Many businesses have had a difficult 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the UK. And it seems that the impacts of both COVID-19 and Brexit, amongst other factors are really starting to bite. And for the hospitality sector this is presenting itself in the form of staff shortages.
We look at why there are shortages across the hospitality industry, what impact it is having on businesses and what can be done to address the issues.
Why are hospitality businesses short staffed?
The hospitality industry is seeing staff shortages across many areas – from waiting staff, front of house staff to restaurant managers. And there seems to be a particularly acute shortage of chefs across the industry.
Whilst some report that the hospitality industry has been facing staff shortages for several years now, things seem to have really come to a head in recent months, caused by a wide range of factors.
Hospitality businesses have struggled through COVID-19 with forced shutdowns during two long lockdowns. This has meant many businesses having to furlough staff for prolonged periods. Many are reporting that staff have simply gone elsewhere and found other jobs which have been able to offer more stability in response. And this is why the industry believes that the end of the furlough scheme, which ended on the 30thSeptember 2021, will not be a cure for staffing issues.
Many overseas workers have returned home due to the complexities of Brexit. COVID-19 may also have accelerated this as people returned to their home countries during the pandemic.
Free movement with the EU ended on the 31st December 2020 when Brexit completed and has been replaced by a points- based immigration system. Many hospitality businesses face challenges to meet the criteria set by this system when it comes to recruiting staff.
The return of students to their university or college studies has also impacted the industry, but perhaps been felt more keenly than in previous years due to the ongoing shortage of more permanent staff.
Hospitality industry jobs can see people working long hours, shift work and unsociable hours (evenings/weekends). Some feel that this makes the industry less of an attractive proposition than those jobs which can offer more stability. Especially as many of us have re-evaluated the importance of work-life balance during the pandemic. This may be a particular driver for chefs leaving the industry – long hours, stressful working conditions and low pay have been cited by many as key reasons for chefs leaving the industry.
This BBC article examines the issues of pay and working hours as a contributor to staff leaving the hospitality industry. There is feeling that staff working overtime with no extra pay has become endemic in the hospitality industry and that this makes it harder to both retain and recruit staff.
What impact are the shortages having on businesses?
The staff shortages are having a wide range of impacts on hospitality businesses
Reduced opening hours
Many hospitality businesses are reporting that they are having to reduce their opening and operating hours to cope with the shortage of staff.
This then has the knock-on impact of reducing earnings for businesses.
There is pent-up demand from customers due to the COVID-19 lockdowns when people were unable to go out to eat. But with staff shortages, businesses can only do so much. And it is highly likely that with pushed teams, customer service will suffer.
With customer service suffering, complaints are likely to increase. Both in person and online. This can lead to reputational damage for businesses. And may be why some businesses are choosing to reduce their opening hours, rather than feel the effects of bad reviews.
Impact on other staff
Staff shortages also put pressure on existing staff working within the business. Existing staff can find themselves covering multiple job roles that they may not be qualified for to fill the gaps. There is also additional pressure when it comes to training new staff and the time and effort this entails. And of meeting customer demands and dealing with complaints if the service which is expected isn’t provided due to staffing issues.
All of which can lead to existing staff working longer hours and feeding into the image of undesirable working conditions in the sector. Retaining existing staff may become more of an issue as a result.
Changes to working conditions
There are many reports that businesses are having to increase pay to attract more people to jobs. As well as reviewing areas such as communication, working culture and support available to staff.
It is believed costs are rising rapidly as hospitality businesses face other rising costs in the form of food and energy costs.
How could other shortages create issues for the hospitality industry?
We’ve blogged recently about the other shortages impacting the UK at the current time. All of which are likely to affect the hospitality industry
- HGV driver shortages causing pinch points in supply chains
- CO2 shortages with the potential to affect food supplies
- Rising costs due to gas shortages and rising energy bills
- Petrol shortage at the pumps which, whilst returning to normal now, may have affected the ability of staff to travel to their workplace
How can the hospitality industry resolve the staffing shortage?
Some in the hospitality industry have called for the UK government to introduce visa schemes to help with the staff shortages but at the time of writing this has not been agreed. Instead, the government is calling for the industry to move toward a high wage, high skilled workforce rather than looking to immigration to solve the staff shortages.
The government has set up a new hospitality council with the aim of guiding recovery in the sector and to help deliver the governments Hospitality Strategy.
And UK Hospitality have launched a 12-point employment plan to support the industry.
But it seems unlikely that there will be a quick fix to the staffing issues and businesses may continue to face difficulties as the year goes on.
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