May 24, 2023
By Kim Campbell

Many industries have rebounded in the modern, primarily post-pandemic landscape, and their staffing and service levels are close to or match pre-pandemic numbers. Recent reporting from the Labor Department showed that the leisure and hospitality sectors added 105,000 jobs in February alone, bringing job availability back to just 2.4% below pre-pandemic levels. However, hotels and many other hospitality-based businesses still face staffing challenges, but why? And how do the staff appreciation ideas you choose make an impact?

In this post, we dive into the staffing and retention issues still facing the hospitality industry, specifically hotels. We explore the link between employee satisfaction and retention, examine how recognition impacts staff satisfaction, and discuss the staff appreciation ideas that really do boost morale, improve workplace culture, and more.

How staff appreciation ideas can make your hotel a better workplace

Before we dig into the challenges facing hoteliers and what hotels can do to combat current staffing issues, let’s review what staff appreciation is and why it matters.

What is staff appreciation?

Staff appreciation is a simple idea: the act of showing gratitude and appreciation for your staff. Although technically a concept, staff appreciation consists of countless actions and activities that acknowledge employees’ accomplishments, efforts, and progress. Through staff appreciation and employee recognition, employers pinpoint personal achievements, supply positive feedback, and express gratitude for the individuals who make their businesses operate.

With unique staff appreciation ideas, events, and programs, employers use their words and actions to express recognition for their employees' direct and indirect efforts. Employee recognition may occur publicly or privately through gifts, acts of service, staff events, increased benefits, or other perks.

The importance of staff appreciation

When individuals feel seen, recognized, and valued, they are more driven to try their hardest—to do their best. Recognition lets employees know that their company values them, acknowledges their hard work, and appreciates their efforts. Employees who feel appreciated have a greater sense of security in their jobs, as they see themselves as valuable to the business, brand, or company. This motivates employees to continue working hard to maintain their respected, valued, and secure position.

Staff appreciation can boost morale, productivity, profits, and more. Healthcare research shows that feeling valued significantly affects employees’ well-being and mental health. The right staff appreciation ideas can reduce the likelihood of employee burnout, helping staff stay motivated and improving the workplace atmosphere. Without recognition, losing motivation and interest in your position is easy.

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Modern hotel staffing challenges

Although hospitality job opportunities are increasing, many hotels still struggle to fill their open positions. Recent reporting from the American Hotel & Lodging Association showed that most hotels are experiencing staffing issues, with 87% of surveyed properties confirming such. Furthermore, respondents named housekeeping positions the most difficult to fill but reported difficulty hiring for all departments. Some of the most common factors that add to staffing and retention issues for hotels include:

• Seasonality/demand fluctuations
• Unsocial working hours
• Lack of career advancement (i.e., perceived lack of)

Due to the nature of their business operations, many hospitality-based companies have a hard time retaining the staff they do hire. High turnover leads to decreased productivity, lower profits, and higher staffing expenses. So, what can hotels do to attract motivated workers and improve their retention rates?

Staff appreciation is an ideal place to start.

The link between staff appreciation and employee retention

Higher than in many other industries, the hospitality and food services labor sectors experience an annual turnover rate of 73.8%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, businesses in these industries see an average of 6% of their staff leave each month. Additional research indicates that lack of recognition is a driving factor behind employee resignations.

A study from The Achievers found that lack of recognition was the number one reason employees reported quitting their jobs. With 65% of respondents in that survey stating they don’t feel adequately recognized at work, it’s easy to see why poor staff appreciation policies and high hospitality turnover rates often go hand in hand.

The dos and don’ts of staff appreciation

Seasoned hospitality managers know avoiding the employee recognition paradox isn’t always easy. We all want and need recognition, but it may come at a cost. The more appreciation we receive, the easier it is to feel demotivated or devalued when we don’t receive it. Along the same line, the more recognition leaders bestow, the less some employees may feel they need to achieve to receive it.

Avoid the staff appreciation paradox with these employee recognitions dos and don’ts to strike the right balance at your hotel.

The Dos:

Instead of bribing employees with overused staff appreciation ideas, like another pizza party or grab bags filled with dollar store goodies, show employees you value their hard work with thoughtful recognition.

• Check in with employees regularly

Have frequent, casual chats with staff. Ask a team member how their day is going or what they’ve been up to. While it may seem counterproductive to break up the day with “water cooler chat,” speaking to your employees casually can help you appear more accessible and help them feel more valued as individuals.

• Pay fair wages

There are few better ways to showcase your appreciation for staff than with fair, attractive wages. In addition to increasing rates for current employees, many hotels are raising rates to attract more motivated team members who are likely to stick around.

180 hospitality-based businesses in New York were surveyed regarding their strategies to combat staffing shortages and increase retention. More than half of responding businesses (53%) expect to increase staff pay soon to attract more potential employees and keep the ones they currently have. Of those businesses, 73% of respondents already increased employee pay in 2022 by two dollars an hour or more.

• Develop an employee recognition program

If you don’t already have one, develop and institute an employee recognition program. Work with individual team leaders and department heads to construct appropriate programs for housekeeping, maintenance, the front desk, and the food and beverage (F&B) team members. Come together to develop a hotel-wide program designed to recognize standout achievements.

Consider creating an Employee of the Month or an Employee of the Quarter program, where one employee from each the front and back of the house are recognized for their efforts. At the end of each year, name one front-facing employee and one behind-the-scenes staff member as Employees of the Year.

• Promote career growth opportunities

When it comes to selecting a potential workplace, employees seek growth opportunities in multiple areas, including: financial (i.e., grow income), professional (i.e., develop skills), career (i.e., move up in the ranks), and personal (e.g., remote work potential or work-life balance).

Promote career growth opportunities during the hiring process to attract candidates with higher retention potential, and ensure that all hotel employees know about the advancement opportunities currently available to them. Sit down with team members individually to discuss their career goals and construct a growth path.

• Practice positive reinforcement

In addition to providing employees constructive criticism to improve their job performance, offer positive reinforcement when they nail a task or go above and beyond to deliver outstanding guest service. By giving positive feedback and reinforcing superior performance, managers can connect more easily with staff members and help make them more receptive to constructive feedback in the future.

The Don’ts:

Create an authentic, honest culture of staff appreciation at your hotel by avoiding the following practices.

• Don’t generalize

When showing appreciation and recognition, be specific. Avoid generalizations and disingenuous comments. Inauthentic appreciation may be viewed as worse than no recognition at all, so avoid the trap and personalize your gestures of gratitude.

• Don’t reward some employees but not others

Giving awards or publicly recognizing employees for behaviors already exhibited by other staff members could cause friction and dissidence amongst team members. Avoid demotivating already hardworking employees who may feel their efforts have not been adequately recognized by celebrating struggling employees for reaching personal growth milestones instead of meeting the same expectations other staff members meet every day.

• Don’t change incentive programs unexpectedly

Although employees shouldn’t expect rewards for putting in the bare minimum, they should feel confident in the reliability of their hotel’s rewards or incentive program. For example, if employees who meet specific criteria are eligible for a bonus each quarter, replacing the bonus system with a different program may shock or anger staff who rely on the bonus structure. If you plan to switch things up, give employees ample notice.

• Don’t allow departments to isolate themselves

In the day-to-day world of hotel operations, it’s easy for employees to go about their day and interact primarily with other members of their team. Prevent departmental isolation by regularly hosting hotel-wide staff appreciation events. Host regular meetings with the whole team to bring employees from different departments together, helping the staff remember they’re all part of a bigger team—the hotel team. Encourage cross-departmental communication and recognition to build a culture of gratitude.

• Don’t ignore important milestones

Celebrate employee anniversaries, company anniversaries, birthdays, retirements, graduations, and other important milestones. Even if you don’t think they care, milestone celebrations can help foster a sense of community and purpose among hotel staff.

• Avoid win/lose competitions

While competitions are a fun way to foster teamwork and increase productivity, avoid staff appreciation competitions where there are winners and losers. Hotel staff appreciation ideas should be all-inclusive and make every employee feel like a champion.

Check out more hospitality trends at Cvent CONNECT 2023

Staff appreciation strategies

Improve your hotel’s workplace culture and increase staff satisfaction with these recognition strategies and staff appreciation ideas.

1. Connect hotel achievements to staff efforts

Link appreciation events, ideas, and demonstrations to specific occurrences at the hotel to connect recognition events directly to employee contributions. For example, if your hotel exceeded revenue goals, tie that accomplishment into your appreciation idea. It’s all too easy for individual employees to forget that they each contribute to the hotel’s overall success. Simply hearing that the hotel exceeded budget goals may not resonate with each employee, but showing how their efforts contributed to the achievement can.

Host a company picnic, treating employees to a delicious meal in the park or the hotel courtyard. From housekeeping to the front desk to maintenance, go department by department and explain how each team contributed and helped the hotel capture more revenue.

2. Offer scheduling flexibility

Due to recent changes in workplace culture and employee expectations, successful leaders understand that flexibility is more important than ever. Work with employees to offer flexible scheduling opportunities that fit their peak performance levels and promote a solid work-life balance.

3. Invest in quality training

Too often, overworked hotel managers fail to invest proper time and energy in new staff members. Because of the high turnover rate for hotel employees, many hiring managers lack faith in the loyalty or longevity of new employees and, as a result, view hands-on, comprehensive training as an unnecessary expense. This leaves many new employees without the tools or skills to effectively perform their duties, setting them up to be overwhelmed and underprepared. Hotels that invest in quality employee training programs, like brand courses, virtual training sessions, and other tools, see a return on their investment.

4. Incentivize staff satisfaction

Incentive programs are an effective way for hotels to improve employee retention, productivity, and satisfaction rates and lower hotel costs. They can help boost morale, employee motivation, and teamwork, so implement an incentive-based recognition program at your property.

Ask your staff what encourages them. Are they motivated by recognition, time off, monetary bonuses, incentive travel, or other perks? When you provide employees with incentives they actually find valuable, they will be more motivated to reach those incentives.

5. Practice habitual appreciation

Taking a few minutes each week to recognize standout employees and hotel achievements can help foster a more supportive, gracious work environment. Big-picture appreciation is essential, but the little things matter too, so turn staff appreciation into a regular occurrence by making recognition part of your everyday life.

Looking for more staff appreciation ideas?

Keep reading for more staff appreciation ideas and free tips!

1. What free staff appreciation ideas should hotels try?

Providing private and public feedback are fantastic ways to demonstrate that you appreciate employees’ efforts. Shout-out staff members on social media, give handwritten thank you cards, or step in and help an employee with a difficult task.

2. What is Employee Appreciation Day?

Employee Appreciation Day is an annual national holiday observed on the first Friday in March. Managers and team leaders across all industries show appreciation for staff, focusing their efforts on recognition and acknowledgment. Staff appreciation is a critical part of many business structures, with some companies adopting a unique employee appreciation holiday of their own.

3. What can hotels do for Employee Appreciation Day?

Celebrate your staff on Employee Appreciation Day with a hotel-wide event. Go all out: book live entertainment, play games, or grill for the entire team. Recognize individual employees, give department awards, serve food, and incorporate a theme like Movie Night or Island Paradise to add to the fun.

Talk to your team about which staff appreciation ideas they like most

Look for unique opportunities to shower employees with recognition, boost staff satisfaction, and supercharge team morale. If you’re unsure which staff appreciation ideas resonate with your team most, just ask them. Communication is just as valuable to staff relationships as it is to employees’ relationships with hotel guests.

The more you communicate with hotel staff, the better you will understand their needs, concerns, and ambitions—and the same goes for guests. Next, we review eight hotel guest communication tips every hotelier should know. Keep reading to learn more about keeping guests happy and discover what to do when they’re not.

Headshot of Cvent writer Kimberly Campbell

Kim Campbell

Kim is a full-time copy and content writer with many years of experience in the hospitality industry. She entered the hotel world in 2013 as a housekeeping team member and worked her way through various departments before being appointed to Director of Sales. Kim has championed numerous successful sales efforts, revenue strategies, and marketing campaigns — all of which landed her a spot on Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list.

Don’t be fooled though; she’s not all business! An avid forest forager, post-apocalyptic fiction fan, and free-sample-fiend, Kim prides herself on being well-rounded.

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