Onboarding with excellence – the key to staff retention?

With one of the highest turnover rates of any industry1, failing to onboard staff effectively so that they’re confident in their roles is something that the hospitality sector can ill-afford to do. Why then are we getting it so wrong?

Picture the scene; it’s the first day of a new job in a big and popular hotel. A customer approaches the front desk. Curt, to the point, and full of high expectations. “The usual please,” she says, as she slams her credit card down. The employee freezes. What does the usual mean? How do I respond?

That employee was me, and to this day, the panic I felt is still palpable.

Now, as a member of the Attensi team, every time we deliver AI gamified training to the hospitality sector, this event prompts me to think about the onboarding process. What the industry was getting wrong then, what it’s still getting wrong now, and how we can provide the solutions needed for a successful business with happy, engaged and motivated teams at the helm.

Let’s take a look.

Who are the people working in hospitality?

Working within hospitality, there are different types of people. There are those who are committed to a career there. Eager to learn and keen to progress, you might earmark these employees for future management and leadership positions. Then there are those employees who may not see the job they’re currently in as their long-term career of choice – perhaps this is a job they take alongside studying to earn an income.

Whatever category they belong to, each and every employee will need training that’s relevant and relatable. Whether they’re in it for the long run, or (perhaps especially) working in hospitality is a short-term gig, good onboarding can make sure the whole team’s fully invested and ready to take on the unique challenges of hospitality.

The challenges of staying hospitable in hospitality

Hospitality staff face plenty of challenges on a daily basis. Their roles are extremely busy and there’s a lot to learn in a short space of time. I know from experience that the ability to think on your feet from the get-go is essential.

In addition, staff turnover is high in hospitality. Businesses are forced to continue their operations with fewer staff, creating additional pressures on existing teams and leading to staff burnout – in itself a big contributing factor to employee shortages2.

And did I mention those customers who can be difficult and demanding, and in some cases even display rude or antisocial behavior?

To equip hospitality employees with the skills they need to face these challenges head-on, the onboarding process is crucial.

What are we getting so wrong, and why?

Failing to transfer the knowing to doing

The average onboarding process makes for a very passive and unproductive experience. At best, employees might get to shadow a more experienced colleague for a day or two. At worst they might be sent away to read to company handbook. Somewhere in between there’s an over-reliance on e-learning or (the dreaded) role-play, with no follow-up or engagement to ensure that knowledge and learning are embedded.

In a high-tech world of ever-decreasing attention spans (some experts now believe the average attention span to sit at around 47 seconds3), none of the above will suffice if you’re looking for a robust and successful onboarding process.

A lack of empowerment for managers

Let’s get real; this isn’t about expecting your already time-poor managers to train your people. Hospitality managers don’t always have the necessary leadership qualities, and spend a good deal of their time fire-fighting a never-ending stream of problems.

Empowering your managers means enabling them to support the growth and development of their teams, ensuring that they can deal with those instances where staff might have questions or require additional support. And this means having an engaging onboarding process and training that works for everyone – including your managers.

Destroying motivation

On the first day of a new job, people usually arrive full of motivation. They’ve got plenty of energy in the tank, a full battery, and plenty of positive currency to get them off to a flying start.

If your onboarding process is woefully lacking, you run the risk of this being lost. Your brand-new employees simply won’t be equipped to face the reality of not enough staff and time-poor managers, and they’ll quickly find themselves feeling lost and alone. By the time you realize there’s an issue, it will be too late.

Why onboarding matters and how to get it right

A solid onboarding process is crucial to employee engagement, productivity and staff retention rates. Yet according to a recent study, only 12% of employees agreed strongly that their onboarding was good enough4.

As an industry, hospitality is a tough and demanding space, one that presents pressures from every angle. If your employees don’t feel confident in their abilities, difficult situations can quickly ‘snowball’, leaving inadequately trained staff with a crumbling of confidence, and your business with a crippling talent retention problem.

Clear and consistent expectations

To help your employees succeed in their roles, they need clear and consistent goals and objectives. It’s very difficult for people to succeed at work if they don’t know what’s expected of them. This is particularly key for those working in hospitality, with so many different scenarios that might arise at any given time.

A window into your company and its culture

Give some thought to how you want your staff to talk about you and your organization. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance at a first impression, and this applies to both your customers and your staff. An engaging and enjoyable onboarding process will help you to set the scene for what your people can expect from their role and how they’ll be treated.

Virtual training for reality

The fact is that onboarding needs to work for everybody. It needs to be relevant to the roles your employees are in, helping them to manage those difficult real-life situations that can catch them off guard and leave them feeling more than a little intimidated.

Role-play remains a standard go-to when it comes to training and onboarding, but it’s not standardized or consistent enough. There’s no way to guarantee the exact same conditions over and over again, nor are there the resources and opportunities to repeat at leisure. That’s where virtual programs come in, allowing staff to practice real-world scenarios in a risk-free setting as many times as they need to.

When it comes to onboarding, it makes sense to use gamified training tools that are fun, engaging and that offer the opportunity to ask questions and actively learn. Training that enables your people to build confidence at their own pace, practice areas that don’t come as easily over and over, and become happy and motivated in their new roles.

Are you ready to level up your training?

You might also be interested in

Emotion – the ultimate L&D game-changer?

Travel agencies need to give seasonal staff a flying start with effective onboarding 

AI isn’t coming for hotelier jobs. It’s making them easier

Role-play training makes Gen Z cringe – time to move with the times


    1. The Great Acceptance And The New Battleground For Employee Retention,

    2. Five Hidden Costs Of Employee Attrition,

    3. A Psychologist Explains The Rise Of ‘Popcorn Brain’,

    4. Why Effective Onboarding Is Critical To Employee Retention,