Employee Turnover in Hospitality: Causes and Retention Strategies

October 1, 2021
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The hospitality industry is one of the largest sectors in the UK, from restaurants and bars through to hotels. It’s always been a popular choice of employment and yet, employee retention in the hospitality industry has always been challenging. 

It’s a sector well known for having a high employee turnover. In fact, according to a recent study by YouGov, the annual staff retention level in the UK’s hospitality industry is at 70%. The question is, why? And what can you, as the owner or manager of a hospitality business, do to change this and avoid the many negative consequences that come from having to frequently replace your staff?

In this article, we will look into the causes of employee turnover and why employee retention in the hospitality industry is such a problem. We will also provide advice and strategies for preventing staff burnout and ultimately retaining employees.


What are the Causes of Employee Turnover in Hospitality?

Employee turnover refers to the number of employees who leave a business during a specified period of time. This includes staff who voluntarily resign, retire, or are made redundant. Employee retention, on the other hand, is the ability of a business to keep its staff.

Employee turnover in the hospitality industry has always been difficult to manage. This is down to a number of factors – some of which aren’t the fault of business owners. There are many contributing factors towards people wanting to leave the hospitality industry, and some of the most common are below.

Unsuitability for the Role

One of the most challenging aspects for owners and managers is that high employee turnover – or low employee retention – doesn’t necessarily mean your establishment is a bad place to work. Sometimes, an employee is simply unsuitable for the role, and this doesn’t become apparent until after they have been hired.

After all, customer service isn’t for everyone. Even with the best training, some people aren’t equipped to deal with the fast-paced hospitality environment. This isn’t a reflection on the business’ ability to create a positive workplace for their staff, even though it can be disappointing.

Unsociable Hours

Hospitality businesses naturally operate under different hours to many other businesses. This is because the busiest times happen to be when the majority of the working population are able to visit establishments. As a result, hospitality workers can usually expect to work holidays, late evenings and weekends.

Over time, even for the most dedicated employees, this kind of lifestyle can become undesirable. Therefore, they may look for a job that doesn’t create such difficulties in finding a good work/life balance. 

The hours in a hospitality business also tend to be longer than in other sectors. Breaks are not always as easy to take, either. This can lead to employees becoming overtired and is one of the most common factors that affects employee retention in the hospitality industry. 

Lack of Flexibility

The hours don’t just tend to be unsociable, either. One of the biggest appeals of working in hospitality is in the flexibility of shifts and schedules; however, this is also a common reason for staff leaving. 

Due to the nature of the industry, staff in hospitality need to be flexible in order to adapt to the businesses’ needs. For example, if a restaurant takes a large booking, they may need to call extra staff in at the last minute. 

As a result, it isn’t uncommon for rotas to change late in the day for staff, and this can become stressful over time. There also aren’t typically many opportunities for staff to have a say in their schedules. If a business operates with a small number of staff, it can also be difficult for them to take any time off without feeling as though their absence will have a ripple effect on the other staff members. 

Lack of Recognition

In the hospitality industry, a good shift can be defined as one where everything runs smoothly and guests leave happy and satisfied. For owners and managers, when getting through a shift without mistakes or complaints, it is easy to overlook the fact that it is the employees working so hard to make that happen. After all, it’s easier for people to focus on mistakes than to reward a job well done. 

Often, the relief of finishing a successful shift can mean those employees don’t get the recognition they deserve. This can lead to them feeling underappreciated and disenchanted with the industry, despite enjoying their role in providing excellent customer service. 

Toxic or Unhealthy Environments

As we’ve already established, the hospitality industry is fast-paced and sometimes stressful to work in. If communication breaks down, or interpersonal conflicts are left unresolved, it can lead to a toxic work environment.

Signs of a toxic work environment include:

  • Poor communication throughout the business.
  • Cliques and exclusive behaviours.
  • Poor leadership and/or management.
  • Unmotivated employees.
  • A high staff turnover.

This kind of environment breeds apathy, and can lead to staff no longer caring about their job as a whole. Customer service will undoubtedly be affected if the staff are no longer engaged with their role or feeling encouraged to go above and beyond. Thus, the business’ reputation and success may come under threat.

Working in a toxic environment has a detrimental effect on a person’s physical and mental health. This could leave staff feeling as though they have no choice but to leave the workplace. Unfortunately, this is a common reason for low employee retention in the hospitality industry. For more information, take a look at our article: Managing Mental Health and Wellbeing in Hospitality.

Minimal Growth Opportunities

It’s common for young people to enter the hospitality industry and thrive within it. Yet, many look elsewhere to continue their careers. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most common is having minimal growth opportunities available to them. 

Many people look for potential promotions or advancement opportunities within their workplace. If it appears that these options are limited, they are likely to look elsewhere. This can affect employee retention in the hospitality industry, as many businesses view their employees as part-time workers who they expect to move on anyway. Ironically, this attitude can be self-fulfilling and employees who may have wanted to advance in their hospitality role will move away from the industry.


Why is Employee Retention Such a Problem in Hospitality?

According to statistics, the average length of tenure hospitality workers spend at a business is 12 months. For a hospitality business, there are a number of negative consequences to having a high staff turnover. It is costly to frequently find, hire, and train new staff. In fact, according to Big Hospitality, a lack of employee retention in hospitality costs the sector £275 million per year. This doesn’t take into account the number of wasted hours that owners and managers would put into training staff, only to have them leave shortly after. 

Customers are affected by this too. They visit hospitality businesses wanting to experience the best possible customer service. Having to run a business understaffed while looking to recruit or having to frequently train new staff members can mean that the staff are unable to provide their usual level of service. This can have a negative impact on a business’ reputation, not to mention a loss of profit through customers not returning. 

So, what is it about the hospitality industry that makes it so difficult to retain staff? After all, it’s still such a big problem in the industry, even after being apparent for a long time. We’ve covered some of the reasons that employees may look to leave the industry, but it goes further than that.

Misconceptions about the Industry

It’s natural when hiring staff to make the role you’re wanting to fill sound as attractive as possible. However, this might be part of a problem regarding common misconceptions about the sector and a contributing factor towards employee retention in the hospitality industry.

Only highlighting the positive aspects of a job – for example, ‘it’s like getting paid to socialise with people’ – will create a false impression, masking the reality of a role. This doesn’t just apply to employers, either.

Employees may have their own expectations regarding what their role in hospitality will be like. For example, working shorter hours and only the occasional weekend. If these expectations aren’t met, they will likely look for work elsewhere.

Students and Seasonal Workers

The hospitality industry traditionally provides entry level positions which is especially appealing to younger workers. Those who are unsure about their career paths or who don’t have a lot of qualifications, may also choose to work in hospitality because job opportunities are plentiful.

However, this can be detrimental to a business’ employee retention rate. Whilst many job roles don’t require specific qualifications to begin working in hospitality, many of the learned skills are transferable from one establishment to another. This is great for the employee, but if the restaurant doesn’t meet their expectations, they can look for a better position in another business elsewhere.

Many college or university students also choose the sector for a part-time role to assist them while they are studying. Some of these employees will always have the intention of leaving once they have completed their studies. This could be another factor towards low employee retention in the hospitality industry.

Equally, many students choose to take a part-time, seasonal role in hospitality – for example, over Christmas break, or during the summer holidays – while on an extended break from their studies. 

Staff Shortages and Brexit

Recently, with COVID-19 and Brexit, the hospitality industry has been affected by some drastic changes. Both of these have greatly influenced employee retention and staff turnover rates. 

Figures suggest that 1 in 10 hospitality workers have left the industry in the past year, due to a number of reasons – including ‘re-evaluating their work/life balance after lockdown’ and being reluctant to return to longer than 8-hour working days.

Equally, the effects of Brexit are continuing to take hold. According to The Caterer, more than 92,000 EU workers are estimated to have left the hospitality sector. What this means for the industry going forward remains to be seen.


How Does Burnout Affect Employee Turnover?

Whilst not classed as an official medical condition, burnout is a very real phenomenon that is prevalent in hospitality businesses. It is also a significant factor towards low employee retention in the hospitality industry. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as a ‘syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’

Burnout is therefore a consequence of prolonged or chronic stress and is characterised by three main dimensions:

  • Feelings of exhaustion, or energy depletion. 
  • An increased mental distance or cynicism towards the role.
  • Reduced professional ability.

As the hospitality industry is a typically stressful environment that involves hard work and long hours, it’s not surprising that it goes hand in hand with burnout syndrome.

As hospitality roles typically involve interacting with customers, this can also be a cause for stress. Employers have a duty to help their employees feel confident in dealing with any potential difficult situations that may occur with customers. For more information on dealing with conflict in the workplace, consider looking at our course: Managing Customer Conflict in Hospitality.

How to Spot the Signs of Burnout

Despite not being classified as a medical condition, burnout must still be taken seriously. As such, it’s important to understand the signs to watch out for.

Common signs of burnout include:

  • Becoming emotionally distant – This might appear in a number of different forms. The employee may suddenly refrain from work-related activities, and they may appear cynical about both their role and the people they work with.
  • Physical symptoms of stress appearing – This could include headaches, stomach problems, or simply appearing frequently tired.
  • A decrease in performance – Due to their negative feelings, and the physical and mental strain on them, an employee’s performance will likely be affected. They may have trouble concentrating or following simple instructions. 

It’s important to remember that the signs of burnout may differ from one person to another. The key is to be watchful of any negative changes in your employee’s or colleague’s behaviours. For example, a sudden or increased reliance on caffeine might be indicative that an employee is feeling overtired and potentially overworked. 

If you feel that an employee’s stress is coming from an issue they have with another member of staff, you need to act swiftly to resolve such a conflict. For more information, consider looking into our short course: Interpersonal Conflict Training.

What Can Employers Do to Prevent Burnout?

As an employer, it’s imperative that you understand the signs that show an employee is ‘burning out’ and what you can do to help prevent it before you lose dedicated members of staff. 

One of the biggest reasons for burning out is working too many hours. Even if an employee expresses a desire to do this, it can easily leave them running on empty. 

As an employer, it’s your legal responsibility to care for your staff’s physical and mental health. Having a healthy, open form of communication can help you to keep on top of this. Having a focus on mental health and wellbeing also helps prevent a toxic work environment from developing.


Staff Retention Strategies in the Hospitality Industry

With all that being said, you might be wondering what you can do to increase your employee retention rate.

Every business is different; however, below are a few tips and strategies that may help you to keep your employees happy, feeling valued, and wanting to stick around in the industry.

Establishing Expectations and Policies

One of the first things you can do is also one of the most simple. Make it clear to prospective employees what will be expected of them before they start working. If you need to fill a position that will involve working three out of four weekends, state it outright. Don’t sugar coat it by saying it will involve ‘working the occasional weekend’. This may not provide certainty about their suitability for the role, but it will set out the expectations for both you and the employee.

Equally, you may consider introducing policies to help. These could limit the number of hours in each shift, for example, or the number of days employees work in a row. This may mean that you need to take a little extra time with your scheduling. However, it will have positive long-term effects with protecting the physical and mental wellbeing of your staff.

Effectively Communicating with Staff

As we’ve previously said, effectively communicating with your staff can have a plethora of benefits. In fact, there’s no down side. Having an ‘open-door’ policy encourages your staff to be honest about any issue or situation that may arise. This could be with customers, other staff members, or questions about management. 

This can go a long way to preventing a toxic work environment. It also means you’ll be in a better position to spot any negative changes amongst your staff. You can then act swiftly to help prevent burnout.

Personal Development Plans (PDP)

One of the most common reasons people leave hospitality is because they feel that their progression opportunities are limited. This doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re effectively communicating with your staff, you can also find out their aspirations and career ambitions.

If you have a capable employee on your hands, actively work with them to help them achieve this. They are far less likely to leave if they feel as though you are taking the time to train them to a higher level.

Recognising and Valuing Staff

People perform better and more productively in their roles if they feel secure, supported and valued as an employee.

This can be achieved in a number of small and easy ways. Taking the time to ask about people’s welfare, recognising when they need a break, and challenging stereotypical or outdated behaviour can all help.

Most importantly, remember to reward them for a job well done. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy your staff a gift – although, the occasional drink on the house wouldn’t go amiss! A simple thank you can go a long way to making your staff feel as though you understand the hard work they put in to make your business a success.

Creating a Positive Working Environment

Being a part of a harmonious environment can be tremendously beneficial to a person’s physical and mental health. There is an assumption that every job or workplace includes stress and that a stressful environment breeds more productivity. However, this is shown not to be the case.

Overall, it is about creating and maintaining a culture of mutual respect and support. Having a no-tolerance policy for workplace bullying or gossiping and promoting open communication can help to resolve conflicts before they escalate. This affects the overall feeling of the workplace and the employees therein. Having this kind of a culture and environment will protect employee welfare. This in turn will increase their performance and likely lessen the employee retention in your hospitality business.


We hope you’ve found this article helpful, but if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We offer a variety of training courses and free resources that are written by industry experts.


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