In the first of a series of features on the staffing crisis in hospitality, Katherine Price looks at how businesses are making it easy for new parents to return to work, with flexible hours, part-time solutions and an enlightened approach that is paying dividends when it comes to tapping into this pool of talent
"We have really talented people in our business who are parents and we risk losing them, or not finding them in the first place, if we don't try and make this work for them," says Anna Jackson, operations director at Firmdale.
"We've got to keep these invaluable people within our business who wouldn't have been able to do normal working hours. It's not straightforward, but it's the way forward, and it's going to be absolutely essential."
The UK's imminent departure from the European Union will mean tighter immigration laws that could exclude 90% of hospitality's EU workforce, creating a shortfall that would require up to 900,000 new workers to be found each year. The impact on the industry could be devastating. Therefore, operators need to get creative when it comes to recruitment and think how they can attract people they may not have successfully engaged with before. Returning parents could be that pool of talent.
"It's historically a very unfriendly industry for work-life balance. It's been inflexible, and that drives talent out," said InterContinental Hotels Group chief executive Keith Barr, speaking at the launch of the Women in Hospitality 2020 report launch last month.
You're losing "probably your most experienced talent" if you're not accommodating them at the point when they start a family, stresses Holly Addison, head of consumer digital, travel and hospitality at executive recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson.
"Boards and leaders need to mirror their customer base and, in hospitality, how much of what we do is about families?" she asks. "Losing that experienced talent, who understands their customer base really well because they're also parents, is a huge loss."
Addison is on the steering committee for UKHospitality's mentoring programme, which was launched last year to help steer more women towards senior executive and board level positions. She encouraged employers to engage with the programme and make use of the opportunity to speak to senior leaders in hospitality, many of whom are working parents and have solutions to make hospitality a more welcoming space for mothers and fathers.
Jane Sunley, founder of employee engagement consultancy Purple Cubed, points out that there are employment agencies and job boards that specialise in working parents. To attract this group she urges employers to clearly state in their job ads that they welcome returning parents, have parent-friendly shifts and policies, and systems to help parents back into the workplace or to retrain.
Nearly everyone The Caterer spoke to had the same message for hospitality operators: focus on retaining parents, make it easier for them to return to the business after having children, and talk to them to discuss how to do this.
By not making every type of individual able to do the best job at work, the more you reduce the talent pool you can draw from, emphasises Addison - a potentially fatal move in today's market.
The Caterer's staffing special
In light of the sector's well-publicised staffing woes, operators need to be thinking more outside the box than ever when it comes to recruitment. In this, the first in a series of features detailing how to engage previously under-utilised demographics, we investigate how businesses can tap into the talent pool of returning parents. In the coming weeks we will cover the recruitment of:
• The homeless
• The elderly
• Those with disabilities
Next week, in the second instalment of the staffing crisis series, we take a look at recruiting ex-offenders
Flexible working in school hours at Firmdale
"When I returned after having my first child in 2010 [co-founder] Tim Kemp gave me warming reassurance that both motherhood and success within Firmdale were possible," says Anna Jackson.
Then general manager of the group's Charlotte Street hotel in London, she is now operations director across the group. She has two children - Tyler, nine, and Poppy, seven.
Firmdale provided a home computer to allow her to work remotely, and for the last few years she has the opportunity to work from home on Fridays. Firmdale also provides a training platform that is accessible via mobile, tablet or PC, meaning its employees can access its training materials at a time and place that suits them.
Attracting parents back into the workforce has been a conscious focus for 2017 Employer of the Year Catey award winner Firmdale, which has had to adapt its recruitment strategy in recent years.
"Like any hospitality business in the current market, recruitment continues to be a huge challenge and concern. There is an increasing number of people who are very specific about when they can work, so we have to be flexible from the start," says Jackson. "Flexibility is not just for current employees but a key message in attracting new members to our teams."
She says this flexibility can exist in pretty much any role, from front-facing to behind the scenes, from entry level to management.
"It's not about when they can't, it's about when they can. One shift a week? Fine. We all know that recruitment is potentially going to get much more difficult, but if you can get that commitment, whether it's eight hours a week or 20 hours a week, and you've got a really good candidate, we need to make it work."
She points out that the 10am-2pm period is one of the hotel's busiest, with most check-ins and check-outs taking place during this time, rooms needing to be cleaned and food and beverage outlets full for brunch, lunch and afternoon tea.
"There are a lot of activities within the hotels during those school-friendly hours, so it's actually ideal, but it is about reaching these candidates and getting that message across, which I don't think we do well enough as an industry," she says.
"Flexibility and an open mind are key. It's not about why it can't work, it's why it should and could work."
How Firmdale reaches out to working parents
• Single parent and 'women into work'-oriented recruitment events.
• Local council-organised job fairs.
• Inviting charities and associations to its monthly open days and participating in their employability programmes, eg Springboard, Heart of London Business Alliance, Groundwork, Good Hotel London, House of St Barnabas, Growing Talent and the Camden Society.
• Firmdale's Springboard charity ambassadors have been trained to deliver presentations to different groups of people getting back to work, including working mothers.
• Rota guidance for managers on how to accommodate flexible shift patterns.
• Recruitment adverts clearly offer rota flexibility and part-time shifts, such as 10am-2pm, mornings, evenings or weekends only.
• Advertising on parent-focused job boards, eg Mumsnet, Successful Mums and Workingmums.
Developing a women in leadership programme at Compass
"With the help of the UK's largest network for parents, Mumsnet, and Corndel, an industry-approved provider of management and leadership learning programmes, we have created a tailored programme to support our female colleagues who manage a team and have either taken maternity leave and are looking to return or have returned to the workplace from maternity in the last two years.
"This programme aims to support women with their ongoing development into management and leadership positions within our business. Flexibility is at its heart - it has been designed not to add to colleagues' workloads but support them. The programme is delivered through a combination of one-to-one coaching, interactive engagement workshops, masterclasses focused on specific challenges - for example, 'work, family and you - finding the balance' - as well as events and meetings with senior leaders. On completion the individual will secure a Chartered Management Institute Certificate in Leadership and Management (Level 5).
"We will be in regular dialogue with those who participate to ensure it is supporting them in the right way and delivering the results they want to achieve. I hope by creating this programme we are developing a blueprint for many others in our industry."
Donna Catley, HR director, Compass
A part-time route to management at Travelodge**
Budget hotel chain Travelodge launched a recruitment programme in January targeted at unemployed parents. The group plans to open 100 hotels over the next five years, which means nearly 3,000 new roles will need to be filled.
"More than a third of our employees are European workers and we noticed that once the Brexit announcement had been made, we saw a decrease in the number of job applications," says communications director Shakila Ahmed. "We had to really rethink our recruitment strategy because of the uncertainty in the market."
More than half of Travelodge employees are parents, so it was identified as an already strong talent pool. The group consulted with employees as well as doing a survey with YouGov to look at what more it could do to draw from it.
The poll of 451 unemployed parents found 86% wanted to return to work, but 59% found lack of flexibility the biggest barrier. A loss of confidence was felt by 61%, and 67% said they would appreciate the opportunity to climb the career ladder while raising their family.
Taking this into account, Travelodge's parent recruitment drive shouts about its flexible hours and has introduced a work buddy system, as well as adapting its Aspire management programme, which is now available part-time, and can extend to 24 weeks instead of just 12.
Yasmin Mohamed, duty manager at Travelodge London City and mother of five (pictured), has been working for Travelodge for the last year: "I felt like my life revolved around my home life, which led to me feeling like I was losing my identity and what I wanted for my future," she says.
Within three months, she was taken onto the Aspire programme, has had two promotions in the last year and is in line to apply for an assistant hotel manager position.
Flexible rotas and a variety of shift patterns allow her to plan childcare. "It helped me set a routine for both my home and work life."
Since launching the recruitment drive in January, Travelodge has seen a "massive response", says Ahmed. Ahead of opening the Chester Central Bridge Street Travelodge last month, the property received more than 1,000 applications for 35 positions - more than half of which have been filled by parents.
Supporting the whole family at Petersham Nurseries
It's fertile ground at Petersham Nurseries. At the group's Richmond site in London there are six new mothers and three new fathers, and at its Covent Garden site there are two expectant mothers and two new fathers.
The family-owned business must meet the needs of returning parents to retain this talent.
"We pride ourselves on having many team members who have been with us for years. This longevity only works if, as a business, we can look at ways to support having a family while growing a career and maintaining a work-life balance," says Grace Carleton, managing director Lara Boglione's personal assistant.
The company recently put on a complimentary lunch for the new mothers. "These employees were as keen to touch base with us as we were to meet the new arrivals," says Carleton.
The variety of the business also supports flexibility - the café in Richmond operates lunch service from midday until 5pm, and there are house shops, florists and delis should someone want to work in a different part of the business that offers more of a 9am-5pm option. Charlotte Senn, general manager at Richmond, started in the kitchen and has also worked as a PR and marketing manager. Another team member moved from the deli's opening team in Covent Garden to the events team.
Carleton emphasises the importance of open discussions to ensure the team members can continue working and earning.
"Every pregnancy is different, and work adjustments are dictated by the expectant mother, not the business," she says.
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