As we head towards the festive season, it is hard to believe that so-called “freedom day” in the UK (which signalled the long awaited end to over a year of Covid-related restrictions) was just over three months ago. For those in the hospitality sector that had seen their businesses forcibly shut for the majority of the previous year, this day hailed a fresh start where they could look to start recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and begin recouping some of their losses. Particularly as 2021 had been billed as the year of the ‘staycation’ thanks to ongoing (and ever-changing) travel restrictions which fuelled the sector’s optimism that it wouldn’t take long to start bouncing back from the ravages of the pandemic. Now, as we head towards what should be another busy period for the sector, we consider whether the grand reopening in the summer had the desired effect on one of the hardest hit sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are aware that for many in the hospitality sector, being open for business again since the summer has not come without its hiccups. The primary one of these resolves around staff shortages. From the impact of the “pingdemic” which caused many short term staffing issues (at least until the self-isolation rules for (symptomless) close contacts changed on 16 August) to the more fundamental issue that there seem to be fewer hospitality workers and as well as a myriad of supply chain issues which continue unabated. Consumers (and by extension businesses) are being told to prepare early for Christmas in anticipation of the various shortages currently affecting the UK economy.

Various factors have been identified as possible causes of the shortages. The Covid-19 pandemic saw many hospitality staff furloughed, and some took the opportunity (with paid time off) to retrain and upskill in other, possibly better paid / more secure areas of work. Others are reluctant to return to the same working hours and patterns as before. In addition, many businesses that would have looked to European workers where shortages arose in the past have been hampered by the impact of Brexit and getting to grips with the introduction of the new Points-Based Immigration System in the UK (with its focus on highly skilled and skilled workers).

The question therefore becomes: what can the hospitality sector do to recruit and retain staff? With the financial pressures wrought by our response to the pandemic, it is not feasible to simply suggest increasing wages.

As an alternative, some of our clients in this sector have come up with innovative solutions to their staffing shortages, such as:

  • Staffing Swaps

There are still businesses where demand has not picked up to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, so swapping employees within group companies to transfer staff from quieter businesses to busier ones that have greater demand makes sense and equalises some of the current imbalance in returning to pre-pandemic habits.

  • Additional perks

Businesses could also identify qualifications relevant to their particular areas and offer to fund these for staff so they can “earn and learn” – while hopefully building loyalty, and giving the business the benefit of any new skills/knowledge/contacts developed through such training.

  • Travel arrangements

For those businesses located in more remote areas which therefore have a smaller population pool from which to recruit staff, taking responsibility for staff journeys to and from work would give them access to a greater number of potential employees in surrounding areas. For example, a business in a small, bustling but relatively remote area which requires people to be able to drive could look to organise transport from larger, local metropolitan hubs thereby increasing their potential recruitment pool to, for example, students without cars.

One of the best ways to recruit staff is through word of mouth so businesses should look to ensure their existing workforce is relatively content (and safe). Central to this is ensuring that the business has effective lines of communication with its staff so that if any issues do arise they can be rectified swiftly, and staff feel heard.

As we move through the traditional ‘flu’ season towards a hopefully busy festive period, we are still waiting to see if we get more localised peaks and troughs in the number, and severity, of Covid cases. This will make predicting customer demand – and demand for staff – harder than usual, particularly in light of the wider supply chain issues. Employers are no doubt already exploring alternative, more flexible ways of taking on staff to meet the fluctuating demands of their business. Our Resourcing Hub is aimed to help with exactly this issue, and contains free, up-to-date information on many of the employment law issues employers may be facing.