The importance of age-inclusivity in hospitality

Mar 18 2024 by Penny Brown Print This Article

The UK's hospitality industry is witnessing a remarkable trend, presenting a hidden solution to the labour shortage crisis. Despite the pressing challenge of staff vacancies, which are now 48% higher than pre-COVID levels, the industry has been pushed to rethink how it approaches its workforce to avoid exacerbating the issue further.

A recent survey revealed hospitality is now the number one sector of choice forover-50s workers, constituting over a third of the industry’s workforce. This demographic presents a hidden solution to the labour shortage crisis, yet significant barriers persist.

Many older workers seeking opportunities in hospitality encounter obstacles during interviews, as hiring managers often harbour misconceptions regarding their adaptability, productivity, job longevity and health.

For a sector that has been understaffed for nearly two decades, with over 118,000 vacancies, addressing these barriers becomes paramount. Positive integration, structured programs and workplace flexibility are crucial in this endeavour.

Dismantle barriers to entry

Dismantling barriers to entry is essential for fostering an inclusive workplace. It is imperative to ensure that all employment policies and processes are age neutral. One effective step towards achieving and maintaining this goal is conducting a comprehensive age equity audit. This entails an extensive review of both internal and external policies, processes, and messaging to identify and remove any potential biases or barriers based on age.

Further to this, creating a diverse and age-inclusive work culture from employee orientation and onboarding is essential for laying the foundation of a supportive and inclusive environment.

Unbiased branding

Alongside a respectful workplace atmosphere, the hospitality sector should look to make sure inclusivity is promoted externally as well. Last year, it was recorded that only 4% of people over 60 feature in adverts – a worrying statistic given this group make up around a quarter of the UK population. Clearly, a change in approach is needed.

Parts of the sector have begun to respond to this gap. Initiatives like McDonald’s 2023 recruitment drive campaign targeting older workers serve as commendable examples, featuring an advert with a silver-haired employee who was not “the retiring type”.

More initiatives and positive advertising campaigns such as this are needed to attract older workers to the industry and promote age diversity. Recognising and celebrating the contributions of older workers in marketing materials can serve as a powerful tool for promoting inclusivity and broadening the talent pool.

Implement returner-friendly programs

In addition to positive branding, the hospitality sector should look match words with action, and emulate the Government’s ‘returnership’ program to motivate over-50s to return to the sector. Amazon offers a similar returnship program for all ages, committing in 2021 to provide 300,000 people with career support.

Such programs offer funding for training and development, such as skills bootcamps, apprenticeships, and sector-based work academy programmes (SWAPs). The hospitality industry should look to do the same, tailoring efforts depending on both the needs of the workers and institution, from front of house to groundskeepers. In doing this, the sector can provide invaluable support and opportunities for older workers looking to return or remain active in the sector.

Invaluable experience and flexibility

In providing more opportunities for older workers, the sector can also benefit from the wealth of experience and skills they provide from their decades of working in the industry.

Many hospitality businesses recognise that older workers bring better customer experience skills compared to other age groups and consider them more qualified regarding business acumen, work ethic, and staying calm under pressure. In hiring older workers, hospitality leaders can increase the diversity in skillset of their teams, which can in turn help upskill their institution more broadly.

However, in recognising this valuable skillset, the industry must also champion flexible working arrangements due to the greater range of commitments older workers have. By offering adaptable schedules and remote work options, hospitality establishments can empower older individuals to pursue roles aligned with their expertise.

Embracing flexibility not only widens the talent pool for recruitment but also fosters an environment of inclusivity and support, enabling older workers to thrive and contribute meaningfully to the sector's success.

Setting an example through professionalism

On average, over-50s report higher job satisfaction and wellbeing, and in a welcoming environment can be perfect ambassadors to younger generations considering hospitality as a long-term career.

But at the same time, statistics indicate that only 5% of young adults in Britain consider a career in hospitality, with 55% viewing it as a transient occupation. This is a worrying sign for the future of UK’s largest sector.

Older workers can serve as role models for their younger counterparts, sharing their wealth of experience and instilling a sense of professionalism. By doing so, they help cultivate a culture of respect and commitment toward hospitality as a serious and rewarding profession. For instance, at Burgh Island Hotel, our Head Concierge, Simon James, was inspired to commit to the industry after working alongside Tony Facciolo, an esteemed concierge who demonstrated the importance and value of service.

While there are a variety of ways to approach the labour shortage in the hospitality industry, promoting the return of older workers hosts a myriad of benefits, and can galvanise the sector from top to bottom. By recognising and leveraging the invaluable experience and skills of older workers, while simultaneously fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect, the hospitality sector can navigate its way to a more vibrant and sustainable future.

About The Author

Penny Brown
Penny Brown

Penny Brown is Managing Director ofthe Burgh Island Hotel at Birbury-on-Sea, near Plymouth, Devon.