Employee Turnover Keeps Rising

Meeting PlanningTrends

It’s making it hard for planners to establish relationships in the hospitality industry

Long gone are the days of the company man. Employees, especially younger, less-seasoned professionals, aren’t idling away the years waiting to “pay their dues” and climb the corporate ladder. Instead, they are looking for positions that lend a better work-life balance.

The hospitality industry is notorious for its turnover numbers. But if it seems like they’ve been steadily increasing in the past few years, it’s because they are. Turnover rates within the industry are now creeping back up to pre-recession levels. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 73 million separations occurred in the U.S. hospitality industry last year alone, a 20 percent increase from 2011.

What’s causing this mass exodus? For starters, that 73 million includes retirements and layoffs, but it can also be chalked up to the nature of the industry: Hotels have a solid hierarchal chain of command that employees are eager to start climbing. While hotels often promote talent from within, it’s common for it to be lured away by an enticing offer from another chain. Some might also point to the millennials in the workforce and their persistent striving toward that perfect work-life balance, though there’s no hard evidence linking the turnover increase with that particular generation.

Whatever the reasons may be, dwelling on them does little to resolve the fallout. Hotels spend thousands of dollars a year for every new employee they must train to replace the seasoned worker who has left, and there’s no guarantee that employee will stay in the position for more than a year or two.

There’s one group in particular that grapples with the challenges of turnover but is powerless to effect change: meeting planners. It can be frustrating, to say the least, to be working hand-in-hand with a hotel employee for several months on end, only to have him or her quit halfway through the process. While planners are always ready for anything, it’s both time-consuming and annoying to start from scratch.

Jim Clapes, conference and events manager for Drug Policy Alliance, has dealt with transitions more than a few times in his 13 years of planning—sometimes they’re handled smoothly, but other times they’re not. Take the 2016 Drug Alliance conference in Arlington, Virginia, for example. Clapes actually inherited the contract from his predecessor, and was working with “a really great CSM for a few months who was completely aware of the program,” he says, “and then she left.”

So he started anew with her replacement, but Clapes’ event is no ordinary meeting. The biannual conference brings together policymakers, medical practitioners, counselors, social workers and members of Congress to question current drug policies across America.

“We have a room at our conference where people can bring their substances to check for purity,” Clapes says. “When I do site visits, I have to ask my hotels how they would handle someone smoking marijuana—if it’s just handled as a smoking charge or something more. These are conversations I have to have with my vendors beforehand.”

The turnover didn’t have an effect on the final event, but it did provide an additional hurdle to jump through. “It’s always challenging when you bring someone new in. You have to start from point A and spend extra time bringing that person up to speed,” Clapes says.

Turnover is not a phenomenon unique to the hospitality industry. It happens within the meeting planning industry, too. Clapes described working with a colleague at HelmsBriscoe.

“She was my right-hand person,” he says. “She handled the F&B contracts, the A/V vendors, and she just left a few months ago. Now I’ve had to educate this new person how to speak in a different language. It takes a certain person to present things in a very tactful way. Luckily, she’s hit the ground running, but there’s always some trepidation when you’ve worked with someone for so long and then bring in someone new.”

While turnover may be an unavoidable obstacle in this industry, you can always hope for the best-case scenario. Clapes dealt with yet another similar situation while organizing this year’s conference in Atlanta. (It just goes to show how prevalent turnover really is in the meetings industry.) Fortunately, he got a little bit more of a heads up.

“Probably four or five months ago, I got an email from my convention services manager letting me know she was moving on,” Clapes says. “She did a great job of transitioning by giving me several months’ notice and introducing me to the new person.” The lesson: Get to know your vendors. If you establish a friendly relationship, it’s likely they’re going to help you in the transition if they leave.

You can’t always depend on the dream scenario, so it’s best to remain adaptable. Remember that this business is all about relationships, and the more you cultivate them, the more likely those people are to go out of their way to help you. Besides, precisely because of high turnover rates, you never know who you’ll be working with again down the road.

Employers are working to create more stable work environments, but it’s proving difficult to find the holy grail of work-life balance, adequate pay and productivity. So while employers are striving to find ways to minimize turnover, it’s likely to be an issue more than a couple of times throughout your career.

“You have to roll with the punches, because this kind of stuff happens,” Clapes says. “Be comfortable with it and be off the cuff. With all the turnover, you have to be amenable to change.”

Essentially, just treat turnover like you do any other obstacle: See the challenge as an opportunity—you never know, the end result might be even more spectacular than you could have imagined.