How Leadership Impacts The Hospitality Staff Shortage

How Leadership Impacts The Hospitality Staff Shortage

2020 and 2021 were the hardest years for the hospitality industry. The majority of the world entered into lockdown and the industry struggled to adjust to the new normal. In April 2020, the majority of the businesses paused trading. This put almost 1,650,000 hospitality employees on furlough. As of February 2022, businesses are slowly starting their economic recovery. However, they are now facing a new crisis: hospitality staff are rapidly leaving the industry and aren’t coming back.

In this article, we’ll look at how you can help resolve your own hospitality staff shortage crisis with career mentoring and positive leadership. But before we discuss potential solutions to the staff shortage, it’s important to talk about why the crisis is happening in the first place.

Why are hospitality staff leaving the industry and what is at stake?

Industry leaders may see Covid-19 as one of the biggest factors in the staff resignation crisis – the employees may have discovered new passions and have tried to find a new source of income during the lockdown. However, data from The Office for National Statistics revealed that the staff shortage came into effect even before the UK’s first lockdown in 2020. In fact, many employees cite burnout and a lack of work-life balance as the main reasons behind their exit.

The UK hospitality sector culture itself is often critiqued as the main issue. Although staff are offered salaried positions, they have to take on plenty of overtime. For example, a hospitality employee whose contract states they are working 40 hours per week is most likely working 60+ hours per week. Those extra 20 hours are unpaid which, in return, affects their social life, work-life balance, and mental health.

Many employees become tired but have no time to rest and reset. The stress piles on and affects their relationships at work as well as outside of it. Some may try to have a chat with their leaders, who simply don’t take action. In response, the employees decide to exit the industry and don’t come back.

Fortunately, there are ways to retain staff.

How the hospitality industry tackles staff shortage

Amping up recruitment was the main response to staff shortage challenges. Hospitality vacancies are at an all-time high, but the promise of employment is no longer enough to attract talent. Instead, hospitality businesses are embracing short-term solutions.

UK bar agency The Cocktail Service heavily focuses on training the staff and increasing communications with existing teams to make sure everyone is able to maintain their workload. The Landmark London hotel made the decision to move to a 4-day workweek without cutting salaries. Instead, the staff also received a pay hike.

Restaurant group Hawksmoor offers financial incentives to team members to find new recruits and turbo-charged its recruitment efforts. Staff can receive up to £2,000 for referring five friends to work at any part of the company. Similarly, restaurant chain Caravan offers a £100 gift voucher for each customer that refers a successful recruit.

D&D London decided to cap covers to make sure skilled staff don’t get burned out as they take on more work. This allowed them to maintain a work-life balance while the company focused on attracting more talent. Staff have also received a 15% hourly wage increase and the business became more accommodating when it comes to staff schedules and rota availability.

Pizza PilgrimsWatchHouse, and Green&Fortune all increased staff wages, with the majority paying beyond London Living Wage which currently stands at £11.05.

Other incentives in the works include investing in advanced technology and opening hospitality positions to overseas workers who are struggling to find employment in the UK due to new Brexit restrictions.

However, it’s important to remember that financial incentives often aren’t enough. It’s time to assess the quality of the leadership and find ways to improve it with mentoring, considering the wellbeing and generally putting more care into people.

Your secret power: improved leadership

After all, hospitality is all about people, isn’t it? Only after we take the next steps into improving leadership, can we truly improve the overall culture and attract as well as retain essential hospitality talent. Show your future employees how exciting it is to work for the industry. More specifically, how inspiring it is to join your specific business.

We’ve all heard of the saying that company culture starts at the top. The sentence rings true especially for the hospitality industry. Poor leadership affects employee retention and creates an overall negative environment. As the industry is already negatively affected by external factors such as Covid-19 and Brexit, it’s important to improve leadership in order to come out at the top.

Professor Christian Edger from Birmingham City Business School noted 4 leadership archetypes that occurred during the Covid-19 crisis and may inspire your leadership and management to retain your staff:


These leaders were angry and continued to stay in denial about how the crisis affected their business. In return, they failed to make the right moves to adapt to the situation.


Opportunistic leaders are defined as those who used Covid-19 as an excuse for their unsustainable business model and poor leadership.


Pragmatists moved to the acceptance stage of the crisis quite swiftly. They figured out they need to address issues as soon as possible and adapt their business to the new challenges. While they still focused on saving the business, ethical pragmatists also considered how the crisis affects their employees and what they can do to help.


Leaders who are inspirers were able to see the bigger picture. Covid-19 affected society, not just their business. Their strategy included caring for employees, safeguarding customers, respecting suppliers, and helping communities. Oftentimes, the inspirers have been inspiring long before the pandemic occurred and will continue to do so when our lives go back to normal.

Become an inspiring leader

Inspiring leaders were rewarded and remembered for their efforts. They proved that by focusing on the community, they’re not only able to save the business – they’re able to instil a positive and inspiring culture that attracts more talent, more customers, and more loyalty.

It’s time for the hospitality industry leaders to change their working culture. At Otolo, we work with people who want to build a stronger industry during and after the global pandemic. Create worldwide connections with community learning, mentoring, training, events, and insights. Show your current and future employees that there’s more to the hospitality industry than what they know from word of mouth. Together, we can super-charge retention within the industry and bring back people’s passion.

“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

– Henri J.M.Nouwen, Professor, Writer, Theologian and Community Expert.