Finders, keepers - boutique hotel recruitment

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What can boutique hoteliers do to attract and keep their best staff?

These were the issues discussed last night at the latest Boutique Hotel News educational networking event. The event was held at the Eccleston Square Hotel in London SW1, and was hosted by Boutique Hotel Media founder Piers Brown.

The panellists were James Byrne, director of Eccleston Square Hotel; Christoph Hoffman, vice principal at The Edge Hotel School; Dino Penge, managing director of recruitment agency Leisurejobs; and Michelle Hawkins, head of happiness at consultancy The Flying Dodo.

James Byrne kicked off proceedings by stressing that technology is changing the way hotels recruit staff, particularly the advent of social media and site such as LinkedIn. "When a hotel gets a good reputation, the recruitment process gets easier as you will attract quality staff more easily. In turn, your staff need to reflect the hotel's brand - we are a relatively new hotel with young management, so we tend to attract young staff," said Byrne. He did add however, that finding good staff is a constant struggle, and that he had spent all of the preceeding day trying to find a suitable candidate for a waiting vacancy in the hotel.

He attributed this to prevalent attitudes toward the working in hospitality and an ignorance about the potential the sector can offer: "Attitudes towards the sector, particularly the likes of waiting staff, are very different in the UK compared with countries such as the US and France where the pay and status that comes with these jobs are much better." Byrne had noted a recent change towards vocational education rather than purely academic courses, which could see an increase in interest in hospitality.

Byrne recounted numerous unsatisfactory experiences when using recruitment agencies and consultancies to find staff, and was countered by Dino Penge who stressed: "Working with a recruitment agency needs to be a genuine partnership, so the agency can really understand what the hotel needs."

Penge went on to recount his frequent frustration with an industry mindset centred around a "like for like" staff replacement procedure. He also said that hotels need to be less rigid in their employment structures, which are detrimental to finding the best staff. "Not only does the industry have an issue attracting new talent, but a lot of really good talent is leaving the industry because hotels have not addressed the issue of work/life balance and introduced more flexible working practices," he said.

Byrne advocated promoting internally as a good way to ensure your people know how the hotel works and can adapt accordingly.

After some pertinent comments from the audience, Michelle Hawkins stressed: "There is a difference between real wages and 'money wages'. Factors such as happiness and job satisfaction can make a real difference to how staff perform. Hotels can measure employee happiness with a survey which can help to measure, monitor and improve staff performance."

Christoph Hoffman said that while his students are initially excited by the prospect of working at a boutique hotel because they like the feel and ethos of such properties, they are often ultimately swayed toward working for a major hotel chain because of the clearly mapped career progression that such large organisations can offer. Hoffman said boutique hotels are lagging in this respect and need to "scale down" the development paths offered by the big players and apply this to their own properties.

Watch out for a forthcoming video review of the event. If you are interested in hosting one of our networking events please contact info@boutiquehotelnews.com. The next event is called Futuretech and is being held at the Great John Street Hotel in Manchester on October 16. Click here for more information.

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