If you’ve been working in the hospitality industry these past…oh…19 months or so, one thing is guaranteed; you have experienced labor shortages!
At Micrometrics, we speak with a lot of industry leaders and this is probably the most common challenge we’ve heard since the pandemic began. Now, what happens if your property is not only experiencing low staffing numbers but has also seen its occupancy levels not impacted to the same extent as other hotels around the world? Well, if you’re Holiday Inn Express & Suites Halifax – Bedford’s General Manager, Carmella Facchin, this is exactly the situation you are faced with!
In this Palm Holdings webinar, Carmella shared her experience navigating labor shortages at her property from the perspective of a GM whose occupancy levels still performed “okay” throughout the pandemic. Carmella and Dave, Micrometrics Marketing Lead, discussed:
- how to develop new systems and processes to maximize the output of her team;
- how to keep culture and spirits up when everyone is working long hours in a more stressful environment;
- the impacts that reduced staffing had on the guest experience;
- and the lessons that have been learned that can carry on in a post-pandemic world.
Carmella has more than 37 years of industry experience, having worked as the Front Office & Sales Manager for Best Western Glengarry before taking over as General Manager at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Halifax – Bedford where she leads her team through the pandemic.
Carmella was indoctrinated into the property at the height of the pandemic amidst lockdowns where occupancy went down to nothing. “We faced a lot of challenges then because we couldn’t offer the staff any hours so a lot of people left,” she explained. “Our Premier said he was not reopening the borders to New Brunswick, and then he made the announcement on June 20th that he was opening up all of Canada. So then we were faced with the challenge of the phones ringing off the wall. The rooms were filling up and we had no staff, we may have had eight people on staff at that time. We tried to get more people on board but with the CERB payments that people were receiving and when July weather hit nobody wanted to go to work. So basically the small staff we had plus the management team probably worked anywhere from 80 to 95 hours a week trying to get the rooms done. Some days we started at six o’clock in the morning and we were still cleaning rooms at 11 p.m.”
Pre-pandemic the property had about 80% occupancy and a staff of about 40 people, they then started to see occupancy levels rise again in mid-July to about 70-80% occupancy but only had about 14 people on staff.
What kinds of new processes, procedures, or systems did you have to put in place to try to manage the chaos as much as possible?
Carmella’s staff learned to become ‘an all-around person.’ “So yeah, some days you had to come in and you had to run downstairs, throw the laundry and come back upstairs, check people in, check people out, do breakfast, go clean rooms, so you became an all-around person,” Carmella explained. “What it did do for us though was that we found the staff bonded more and got to know each other more and we depended on each other and we did get through it. It was very difficult. We can honestly tell you looking back now, July, August, and basically, September was just a blur. We made it through but we have no idea how.” That experience led Carmella to change the way that she hires new people now. She now focuses on hiring people who can multitask and who can be team players.
How did Carmella, as the leader of the property, really work to keep the culture and people’s spirits up when everyone was working long hours in a stressful environment?
Carmella explained that she and her team started each morning with a little chat about how they were going to get through the day ahead. She always made an effort to work alongside her employees, if they were working until midnight she would work until 12:30 am. “I would never make someone do something that I wouldn’t do myself,” she explained. “There’s probably dust in my office because most of the eight months I’ve spent here I’ve spent out with the staff. I’m either on the floors, at the front desk, cleaning rooms, or in the breakfast area. I’m hands-on. That’s what we’ve done together all summer.”
The impacts that reduced staffing had on the guest experience.
“Dealing with the public through a pandemic has been an eye-opener,” Carmella said, “because you have some of them that are so passionate and so understanding. Then you have other people that were here and they see you cleaning rooms at midnight and they still would give you a one-star review. They knew you were short-staffed, they could see it, but we would get reviews that would say ‘why don’t you hire staff instead of the same staff being there to do everything,’ instead of thinking ‘I wonder if they’re having the same staff shortage as the rest of the world.’ Some of the reviews we got were unbelievable. Like, ‘why are you so cheap that you’re not hiring staff.’ Or they’d say ‘we see the same people and we’re there every day.’ It’s like well, you’ve seen the set-up, you’re seeing the same people because that’s all we have. Do we want to be here 95 hours a week? No 60 would do it. You know, they just don’t get it and then you have wonderful people. So they were all over the board but you know, visiting other hotels, and doing our comp checks we can see that everyone’s going through the same thing. Of course, we read other people’s reviews every day and it makes us feel like we’re not in it alone, we’re all getting those reviews.”
Lessons that have been learned that can carry on in a post-pandemic world.
One of the lessons that Carmella will be taking with her in the unfortunate event of another crisis is to stay very open with her staff and always tell them how much they are appreciated. “You know, if you go into a lockdown or if it’s super busy, the more they know that you appreciate them and you’re going to work with them, the more they are apt to come back. You have to appreciate people you can’t just say, you know, to your housekeeper ‘go do your job.’ You have to keep them in the loop and let them know what’s going on. We always say to them to keep doing their best job and that there’s always a chance of promotion. Lastly, stay positive with them.”
Carmella and Dave go into even more detail in the webinar, feel free to listen to the whole conversation HERE.
As a reminder, Micrometrics believes that businesses should create more meaningful connections with the people they serve by enhancing face-to-face interactions and creating connections with guests at scale. Our hospitality clients leverage powerful messaging automations to improve customer experience and operational efficiency at their properties. You can learn more about us at https://www.micrometrics.com/hospitality/