Staffing in the Wake of COVID-19: How Much Has Changed?

Staffing in the Wake of COVID-19: How Much Has Changed?

This blog was written by our guest author, Dan Murdoch, Vice President of Marketing, Harri
Before COVID-19, restaurants had a significant labor challenge, typically referred to as the “talent crisis” or “war for talent.” Unemployment rates were at a five-year low and minimum wage rates were rising across the country. To better define the challenge, there were simply too many restaurants, massive job growth, a smaller talent pool given the same level of eligible employees, particularly among teenagers, as in 2007, triple-digit turnover rates, cyclical seasonal hiring, and a struggle to find talent that was capable of representing a brand’s ethos.
Then, after the pandemic hit, 7.7 million jobs were lost in the hospitality industry, according to April estimates—a staggering and inconceivable number. In response, Harri, the online hospitality recruitment platform, actively partnered with CVS, Amazon, Walgreens, Kroger, Walmart, Dollar Tree, and other major retailers to help redeploy a community of 1.2 million hospitality workers. The mission was to centralize the hiring activity of these major retailers, free of charge, by creating a single portal to direct the ever-growing community of displaced workers and help those who continue to be without a paycheck or benefits as Congress struggled to come to consensus on relief.
Since that time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated an incremental increase in job creation adding back  4.5 million over the last 5 months. However, employment is still down 3.6 million (58%) below where it was in February according to With nearly half of the jobs still “lost,” additional studies suggest that only 28.4% of restaurant operators are employing 80-100% of their pre-COVID employees. Simply put, the restaurant industry is uniquely affected by these unemployment statistics, as well as other compelling dynamics.


The Current State

The challenge around staffing has been compounded by a structural displacement of labor. According to the Harri COVID-19 Employee Impact Survey, which gathered the sentiments of more than 8,000 hospitality workers, 75% of workers were found to be permanently displaced. That displacement has translated into a negative perception of job security, apprehension around health and safety practices, and finding permanent opportunity at organizations that experienced surging demand, in contrast to the hospitality industry, such as essential retail, which sparked a 500,000 job hiring spree in March.
That said, the restaurant industry has been able to show some resiliency in job re-creation with nearly 318,000 jobs added in September. With clearer understanding around operating health and safety regulations, evolution in service delivery to better optimize “safer” guest interaction, and a semblance of sales performance benchmarking hospitality, businesses are much better positioned to inform hiring needs than they have been in the past two to three months.


Keys to staffing successfully during COVID-19

The influences that made staffing challenging pre-COVID-19, as defined by the war for talent or talent crisis, have not disappeared just because there are more workers to choose from. In fact, it’s more challenging than ever and the keys to successfully staffing will depend on the effectiveness of the following:

Displaying Purpose-Driven Efforts

Many hospitality businesses that focused on philanthropic efforts and community evangelism during the pandemic have executed highly impactful community engagement strategies, resulting in a stronger team—and brand.
Yum! Brands, representing Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Habit Grill, recently shared employee-level updates and how it’s investing in "social purpose to unlock opportunity in our people and communities, while championing equity, inclusion, and belonging across all aspects of our brands and franchise business.” Yum! Claims that social purpose unlocks opportunities for frontline employees and communities.
They are also providing funding for education and investing in skills training to empower employees
Clearly articulating what a brand stands for is critical in today’s hiring environment. Doing so was critical before COVID-19, especially among Gen Z, and it still is now.

The Need for Automation: Tech-Forward Approach

Doing more with less. Every organization must find deeper levels of scale and efficiency in process, particularly in staffing. Moreover, building predictable labor models against an unprecedented selling environment has made informing labor-related decision making especially challenging. It's no secret that COVID-19 has been a catalyst to technology adoption in digitizing the guest experience. The same approach now needs to be made to the candidate experience. In order to reap similar benefits in advantageous economics, ensure successful hiring, and ease the burden of HR teams, companies must lean on technology.
HR teams are taking this opportunity to revisit their tech stack. Identify ways to use tech to optimize and support the makeup of your current team, automate tasks that don’t require the human touch, gather data to make better decisions, fix broken aspects of the candidate experience, more intelligently assess and prioritize candidates, and implement “COVID-19-friendly” solutions such as assessments and video interviewing capabilities.

Addressing Staff Anxieties: Job Security and Infection 

Deploying a clear strategy to address and resolve staff anxiety in the context of health and safety and job security is paramount. In the process of bringing back employees, having a system to deploy content tailored or personalized to their specific needs is vital. In addition to providing furloughed employees updates on company initiatives and announcements, supplying them with resources on personal and professional well-being has been an effective measure.
As an example, having a technical backbone that can address the communications needs of a business, on a one-to-many or employee-by-employee basis, can help effectively deploy courses that distribute instructional mental health and well-being content.
In the context of health and safety, some brands have established a new team position. This individual is known as the “cleaning captain” who is responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of customer-facing areas and back of house every 20 to 30 minutes. The Chief Operating Officer of Just Salad, Apolinar Chavez, was quoted in Nation’s Restaurant News, saying, “We don’t want this to be a fad in the industry; we want this to be an actual position where we take ownership and pride in making sure our stores are safe for the guests and all of the team members who work in our stores.”
Additionally, brands are leveraging a technological approach to systematically screen the health of employees. With Harri’s Employee Health Check Platform, for example, if a team member fails a symptom assessment or PPE check, their manager is notified to keep them off schedule until they’re fit to return. Health check summary forms and stickers can be printed and attached to notify customers that they’re choosing a safe, healthy environment. Since its launch, the platform has amassed more than 1 million employee health checks.
Though the industry has borne some of the pandemic’s greatest impacts to unemployment, there is opportunity both to assure workers that their health and well being are a top priority, as well as to adopt new processes that allow operators to more effectively manage ongoing employment challenges. Restaurants have already innovated to adapt to how consumers interact with them and better understand what their hiring needs are for how they operate now. Coupled with millions of hospitality workers still out of a job, operators have the opportunity to make intelligent and strategic hiring decisions
About Harri
Harri is a HCM and Workforce Management platform that helps service-driven businesses build, manage, and engage their teams. Interconnecting the entire employee journey, the Workforce Operating System provides integrated solutions for talent acquisition, onboarding, hiring, employment branding, applicant tracking, scheduling, time & attendance, communications, compliance, analytics and much more. With 300+ enterprise customers, Harri is a best-in-class verticalized platform helping organizations to solve labor-related challenges and drive optimal business performance across the globe.