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Will hospitality pay the price for mass job cuts?

11 August 2020 by

Whether as a result of the end of furlough or downsizing a business, the loss of employees means a loss of talent from the sector, at a time when it needs it most. Jennie Milsom looks at the true cost of redundancy.

At the height of the Covid-19 crisis, three and a half million hospitality workers were furloughed. Around one million have since returned to work, but many fear that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of jobs will be lost in the months to come, and with them a huge amount of talent from an industry that has long found recruitment and retention challenging.

Analysis by the Centre for Retail Research suggests 22,000 jobs have already been lost by restaurants alone, and with employer furlough contributions beginning this month, that figure is expected to escalate rapidly.

But with stringent immigration laws set to turn off the tap of European workers from January, Jane Sunley, founder of employee engagement company Purple Cubed, is among those asking employers to explore every option before shedding talent.


She is urging operators to "grit their teeth, fight for it" and explore creative ways to retain staff, rather than "panic, panic, panic". She told The Caterer: "This industry has moaned and groaned for years about not being able to find and retain good people, so it's massively important to explore options before getting rid of staff.

"Crawl through a few months, and even if you have to let them go, keep in touch, because you will want them back."

Crawl through a few months, and even if you have to let them go, keep in touch, because you will want them back

Sunley stresses that employers should be "very afraid of letting people go", and explained that the range of transferable skills accrued by hospitality employees – discipline, communication and compassion, to name but three – will be snapped up by other consumer-facing sectors.

Dr Hilary Cooke, author of e-book Picking up the Pieces and founder of Merlin Business Consultancy, agreed that hospitality staff are "hanging on by their fingernails" and anticipates further rounds of redundancies.

She said: "What we're doing now is losing all this talent from management level and these skills are really transferable. We don't want to lose these people from this industry. We have to make it easy for them [to stay in hospitality], otherwise they will go elsewhere."


She added: "Trying to give these people as many skills as we can and keeping them connected to the industry is super-important in the hope that, when we are in the position to bring people back, they want to come.

"People understand parts about what's available to them, but not the whole picture. I haven't applied for a job for 30 years. You network when you're working, not when you're not working, and that's the time you need to do it."

Joanne Taylor-Stagg
Joanne Taylor-Stagg

If employers are forced to make jobs redundant, they should do it kindly and with respect, said Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager at the Athenaeum Hotel & Residences in London's Mayfair. She said: "The most important thing is for people to leave with some kind of confidence. If you just kick them to the curb, they're not going to want to come back to the industry.

"We have some amazing people who have lost or will lose their roles through doing nothing wrong. We have real superstars of the future and we can't afford to keep them at the moment."

With a job in hospitality no longer ‘a job for life', Taylor-Stagg fears the next generation will look elsewhere for job security at a time when the industry might need them most. "Come January, we could very well not be able to recruit," she added.

The Dorchester Collection Academy has launched an initiative to help hospitality professionals get back into work by offering a complimentary tailored interview practice session with feedback to help managers from hotels, restaurants, airlines and cruise companies bag new jobs.

Its global director, Beth Aarons, said she hoped the initiative would increase the "confidence and preparedness", of many who have the skills and experience, but would not have been through the interview process in a long time.

Beth Aarons
Beth Aarons

"Having reviewed what has been happening in the hospitality sector as a whole, it is incredibly sad to see the impact on people's jobs and livelihoods," she said. "We hope to be able to follow the journey of those managers we do work with and celebrate with them in the fullness of time."

As for movement within the hospitality sector, Kathy Dyball of hospitality job board said that although vacancies had started to increase since the sector reopened, they were "nothing like previous numbers". In April, the site launched a ‘Redeployment Hub', highlighting roles in other sectors that match transferable skills. It has already seen about 70,000 go on to non-hospitality roles.

It's a situation she believes may see the industry suffer later. "Over time, as the industry picks up, I have no doubt we will be in a skills shortage. A lot of people have gone home [overseas] already and they won't come back."

To apply for the Dorchester Collection Academy email

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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