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The ability to find good people has become a challenge. Edward Bracken, general manager at the Crowne Plaza Kensington, gives us his views on staffing the housekeeping department.
The changing world of hotel housekeeping continues to challenge how we work as an industry.
The changing world of hotel housekeeping continues to challenge how we work as an industry. The essence of our hospitality business is based on great innkeeping which begs the question, how do we get the best results in our bedrooms? Who and how do we resource the teams that create the magic and provide consistent cleanliness?
In my early days of learning my trade I spent the first part of my management training programme working as a room attendant, 16 rooms per day to be exact at the Imperial Hotel Torquay. I embraced the challenge that this brought, it opened my eyes to actually how demanding a job this is.
The executive housekeeper would sit in the bath and check the tiles had been washed and dried leaving no marks or smears! This taught me a valuable lesson on the attention to detail and importance of cleanliness which has stayed with me to this day.
We cannot underestimate the role of our housekeeping team and its contribution to our business. I might add by the end of my time, my “hospital corners “were on par with the best of them. I have to thank one of the old hands, Breeda who took me under her wing, taught me how to clean a room to the right standard, her training was invaluable. Whilst we have seen significant changes in computer systems and with advances in technology the fundamentals of our business hasn’t changed, rooms need to be cleaned and our customer’s expectations are even greater. Beds need to be made up with crisp linen, top quality mattresses and a great night’s sleep is a fundamental requirement.
What has become more challenging is the ability to attract and find the right people who want to take on this role. Having run hotels in Leeds, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, the economics of running the business are a key factor in how you staff and resource the housekeeping department. Fluctuations in occupancy is the greatest challenge; this created the demand for “agencies” providing the additional resource when the hotel business requires servicing the additional rooms sold.
Now here lies the challenge. On paper this sounds great. In reality this can create inconsistency in service delivery and bringing in individuals that are not familiar with your standards and ways of working can be difficult. We must also remember we are expecting them to replicate the behaviours of the culture within the business, this can be a problem when engaging with our customers. The training and managing of these teams become critical in the hotels success.
Does the relationship work? How do you deal with customers feedback, is it taken constructively? Have you got control. The relationship the business and the agency develop is critical.
The agency becomes an extension of your business. Too often I’ve heard the comment it was the ‘agency staff’ that cleaned that room. Well they are us, as in the eyes of the customer they see no difference. With the changing dynamics in finding our people, ‘Brexit’ and the uncertainty of non-UK nationals has become the ‘elephant in the room’. The landscape is rapidly changing as it is now financially more viable to employ your own staff than employ an agency, as we now see their cost outstripping our own internal rates of pay.
The ability to find good people has become a challenge for both hotels and agencies. The decision in my opinion comes down to resource. Do you have the capability within your team to recruit, train and develop your own in-house team? Do you have the appetite, will the business financially be able to support this? The caveat being, can you run high year-round occupancy? In my planning for 2019. I have decided to employ my own team as the majority are already on my payroll and do a great job. I can add an additional five associates and be independent, confident my occupancy is there, and financially it will cost me less. In a previous role I have contracted the entire department out as I didn’t have the benefit of an existing team. The positives of this model is the issue of resourcing the team becomes a third parties. You are paying for only what is cleaned. Should your occupancy fluctuate it makes financial sense.
Holidays and maternity pay are covered by the agreement you negotiated with the agency. However, the real question isn’t whether you contract your people out or employ directly. The question is where we will get the teams to create the ‘magic’. When I speak to my colleagues, without fail I hear a recurring theme that it is getting challenging to get people. I attended a day at Parliament which was hosted by Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK hospitality. One of the key objectives was to highlight to government the uncertainty that has been created around Brexit and the results we are seeing in the greatly reduced numbers of our European colleagues coming to the UK.
Directly adding pressure to us finding our housekeeping teams and wider hotel talent for the future. UK hospitality is pushing to get a Brexit that allows us to meet our workforce needs without extra cost and dispelling the ambiguity around who can work. The future in mind is the housekeeping teams of the future will become the equivalent of the “footballers” in the sporting world. We will see this role become the best paid role of our frontline roles in hotels. And why shouldn’t that be the case?
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