The Hotel Industry is moving towards flexible working

The hotel industry, with its huge variety of job roles and its 24-hour way of life, is leading the pack when it comes to implementing flexible working practices (FWPs). 

The traditional shift pattern is fundamental to the operation of the hospitality industry, with shift-swapping almost a way of life with employees. Other working practices include part-time hours, banked hours, time off in lieu, term working, flex time and annualized hours.

But there are new patterns emerging. Career breaks, secondments and sabbaticals are all being embraced, while requests for paternity leave have also soared in recent years, a figure set to increase further if the government brings in plans entitling new fathers to take up to six months of paid paternity leave.

Women remain the group most likely to request a flexible working pattern. On average, 62% of requests for flexible hours come from women seeking to fit work around their childcare arrangements after maternity leave.

Caterer.com’s report shows that an incredible 40% of hotel employers say the number of people requesting the right to work flexibly has gone up in the last three years.

Given this remarkable increase in the number of people requesting flexible hours, how should an employer respond to the growing need for more accommodating work models that don’t interfere with the smooth running of their operation, and how should you — as the employee — approach this?

Flexible working: who benefits?

Many hotels encourage flexible working as a way of retaining staff. After all, no company would want to lose you if you’re, say, a valued manager who knows the business and the brand inside out, just because you wanted to work a slightly different pattern, would they?

Other factors that drive the movement towards implementing flexible working are employee motivation and loyalty, which, when combined with retention, can lead to measurable savings in business recruitment costs.

At Caterer.com’s recent breakfast briefing in London to present the findings of its survey, representatives from the hotel industry gathered together to hear from a pioneer in implementing FWPs — Lorna Bryson, HR manager at Tesco. Both the hotel industry and Tesco work on a 24-hour timetable, so their best practices are easily interchangeable.

Lorna takes a proactive rather than reactive approach to flexible working, by supporting employee attendance rather than managing absence. Her “just ask” campaign was born out of a realisation that staff were taking sick days for reasons other than illness — like religious holidays, study or childcare.

By reassuring staff that it was OK to “just ask” for time off, which they can make up later, Tesco has seen its absence rate drop dramatically from 7% to 4% in the space of just one year.

The challenges faced by employers

Many companies offer a formal policy available to all staff, while others operate a more informal setup, addressing each case individually. However, the impact on operations is still a key factor for companies that feel unable to accommodate flexible working practices, so you should consider this when you put in a request.

If flexible working is to be a success in any business, employers first need to adopt a flexible attitude themselves, although the motto of “Let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, try something else” needs to be carefully considered.

Above all, an employer needs to communicate a positive mesage to its workforce. After all, it stands to reap the benefits many times over.

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