Picture Perfect Staff

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | July 01, 2007

Smart hoteliers know that you can't get guest satisfaction without employee satisfaction. As such, the lodging industry is increasingly turning to technology to create a workplace that will attract and retain staff, focusing on the emerging cadre of workforce management tools.

Workforce management software -- planning, forecasting, scheduling, and tracking tools that match staffing to demand -- is experiencing a 16 percent projected growth rate through 2010, according to AMR Research. Pioneered by data-rich call centers, these applications are being tailored to vertical markets such as hospitality to help managers ensure the right workers, with the right skills, are in the right place at the right time to meet guest demand.

The systems often pay for themselves through eliminating manual scheduling and via labor cost savings from reduced overtime. Perhaps more importantly, however, operators find the increased visibility and flexibility give workers an increased sense of control and influence, and thereby boost job satisfaction.

Many organizations implement workforce management tools in phases, starting with such basics as time and attendance and digitizing existing scheduling processes, then adding advanced features.

Embedded in this approach are best practices for ensuring a satisfied workforce, including:
1. Find the right people.
A Web-based application and screening process has paid dividends for fast-growing Philadelphia- based Hersha Hospitality Management, operating 72 upscale and midscale hotels. Just forcing applicants to the Web separates the casual from the motivated. ERC Dataplus' (www.ercdataplus.com) Selectech Workforce Management System cut hiring for hourly positions from weeks to days and freed up managers' time. Hersha spent six months defining standards for each job and is now distilling them into a bi-lingual online assessment.

"It gives the applicant the opportunity to think about what it is we are about as a company and be able to form questions and identify if they should move on or not," says Jeffrey Wade, senior VP of human resources for Hersha. "We don't waste time pursuing candidates that are not a fit," and won't last in the job. Candidates can monitor the status of their application throughout the process.

2. Ensure accurate pay.
A basic must-have for satisfied workers is being able to trust that their pay is right. At Chambers Minneapolis, a new 60-room luxury art hotel, paying 400 employees manually inevitably led to errors. With implementation of Time Management's (www.timemgmt.com) TMx, "they're responsible for clocking in and out, and it spits out what they've worked and what they're going to work," says Jules Gehring, director of human resources and acting general manager. The onus is on the employee to raise issues, avoiding later pay disputes.

"If an employee is able to clock in late, the manager may never know, but the guest would," says Gehring. Ensuring staff adheres to schedules guarantees labor dollars are properly used and service levels are met. "We want a system in place that mirrors the quality of what the hotel represents and what the culture represents." Chambers plans to expand its use of the TMx suite.

3. Schedule based on demand.
Having too few -- or even too many -- workers for the level of demand can frustrate staff. Workforce optimization, a more advanced function, takes feeders such as sales and occupancy forecasts, POS data and other demand signals, combines them with metrics about each job, and recommends schedules to meet those needs.

The hard part is coming up with those formulas; this occupancy level equals this many desk clerks, for example. Often that data doesn't exist and must be established through heavy manager involvement and consulting services, an expense that can equal the cost of the software. Factor in the number of different job types at a full-service property, and the task can become daunting.

"Hoteliers need to understand what it takes to really do the work and develop algorithms for every job, then use it and check it against real data and compare hotels to determine best practices," says Frank Pereira, managing partner for Capstan Group, a scheduling consulting firm. "In hospitality you have to put a dollar figure on customer service -- it's hard to measure. It takes an executive with vision to take a risk and say Ã.‚¬Ëœthis is what customer service costs me,'" a leap that many have contemplated but not yet taken, he says. Some estimates put use of scheduling optimization in hospitality at less than 20 percent, with full-service properties leading adoption.

Hersha is currently implementing ADP's (www.adp.com) TimeSaver Workforce Management system, customized to base scheduling formulas on how demand impacts the need for particular staffing and skills. "The system helps us understand what our productivity needs to be," says Wade.

4. Provide visibility and control.
The 5,000 employees at Florida-based Rosen Hotels and Resorts' eight properties will soon be able to view their personnel data, such as information about paid time off, sick days and benefits, as well as communicate with fellow staffers to trade days on or off, via kiosk or Web access to the Stromberg Enterprise system (www.stromberg.com).

Hersha will deliver similar capabilities in phase two of its ERC Dataplus implementation. "Often in our industry associates feel they're not in control," says Wade. "There is a softcost advantage for people to be informed and have more control over what's going on." Allowing workers to better balance work-life issues helps Hersha stand out as an employer, he adds.

Manager dashboards that automate hiring, time and attendance, scheduling, benefits administration, and other oftenmanual tasks frees up time for managers, enhancing their ability to be out among guests -- as well as their own job satisfaction.

One vendor said operations managers are their strongest advocates because of the productivity benefits they enjoy.

5. Invest in employees.
The 10 percent to 20 percent hard cost savings Hersha expects from making its hiring and other HR systems paperless frees up resources for the 40-plus hours of training and development the company invests in each employee annually -- a value-add that enhances employee satisfaction.

Technology can be a key contributor to employee satisfaction. But it's essential to gain employee buy-in early in the process so that staffers understand management's reasoning and have input into product selection and implementation. Other keys to implementing the right system include: ensuring true bi-directional integration with existing hotel applications, maximizing usage by making sure the tool is userfriendly, seeking developers that truly understand hospitality, and making sure the culture is flexible enough to adapt to the changes a tool can bring -- and that the tool can adapt to business changes.

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