As the hospitality industry embraces working practices that better encourage engagement and retention, Elly Earls looks at the software that makes managing employees' work-life balance simpler and staffing more straightforward
The struggle to recruit and retain workers has been an unpleasant fact of life for the hospitality industry for many years, exacerbated by recent developments, such as the shortfall in new EU workers due to Brexit. In a survey conducted by Access Hospitality in association with The Caterer earlier this year, 26% of operators said employee churn was a key concern for them in 2019, with staff training and engagement ranking in their top five focus areas.
It's little wonder. The costs of high staff turnover are wide-ranging – from the effect of disengagement before the staff member leaves to recruitment advertising, on-boarding, induction and training.
In contrast, a happy and engaged employee is more likely to deliver excellent customer service and go the extra mile on a challenging shift. In fact, a little over 50% of respondents to Access's survey said they intended to invest in employee engagement as the main way to strengthen customer loyalty.
Workforce management technology can help. While it's possible to manage shifts, rotas and scheduling via an Excel spreadsheet and last-minute phone calls to staff, it's far from the most efficient – or engaging – way.
SyftForce is one system that helps streamline the process of booking and confirming shifts. As Syft co-founder and chief executive Jack Beaman explains: "Staffing managers post their available shifts, detailing requirements like time, date and uniform, which internal staff members can claim. Then, crucially, the opportunity to claim shifts is offered to the company's entire workforce, so each worker gains more choice and flexibility.
Demonstrating that your people are your priority by enabling them to work smartly, through the use of technology, is a key factor in recruiting and keeping your staff
"The chance to complete more shifts means that workers can earn extra money, develop their professional skills and become more engaged with the way the company works. Workers and businesses engage more collaboratively, creating positive conditions for long-term retention."
Access Workspace goes even further, empowering employees to take ownership of their entire lifecycle in the business, which Access Hospitality managing director Henry Seddon says consists of six key stages: recruitment, on-boarding, reward and benefits, performance, development and, ultimately, exit.
"Employee records and key HR documentation are instantly available online, with staff taking responsibility for on-boarding, managing their profiles, booking holidays, requesting training and viewing payslips," he explains. "Giving them the opportunity to stay informed in the way they want to, when they want to, using cloud-based technology, is more engaging and enables them to work more effectively.
"For new recruits, getting it right from the beginning is an important part of how they view the business and how likely they are to commit to a long-term future," he adds. "Demonstrating that your people are your priority by enabling them to work smartly, through the use of technology, is a key factor in recruiting and keeping your staff."
The Institute for Employment Studies found that attempts to boost employee engagement in businesses are likely to fail unless there is a strong and open channel for communication alongside an emphasis on employee wellbeing.
As Chris Micklethwaite, chief technology officer at online employee schedule software provider Planday, explains, workforce management software gives business this capability. "Cloud-based and mobile-first solutions provide a platform for managers and employees to communicate about rota schedules, last-minute changes and any other key information to do with staffing, at a time and a place that suits, and that fits with modern expectations about technology on mobile devices," he says.
"This means employees are more empowered and in control, with self-service capabilities, rota-swapping and communication, and it moves an organisation from a ‘command and control' way of scheduling to a much more collaborative way of operating."
For example, Planday's customers at Riddle & Finns, a seafood restaurant with two locations in Brighton, used to ask staff to write down their hours on a piece of paper, which managers then had to store, count up and process manually. Now, thanks to the messaging function of the Planday software, they can communicate updates to their employees and be sure that they are being read. This is particularly useful when menus are changed and wine-tasting notes need to be distributed.
"Riddle & Finns employs 60 to 70 people all year round, meaning that good communication was particularly crucial with all employees," Micklethwaite says. "Due to the fast-paced nature of the restaurant trade, it simply wasn't possible to catch up with every individual each week. Using the Planday software meant that managers could rest assured that there were no inefficiencies, lost paperwork or miscommunications once the digital rotas were introduced."
Gerard Forde, co-founder of workforce management solution Bizimply, agrees that a great system should go way beyond just tracking hours and costing rotas. "Communication is key and, by allowing staff the opportunity to talk, whether it's face-to-face or through an app, it allows them to speak up more," he says. "For example, they can input shift logs saying what happened in the day, if there were any difficulties and if they have any changes they would make. Some people may be nervous to do so in person, so opening the communication this way is really encouraging."
Small things can also make a big difference, he adds. "We let managers know on the main Bizimply dashboard when one of their employees has a birthday coming up, and if they do happen to forget, our time station app wishes them a happy birthday when they sign in for their day's work."
The data aspect of workforce management software is perhaps the most exciting and impactful – for both employers and employees. While managers can easily forecast the cost of staff on shifts and compare that with revenue, employees know exactly when they'll be working, allowing them to plan ahead.
Communication is key and, by allowing staff the opportunity to talk, whether it's face-to-face or through an app, it allows them to speak up more
For example, with SyftForce, as staffing managers create shifts over time, businesses can determine where rota gaps repeatedly appear, and which venues are most liable to understaffing and overstaffing. "This helps to create effective solutions, such as consistently redeploying staff members to different venues; by analysing shifts posted over the peak season, businesses gain invaluable data to form the best staffing strategies for the future," Beaman explains.
"Workers also benefit immensely from this foresight; instead of being called in at the last minute or not knowing when they can fit work around the holidays, they know exactly when they'll be working, for how long and how much they'll earn, well ahead of time."
Meanwhile at Planday, the next step is Intelligent Scheduling, whereby you can outsource your planning entirely to technology.
"By taking employee data such as skills and personal preferences, contracted hours and working time regulations – and potentially hundreds of other factors relevant to a business – Intelligent Scheduling will use machine learning to continuously optimise and improve the planning process," Micklethwaite explains.
"Everything from performance and preferences to weather and seasonality can be taken into account, as well as the legal and industry rules dictating how much time an individual employee can work, to create a predictive schedule."
The idea is that the platform will plan shifts and present a summary and an overview, so a manager can then adjust and approve accordingly.
James Lintern, co-founder at RotaCloud, believes this human intervention is essential as software starts to take the lead.
"While automatically generated rotas will save you plenty of time, however, introducing the rigidity of ‘computer says no' into rota planning and time tracking could put you on a collision course with your employees," he says. "In the future, it'll be important to continue to adjust shifts or respond to leave requests based on employees' personal preferences and obligations – while also using common sense."
Other potential future AI features include voice technology. For example, with smart scheduling software Rotaready, you can already ask Alexa or Google Assistant, "When am I next working with Charlotte?". The team is also working on more ways to help staff stay out of the back office, such as "Can you call in two extra people?" to automatically find available staff at short notice.
Avoiding awkward chats about hours
Before Dominion Hospitality implemented workforce management software Bizimply, employee rotas would typically be printed out late on a Sunday for shifts commencing first thing Monday morning, then pinned to a wall. They would often subsequently be altered by employees, leaving the site managers not knowing if they had the right staff in the right numbers. On top of this, people felt they were getting a raw deal: they could not plan their week ahead.
Now, according to managing director Drew Brown, those awkward and unpleasant "why was I not informed earlier?" and "why have I not been paid for all the hours I did?" conversations have become a thing of the past. Scheduling is planned nine days before the start of a working week, checked, and then sent directly to all employees a clear week in advance.
"We found that this is optimal. Any earlier leaves you too exposed to unexpected changes, and any later puts an unfair strain on employees' work-life balance, especially as many have other sources of employment, work part-time and have families," Brown explains.
"This is a major benefit of Bizimply, that it allows you to plan ahead based on the demands of the business and provide visibility to all concerned."
Giving staff the power to perform
Rather than simply pinning the rota to the wall and hoping that their team have made a note of their shifts, Rotacloud allows managers and staff alike to access it anytime, anywhere via their mobile devices.
Staff receive notifications whenever a shift changes, while managers can alert all eligible staff when new shifts are added to the rota — removing the need to ring around trying to fill gaps in the schedule.
Ben Ryan of growing sourdough pizza chain Mamma Dough, signed up for RotaCloud two years ago. "It's helped us hugely improve our staff's work-life balance," he says. "It gives them that freedom to know in advance how much money they've earned and when their days off are. It's also a lot easier for them to communicate with us – for example to request days off or request not to work certain shifts. Before, they'd have had to send an email in that might have had to go to another department and could have got lost. Now it's all digital."
The system has also made things much easier for management. "The data we can pull is huge for us," Ryan says. "We're expanding quite heavily and it helps us with our plans for how many staff we need, the costing of staff, when our busy shifts are and when our slow shifts are. With paper and even Excel, it was always a bit confusing. Now it's so much easier and it's right in front of you."
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