Kimpton Pittman Hotel Dallas’ General Manager, Rajeev Gopalakrishnan joined us to discuss why he is EMBRACING the hospitality industry’s current staffing challenges.
Some of the best people want to work part-time while pursuing other passions on the side. Rajeev feels you can either run from this reality, continuing to operate short-staffed while trying to find the “perfect” candidates, OR you can lean into the problem with an optimistic lens.
Micrometrics Marketing Lead, Dave Hale, sat down with Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, General Manager at Kimpton – The Pittman Hotel Dallas, to discuss his thoughts on how he has operationalized the shift toward part-time staffing, what he looks for in a candidate, how he maintains quality and solid engagement with these employees, and what benefits he is experiencing with this approach.
Rajeev Gopalakrishnan is a passionate leader who firmly believes in Kimpton’s core values of providing personalized guest experiences. While Rajeev is new to the Kimpton brand, he is no stranger to the hospitality industry, having worked in the industry for nearly 20 years, including time at multiple Ritz-Carlton properties, Intercontinental Cleveland, and becoming the Interim GM of Intercontinental Los Angeles Beverly Hills before arriving as GM at Kimpton Pittman Hotel Dallas.
Operationalizing the shift toward part-time staffing
There has been a shift in the people coming back to the workforce after the pandemic who are searching for part-time work to help support their passions of being a musician, artist, or actor. Rajeev explains how he has been dealing with this shift in demand for part-time work.
“We are in a very unique space in Dallas, […] it is a huge place for the music and art scene. We’ve had colleagues who joined us or applied for full-time roles who have said “look I can work two days a week and I am a musician, the other three days I want to go perform because that’s my passion but I need paychecks. I enjoy the interaction but I’m also a musician, you know, can you work with me?” The answer is absolutely, yes. I think, we as an industry, need to. Yes, there’s a problem. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it makes our leaders work insane hours to catch up. But, I think as an industry we also need to look at the next generation and say, that’s what they really want, we need to redesign workplaces and what full-time is and what benefits are to fit the next generation because shame on us for not doing it and embracing it. Ultimately, it is a people business. And we enjoy and embrace people with characters, stories, and passions outside of work that we can incorporate into the workspace. So, anything that we can allow for their personal and professional growth, we will find a way to make space for it. We would love more of those passions intertwined with the profession of hospitality.”
For the first time, employees are asking if Rajeev’s team can work with their schedule. It is a stark difference from when hotel managers used to say “here are the 40 hours and we need you to work weekends. Nowadays potential employees are saying ‘I’m here Monday, Tuesday, can you build a schedule around that?’ The answer is, yes, if it works for us as well. We have to be fair to the other members of the team and the customer.”
Competitors/neighboring hotels are more structured and don’t allow for the same type of staffing flexibility so offering more flexible schedules and hours has become a competitive advantage in attracting top talent.
Dave then asked Rajeev about the impacts that part-time employees have on trying to reinforce policy procedure, build team culture and cohesion, and making sure everyone is on the same page because they’re not around as often. One of the arguments he’s heard against the part-time model is that maintaining quality and engagement becomes that much more tricky for those employees.
Rajeev answered, “I would respectfully disagree with that observation if someone works 40 hours it doesn’t guarantee any level of quality versus the employee working 15 hours. In designing our training process around empowerment, the environment is the first step. So, yes, there are lines of how to approach a table and talk to the customer or how to welcome them at the front desk, but we want the natural personality of the employee to come through. There is no cookie-cutter verbiage. There is absolutely no set guidelines they need to follow. We tell them ‘here’s the training process, here are your guidelines and here’s how you go out and do it.’ The rest of it is completely in the hands of the employee whether they work 15 or 40 hours.”
There are some instances where Rajeev’s employees miss some opportunities with guests but the managers have conversations with those employees to show them how it could be better, whether they are part-time or full-time. Employees are encouraged by the conversations they have with the leaders that have invested in making them better. Quality hasn’t suffered since they implemented this approach either, it has actually increased since they embraced this approach.
What to look for in a candidate
The people who have been coming back to work in hotels are the ones who really want to. Their engagement levels are exactly what the team needs. Rajeev says, “we can see the fire in them, we could see them being extremely flexible. They’re the ones who really want to engage with the customer and be among people, and rightfully so, as you know some of the ones who cannot work are for the right reasons with babysitting, things at home, or being scared of COVID. So, the ones we have are fully engaged. We are blessed to have the team that we have.”
Other than engagement and “fire” it is important to look for people who are willing to be molded and given the opportunity to find the perfect role for them.
Rajeev gives the example that “sometimes candidates say, ‘we don’t know what we want, I want to be in hotels, I don’t know if it’s front desk or food and beverage but here’s who I am.’ I tell my team not to let the candidate leave if they applied front desk but they may have a better fit in another part of the hotel. Let’s engage the other leaders. Let’s have a conversation about it. If they have a unique schedule request and there’s another department who’s looking and they will fit that department, let’s not make the candidate leave the building without giving them some options here.”
How to maintain solid engagement with employees
Rajeev’s team mostly relies on using a messaging platform and keeping documents available at all times on the cloud so that employees can access them whenever they need to. When it comes to training they try to keep everything as visual as possible by using diagrams, charts and video rather than a big mass of documents that can lose the attention span of the people reading them.
Dave then asked about the pushback on using virtual tools in a unionized environment.
“The pushback on the ideas of engaging with virtual tools like Teams and Slack that I’ve heard from others in the industry, oftentimes circles back to the realities of unionized environments. When employees are clocked in, that is their work time. If they’re clocked out, are they supposed to be checking email? Are they supposed to be checking messages? Are they supposed to be going on the cloud to read training materials? Any experience, kind of looking at that, or is this not a reality at all?”
Rajeev answered, “I mean I did work in hotels which were under collective bargaining, and even though we’re not here, I truly believe employees free time is free time. The document is there to be reviewed if needed. We highly encourage anyone to not look at it when they’re off the clock. There is no need to. It’s more the availability of the document rather than a reason for them to look at it off the clock. The same is true for leaders, even with the current environment we make sure that there’s time to recharge and relax and then come back to it.”
Question and Answer Period
How do you currently communicate with your guests while still following the health and safety procedures?
Rajeev said that he and his team like to use the website, signage and conversations around the front desk to have any and all messaging around cleaning protocols. They are also encouraging masking even if people are vaccinated for employees and guests alike.
Dave and Rajeev dive into even more questions in the webinar, feel free to listen to it 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/