without hurting your business. Some companies allow two to three simple requests a month. Of course, during the busy months the company reduces the ability to request days off to one request a month. This system helps you clear leaves during slow periods and allows staff to plan time off for important events.
  • Do not discount mature employees or employees with no experience. These are the two best employees to find. Employees without experience are the best for entry-level jobs, as the company can shape and mold them. They come to you with no bad habits from another employer. They are like babies who absorb everything and will follow all the standards the way they have been taught from the start. Mature employees cherish any opportunity they can get. This is a big thing in the Philippines, as all recruiters want fresh graduates or young employees, but they are usually the ones who leave and jump around. The mature employee will be dedicated and loyal, as they know it is much harder for them to find a job if they lose the one you gave them.

The industry is tough, poorly paid, and frowned upon. It is going through a rough patch because we have abused our staff for far too long. It is time to make them succeed, to lay the foundations for a culture where we can give them work-life balance, and to ensure that we, as an industry, can make the work glamorous again. Think outside the box but also ensure that the basics have been covered. Since the ’90s, we have lost a lot of the basics of the industry (e.g. orientation, welcoming, training plans, etc.) and now we are all fighting for the same pool of staff.

Remember these words: “It is an employee’s world at the moment. There are so many opportunities for staff that employers need to become the employer of choice to ensure that the applicants come to you.” If you need to fight for applicants, ask yourself why. How is your brand represented in the employment world?

Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 1