Investment is the key to fixing the industry's productivity problem, believes Peter Ducker, chief executive at the Institute of Hospitality
Chancellor George Osborne recently pledged that tackling Britain's poor productivity is now his priority for the current Parliament. At a national level we work longer hours than Germany and France, but produce less per worker than they do. Furthermore, based on output per worker, a new People 1st report has revealed our hospitality and tourism sector contributes 53% less than retail and 58% less than manufacturing.
However, such comparisons are unhelpful. There are perfectly valid reasons why productivity is lower in hospitality than retail or manufacturing. Most people want to eat dinner between 7pm and 8.30pm, for example, leaving emptier restaurants and quieter kitchens during the shoulder periods. For safety and security reasons, hotels must employ staff during the night.
So what is it that the more successful and highly productive businesses do and, more importantly, what can other employers learn from them? In short, they have better staff retention levels because they invest in training and development and provide clear career progression pathways for theirworkforces. They underpin this with a supportive and caring culture that recognises the need for work/life balance, thus generating loyalty and discretionary effort from their employees at all levels.
Designing and delivering Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programmes is a significant undertaking. Companies do not have to do it by themselves. Successful firms, such as BaxterStorey, choose to partner with the Institute of Hospitality to deliver their in-house training.
But simply boosting the supply of skills alone will not necessarily improve productivity. Training needs to be accompanied by investment in innovation, rethinking the ways in which services are designed, work is organised, staff are rostered, technology is used and skills are deployed.
As reported in The Caterer, restaurateurs Sat and Amanda Bains recently announced plans to switch to a four-day week to improve the working conditions of their staff. In the short term it will cost them, but their hope is that the long-term benefits will outweigh the initial risk. There is growing support for the Living Wage movement and the recognition that pay is linked to higher loyalty and commitment from staff, and thus lower staff turnover and HR costs.
Indeed, you are not going to get better results from your housekeeping team, for instance, simply by cutting their break times and telling them that, instead of 13 rooms, they now have to clean 17 rooms per shift. Driving up productivity is about working smarter, not harder.