By Harpreet Singh Chhatwal, Area Senior Director, Human Resources, Middle East & Africa, Radisson Hotel Group
As workplaces have adapted to the impact of COVID-19, massive shifts have taken place in human resource management. Harpreet Singh Chhatwal, Area Senior Director, Human Resources, Middle East & Africa, Radisson Hotel Group, maps out the key trends in a post-COVID-19 era of work.
As vaccinations become increasingly available and more of the world opens up again, human resource departments across the globe will face challenges distinct from those of the pre-pandemic era. For many, reintegration into office life will be a top priority, while many more will be required to find a solution for employees not ready or willing to return to the workplace.
In the hospitality industry, where employees have worked tirelessly throughout the lockdowns as hotels became quarantine facilities and refuges in bio-bubbles, to the eventual re-opening of local and international travel, the challenges are not as clear cut. Before COVID-19, human resource staff were often tasked with ensuring employees displayed the capabilities to assist a company in achieving its strategic goals, along with moderating employee grievances, onboarding new hires, ensuring compliance with rules and regulations, and more. While many of these challenges still remain, the evolving work environment now also calls on the need for soft skills, employee wellness and digital transformation, among others.
And herein lies the quandary for human resource professionals in the hospitality industry.
The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in new technological developments and expectations from hotel guests and travellers. These include increased health and safety measures that adhere to COVID-19 regulations, less frequent interaction with hotel staff and disruption to processes. With these changes, human resource professionals in the sector have had the mammoth task of swiftly responding to business priorities, fluctuating workforces due to both illness and economic conditions, and harnessing digital technology. Amid all these changes, these are some of the exciting trends that lie ahead for the human resource profession in hospitality.
The past 18 months have shown that while specific knowledge and abilities are necessary, soft skills such as adaptability, flexibility, resilience and independent problem solving are more important than ever before. Industry-specific certifications and other hard skills can be developed with dedicated training, however, even traditional jobs that require these skills are being redefined at this very moment. At Radisson Hotel Group, our focus has always been on developing employees to be more adaptable and flexible, and this has stood us in good stead throughout the pandemic as teams have rallied together and brought unique perspectives and initiatives to their responsibilities.
This does not mean that other skills have now become redundant; instead, in their recruitment drives, human resource professionals will be required to seek out candidates that display a more holistic set of skills. These include skills such as digital literacy and data analytics, critical thinking skills such as strategic thinking and conflict management, and soft skills such as emotional intelligence and creativity.
Lockdowns and remote work have made it even more difficult for employees to separate work and home life. This has led to increased stress levels and more competitive work cultures. As such, human resource professionals must prioritise employee well-being, going further than mere mental health days to embrace stress management, team building and other activities that are not directly related to work.
Encouraging direct and open interaction has always been a core tenet of Radisson’s work culture, with pulse surveys and virtual and in-person sessions for dialogue and feedback helping to gauge employee sentiment and drive action where it is needed most. To enhance engagement within the workplace, employers should look to provide employees with work flexibility. While it may seem counterintuitive, in my own experience, it has proved highly successful. Additionally, it must be noted that engagement will take different forms for different employees so understanding an employee’s drivers for engagement and taking action when needed will further enhance employee wellness programmes. When employees feel nurtured and supported, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged and loyal.
Over the last decade, a lot has been written about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and in regions such as Africa, the true possibilities of 4IR technologies are only now being harnessed, spurred on by COVID-19. Whereas before, companies were hesitant to embrace new technologies, remote working and prolonged lockdowns demanded a swift move to the digital realm. Recruitment processes now include virtual hiring, remote employees, online training videos and access to digital staff portals that house company assets, manuals and other digital tools. In hospitality, hotels implemented technology that improved their guests’ stays and made it easier for staff to monitor and conduct processes online. Some hotels even went as far as replacing traditional roles with service robots, meaning guests never have to interact with another human being during their stay.
Radisson Blu Hotel, Zurich Airport in Switzerland is one example of this, having introduced JEEVES, a service robot, as part of its operations team. That said, Radisson — and many other hotels — will undoubtedly not surrender its human workforce. Instead, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where optimisation and automation reigned, will evolve into the Fifth (5IR), where humans and technology will collaborate to find a common purpose. In the hospitality sector, this will translate to employing a combination of both technology, which is a critical component in scaling up, and the human touch, arguably the cornerstone of hospitality. The challenge will be to maintain a healthy balance between the two, so neither overwhelms the other.
In the same vein, digital transformation will permeate every aspect of a business, and hospitality is not exempt. The last five years alone have introduced new career opportunities that did not exist before and this has prompted Radisson to establish the role of digital experience executives in our area support offices. These are the team members who work to enhance the digital experiences of both guests and other employees and will most likely not be the last digital-focused roles to erupt from the advances in technology, with roles specialising in information technology (IT) and digital becoming more common.
With this evolution in operational structures, companies will seek to upskill their employees in digital capabilities. As such, there exists the need to motivate employees and keep them excited about new training and development opportunities, which can be done by placing an emphasis on career paths. Further to this, with more employees having access to digital technologies, remote and mobile learning makes it possible to take learning out of the workplace and into the home, allowing employees to actively engage with learning in their own time.
Diversity and inclusion
Radisson’s corporate culture relies on the fact that many different mindsets exist in one company. Therefore, embedded into both our human resource policies and our promise to guests, is the need to respect individual differences, life experiences and the diverse world views of wherever our colleagues or guests come from. While this should be an important aspect of any hospitality establishment, it rings true for other sectors as well. By being able to understand the diversity of the people being served — whether guests at a hotel, consumers of a retail brand or clients of a large conglomerate — employees are then able to adapt operations to meet the needs and expectations of this audience.
The diversity and inclusion policies of the majority of large corporations now also include a balanced leadership agenda or women in leadership programmes as part of their initiatives. This points to the fact that, no matter its size, an organisation can do right by its people through a commitment to implement and highlight gender diversity, and then follow it through with actionable steps that not only shows this commitment but also represents an example to their peers.
Additionally, having a diverse team also enables organisations to create spaces where every staff member can express his or her own authentic self, seize opportunities, voice their opinions and make decisions with confidence. Different perspectives result in different skill sets being brought into the workplace, which further creates the memorable moments that have become one of Radisson’s key objectives.
Companies, specifically those in the hospitality sector, can only be successful with a talented and engaged workforce. Therefore, it makes sense to create a work environment that values not only an employee’s skill set but also takes a holistic approach to their career development path. And the bridge to a highly successful and engaged employee lies with the very core of an organisation: its human resources department.