Opinion: Marius Zürcher on post-pandemic staff shortages

Posted on


The hospitality sector must offer a more competitive product – including fairly compensated, stable jobs – to attract workers, says Marius Zürcher

For years, the hospitality industries in many large markets have been suffering from staff shortages, to the point where many businesses had to close. Over the course of the pandemic, many pundits predicted that, once permanently reopened, the hospitality industry would have less of a staff shortage problem than before the pandemic. Their reasoning was that a lot of people that lost their jobs due to the pandemic would be desperate for work.

In January, I wrote a piece[1] explaining why I think those pundits will turn out to be wrong. Instead, I hypothesized that the staff shortage might become even worse than before the pandemic. In short, my argument was that a lot of people will have left the industry permanently in favor for seemingly more stable industries such as healthcare, whereas newcomers will be less attracted to an industry that has proven to incompatible with the pandemic (not to mention that the hospitality industry already has an image problem among many young members of the workforce). Fast forward give or take six months and my predictions appear to be coming true, as one can see from some of the disturbing staff shortage related headlines emerging out of countries that are ahead of the curve in terms of reopening, such as the United States[2], the UK[3] and Germany[4].

So what now? In my article from January, I outlined the three main long-term solutions: optimization, automation and improving the workplace climate. Whereas optimization and automation will reduce the number of employees required, improving the workplace climate makes the industry more attractive to members of the workforce, especially young ones. To improve the workplace climate, the industry urgently needs to tackle a variety of pervasive problems, such as the hostility and toxicity that have become normalized in kitchens, as well as the sexism and racism present in every corner of the industry.

There are also some steps businesses can take to attract more employees in the short-term. One of these steps is a strong hygiene protocol. Given that the pandemic is not ending abruptly, but rather fizzling out over time, a substantial number of potential employees will still be worried about their health. To attract those potential employees, business should therefore do their best to protect them (and subsequently their guests). Another very effective step is to offer jobs that are less precarious and/or pay more. After all, the labor market is still just that: a market.

That means putting out a better, more competitive product – in this case a fairly compensated, stable job – will very likely increase demand. Both of these steps will also reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn will improve the previously mentioned workplace climate. Of course, not all business will be able to offer more stable jobs for more money. They will have to do their best to compensate that shortcoming by putting relatively more effort in the other steps and solutions outlined.

It should be noted that the hospitality industry of course also has qualities that are attractive to many people looking for work, such as variety, (relative) diversity and a lot of human interaction. The industry should not be shy to highlight those qualities.

It might seem unfair that the hospitality industry is already facing what is shaping up to be yet another existential crisis, but that is the reality. The industry must therefore once again quickly adapt to the changing circumstances. I hope the steps I outlined above will point some businesses in the right direction.

Marius Zürcher

About the author:

The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.