Hotel housekeepers have had enough. According to a recent survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 87 percent of hotels in the U.S. do not have enough staff and for 43 percent of hotels, housekeeping roles were cited as the most severely understaffed. Hotels have been the hardest hit by the Great Resignation, and continue to struggle to return to 2019 levels of bookings and revenue.
Yet, as CBRE Hotels Research points out, wages for U.S. hospitality workers grew 15% year-over-year from 2021 through 2022, compared to an average 4.1% annual growth in prior years. Since the COVID pandemic, CBRE notes, hotel wages have grown at double the rate of the U.S. overall and 43% faster than hourly retail wages.
Wage increases are a critical part of this picture, but not the only solution for hotels that are struggling to attract and recruit candidates. Service industry workers are seeking better protections, greater scheduling flexibility, and more support from their employers.
Many hotels are finding that automation solutions can help them provide this support economically.
Balancing hotel housekeepers’ workload
As hotel housekeepers quit, many hotels have felt pushed to assign those additional duties to remaining staff. It’s an all-around unsatisfying solution that only serves to drive further turnover. In some locales, it’s also now illegal.
In July 2022, the city of Los Angeles signed into law an ordinance to increase safety protections for hotel workers in hotels that included limits to their daily workload. The new law limits the amount of square footage that hotel housekeepers can be required to clean on any workday before triggering wage premiums. Those amounts vary based on the size of the hotel and whether the hotel houses space that consists of “special-attention” rooms. In addition, hotel employers cannot require workers to work more than 10 hours in a workday without written consent from the employee.
L.A. hotels also must maintain records on the square footage of all rooms cleaned on a daily basis for a minimum of three years.
While these worker protections are a worthwhile win for hotel housekeepers, they only increase the need for local hotels to find creative new solutions to appropriate hospitality cleaning levels. While many hotels have responded by cutting housekeeping services altogether, others are finding they can help housekeepers do more by supporting them with automated solutions. Autonomous robot vacuums like Whiz from SoftBank Robotics, for example, prevent hotels from sacrificing cleaning quality for work protections. Tools like Whiz tackle time-consuming vacuuming while human staff attend to linens and other higher-value cleaning tasks.
Better still, some such automated solutions maintain records of the square footage cleaned. This will help employers more easily comply with documentation requirements.
Creating more flexible solutions
Flexibility is another key demand for overburdened hotel housekeepers. The explosion in remote work offerings is proving attractive to hospitality workers who have been tethered to a reception desk or have felt the physical impact that comes with the hard labor of cleaning.
Some hotels are responding with a shift in scheduling. For example, Texas-based Remington Hotels has created a new pay model, in which employees working a 20-hour work week can fill scheduling gaps.
Other hotels are finding areas where the work can be managed remotely. As digital investments have taken off, organizations like Germany-based Koncept Hotels have found guests more willing to embrace a staff-free experience. The hotel uses a cloud-based automation system to manage everything from reservations to check-ins remotely. The only exception to this digital experience is housekeeping and waitstaff.
Automated solutions are an excellent fit for companies promoting a digital experience. While autonomous vacuums or food service solutions require a collaborative human counterpart, they help further define hotels as a technology innovator.
More likely, however, hotels will find that they can best provide staff with flexibility by redefining the hospitality employee role, as McKinsey suggests. For example, hotels could encourage employers to take on a diverse portfolio of roles by incentivizing them with flexibility in work hours and location, among other benefits. This might include tasking employees with serving as a human touchpoint for guests while straightening rooms, or providing variety in the remote vs. in-person experience.
Clear career pathways
In an industry where it may take 15 years to rise from an entry-level position to general manager, hospitality employers will need to redefine their approach to career development.
Today’s employees are looking to grow and develop professionally. Training opportunities and clear career pathways demonstrate to employees that their workplace is interested in fostering their growth and providing opportunities to expand their skill set. Training will also prove critical as many of the industry’s long-time workers have moved on to new opportunities and prospective employees are likely to lack experience.
Surprisingly, this is another area where automation can help. Many organizations are finding that they can add new roles in technology management to traditionally blue collar jobs. Training on the skills needed to manage automated hospitality cleaning solutions provide employees with valuable technology skill sets. And, while it may be a small step change in responsibility, this leadership role provides a clear opportunity for advancement.
Other industries have already demonstrated that as automation comes in to support tasks currently performed by humans, it creates new job roles. Hotel brands increasingly basing decision-making on customer booking and behavioral patterns are placing greater emphasis on AI skills and creating data analyst positions. The same can be true in housekeeping.
Over the course of the last decade, the hospitality industry has already undergone something of a technology-driven transformation. From online and app-based bookings to contactless check-ins, technology has already taken over many person-to-person interactions.
But, as Hilton CFO and president of global development Kevin Jacobs recently commented, technology will be most effective when it blends digital experiences with physical ones. He emphasizes the importance of what he refers to as “phygital” technology to make the customer’s experience better.
A human presence is integral to the success of hospitality roles such as housekeeping and food service. Yet automation should play a role in these jobs too. Supporting the physical environment with digital tools will make a better experience for both customers and staff and, if done right, can strengthen the hotel’s bottom line.
To learn how an automated solution can help redefine your hospitality experience, schedule a consult with a SoftBank Robotics automation expert today.