Why Onboarding Hospitality Employees The Right Way Could Save Your Company

10 minute read

Hospitality has an engagement problem. Along with retail, hospitality employees are amongst the least engaged in all industries in the UK.

Hospitality has a churn problem. The turnover rate in restaurants reached a staggering 73% in 2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hospitality has a "giving a damn" problem. While those stats are keeping hospitality HR directors awake at night, they've barely entered even the most peripheral awareness of most chief executives. At best, the C-suite sees high turnover and low engagement as the unfortunate but unavoidable cost of doing business in a service industry; at worst, they see this high proportion of entry-level roles as immediately replaceable.

Fortunately, better measurement tools are helping HR directors to put dollar signs to those employment trends. Gallup has famously demonstrated that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. Meanwhile, our Speakap research study discovered that it costs at least $1,000 to replace each frontline non-desk employee, without accounting for lost productivity or the productivity and performance lag new employees suffer from during their first six months in the job.

What do engagement and retention have to do with onboarding?

To discover the root cause of a problem, you have to follow the evidence back. If high employee turnover is the problem, then low employee engagement rates are the cause. The catalyst? The starting point? Ground zero for a bad employee experience? Poor onboarding.

HR chiefs recognize that. Twenty-seven percent of HR managers placed recruiting and retaining talent at the top of their priority list for 2019, with a further 13% prioritizing improvements in onboarding and the employee experience.

That need to deliver an exceptional employee experience—from the first interview to the final paycheck—is felt more sharply than ever before for two significant reasons:

1. Low unemployment rates mean there are often more jobs than there are employees; if someone doesn't feel engaged or connected to their job, they can jump ship for another role which pays more, has friendlier shift patterns or is simply closer to home.

2. Millennials and Gen Z now comprise 68% of frontline customer-facing workforces in industries like hospitality. As our research reveals, great experience equals high engagement for younger employees.

New call-to-action

Onboarding is more crucial to the bottom line and reputation in hospitality

While onboarding is important in other industries, in hospitality, it's essential. Now more than ever.

Imagine a poorly-onboarded restaurant employee takes to the restaurant floor for one of her first shifts during a busy weekend. She doesn't understand the processes fully, so she's already panicked. She's not spoken to anyone else at the restaurant yet, so she doesn't feel comfortable asking for help. She's not even sure who the shift manager is. For these reasons, she is delayed in taking the order from one table and then gets the order wrong because she doesn't know the menu or specials. These small mistakes all add up over the next few hours and the party leaves the restaurant unhappy.

Not an unrealistic or uncommon scenario in most busy establishments with a high turnover of employees. Neither is it a new scenario. The difference is that today, the table leaves and immediately takes to TripAdvisor and Twitter to voice their unhappiness about their meal. A few challenging shifts later, the employee quits and vents her frustration about the lack of training on Glassdoor and Indeed. One poor onboarding experience results in losing some loyal customers, some terrible word of mouth publicity and no longer having access to some potentially excellent employees.

Great onboarding delivers better employees and more customers. It's that simple.

Creating a great onboarding experience for hospitality employees

The onboarding experience consists of three distinct phases:

  1. Pre-boarding: from the moment an offer of employment is made until the new employee steps through the door on the first day of work.
  2. Orientation: roughly speaking, the first month of employment, with particular emphasis on the first day and first week.
  3. Continued onboarding: the period between orientation and the employee reaching full productivity – usually accepted as being around six months.

Perfect pre-boarding

  1. Once an employee has accepted your job offer, send them an email or, better still, a message on the company's enterprise social network (ESN), employee app, or intranet. Welcome them to the team and invite them to tell the rest of the team a little about themselves, so that they feel known and recognized when they enter on their first day. Chances are they'll have already struck up some conversation or relationship with colleagues before they even start on day one.
  2. Provide access to the relevant documents and guidelines, like your employee handbook, which should include details like dress code. Add an organizational chart, so they know who's who straight away.
  3. Send explicit instruction about where they should be, at what time and who they should ask for on their first day.

Awesome orientation

4. Make sure the new employee's line manager welcomes them and does the initial introductions and onboarding on their first day. Nothing says "you're a menial nobody" like outsourcing onboarding to a junior team member.

5. Introduce new employees to the relevant team members and any other departments they're likely to work closely with then give them a full tour of facilities, letting them know important things like policies, security, the location of bathrooms and when and where to take breaks.

6. Give all employees a small welcome gift on their first day. You'll be surprised how much a hotel branded mug or apron with your restaurant's logo will mean to a new employee.

7. Managers should take new employees to lunch in the canteen or cafeteria on their first day. It's a great chance to talk about some of the next points in a less rushed and more informal setting.

8. During the first week, new hospitality employees—no matter which department—should be informed about:

  • Company purpose, brand, and tone of voice
  • Common guest types, their needs, behaviors and how to serve them best
  • Their individual and team goals and responsibilities

9. During the first week, managers should make sure hospitality employees have access to all relevant tools, including any company intranets or internal comms platforms that will be used as the primary communications vehicle between head office and front-of-house employees in particular.

Outstanding onboarding

10. Make sure new employees know how to contact their direct manager, their colleagues, and their HR manager if they have any questions. A company ESN is perfect for this as communication is an accessible, real-time low barrier, so employees feel easier using ESNs than confronting busy managers face to face.

11. Make sure new employees see the enthusiasm of the team and their managers during this period.

12. Line managers should have regular check-ins with all employees, but these should be more regular for new starters. This is where managers can identify training opportunities as well as specific skills that employees might use within the organization.

If it sounds like a lot, that's because it is!

However, it's also worthwhile. Research from Google suggests that new employees get up to speed 25% faster when the hiring manager is actively involved in planning their onboarding. Imagine how many happier customers that equates to for large hospitality organizations.

That's something that The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company understands and embraces fully. Speaking to Inc. Magazine, the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center's Diana Oreck explained:

"Orientation is not relegated to human resources. It is the most senior people in the hotels who teach the new employee orientation. Here's our reasoning: When you join Ritz-Carlton, you're not joining a job. It's like you're joining a family. So think about that: if it were your own family, you're not going to relegate the warm welcome of your parents, your brother and sister, your cousins to someone else. You're there to welcome them yourself. This is why our senior leaders have consistently taken the time and made the commitment to do that initial orientation."

Fortunately, some tips and tricks can help hospitality firms of all shapes and sizes to provide exceptional onboarding experiences to all their new hires.

  1. Use a buddy system. Introduce new employees to their buddy on the company social network before they start and they have someone to pitch their questions ("do I need to bring my own lunch?") as well as a friendly face on their first day.
  2. Implement a dedicated tool for team communications, like Speakap. Welcoming new employees, introducing them to team members, and providing them with access to relevant documents and handbooks then becomes almost effortless.
  3. Today's employees want to use technology in their jobs, and they love mobile. Sixty-four percent are happy to use personal devices for work-based tasks. (Bridging the internal)
  4. However, young employees hate communication clutter and app sprawl. Integrate all employee apps, like scheduling and training tools, into an employee app like Speakap for a unified and branded employee experience.
  5. Provide a platform for new employees to provide real-time feedback and suggestions based on their own onboarding experience, and they'll give you a roadmap for employee experience going forwards.
  6. Finally, this all sounds like a lot to remember, so make sure you have a great and up-to-date onboarding checklist available to all hiring managers.

So, happy onboarding. Remember: the way you welcome new employees today could decide the way your organization is perceived and performs for years to come.


New call-to-action

Matt is an experienced journalist-turned-content marketer who writes about all things tech, SAAS and B2B.

Stay in the know

Sign up for our newsletter and get the latest updates.