The hidden cost of talent quitting the hospitality industry


“Thanks, but I’m not looking for opportunities within hospitality anymore” the voice on the end of the phone sounds beaten, deflated and exhausted “Oh, ok, and why is that? What’s prompted you to leave?” I ask in response “it’s the hours, the evenings and weekends, I can’t do it anymore, I’m looking for admin, HR, warehouse work”.

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It’s a conversation I have fairly frequently as a recruiter within the hospitality sector, and as I’ve reflected on it I’ve developed a few thoughts I felt were worth sharing.

When a manager or senior chef leaves their job, there is an immediate, direct cost to that business.  This cost is difficult to quantify exactly, but can be broadly described within the following points:

  • The recruitment and labour cost of bringing in and training up a replacement for the employee who has resigned
  • The impact on revenue generation to that business from having lost a key member of the management team; especially within hospitality, a well-established General Manager with a great reputation in the local community can add hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of the year through repeat business, new custom from positive word of mouth, and corporate business sourced through effective local marketing and pro-active business development activity
  • The ‘ripple’ effect upon the wider team remaining within the business – who may have to work additional hours, may suffer from a lack of leadership and direction and subsequently either lose productivity or decide to resign also

This is nothing new, and something that most businesses are well aware of, however not all have fully understood the urgency of making changes to the way they operate and treat their management and senior chefs.  Businesses such as M restaurants, The Alchemist and New World Trading Company have all received positive press for exploring ways to improve the ‘quality of life’ and welfare of their staff and this is something to be commended.

Focussing on staff retention is nothing new and I won’t dwell on that here.  Primarily for the clients I speak to, their retention is very much focussed on avoiding losing their staff to direct competition.  When their talent are leaving the industry altogether, due to burnout and/or disengagement, this is something different entirely.

First and foremost, there is a very human ‘cost’ at the heart of this process; when a skilled Head Chef in their mid-30s, who has spent 15+ years in the industry building their reputation and developing as a professional, decides to jack it all in and go and work in a warehouse because - and I am generalising here - they are fed up with working 70 hours every week, this person is effectively starting their career trajectory all over again, at a time in their lives when they should be in a position of financial security and comfort.  This is not to say that people cannot transition into new career paths later in life, but if you break down their current role and the career paths they generally cite as being attractive, there are few if any transferable skills, and there is no guarantee at all of quick progression within this new field. 

Deeper within that still there rests a difficult question around enjoyment, fulfilment, job satisfaction.  For someone who has built a career in a fast-paced customer facing environment, where large teams forge close bonds under pressure, they may well find the process of working in a warehouse – something I’ve myself done many years ago – mundane and repetitive, without the energy and camaraderie that comes with a role in hospitality.

But there is yet another cost that comes with top hospitality talent quitting the industry; a wider cost to the economy itself.  UKHospitality, in a recent report, assesses the value of the hospitality sector in the UK at £130 billion.  If successful managers and senior chefs are quitting their positions to take up entry level roles in other industries, the likelihood is that they will not generate the same revenue, both in terms of income (and by extension, taxes paid) but also in terms of their productivity and contribution.  I have worked with many businesses over the past 4 years who have been seriously impacted by the loss of top talent, particularly in more provincial areas where the candidate pool is shallow and it is nigh on impossible to identify and recruit a suitable replacement; in some cases leading to closures (and there’s been plenty of discussion around this in the news in recent weeks). 

The hospitality industry has traditionally been one of long hours and below average pay.  Businesses are now beginning to wake up and realise that the short term costs of reducing employee’s hours and investing in their reward and recognition programs, are in fact far less than the combined cost of the three points described above.  I would go a step further and speculate that only by doing so will we be able to develop and retain the talent required to drive the recovery of the UK hospitality industry from its current state of uncertainty.

Author: Michael Morris
 
 

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