Companies in the hospitality sector can expect a 100% staff turnover in the space of a single year, but tech start-up Eko believes its app could help provide a solution to the industry's staff retention issues
As an industry, hospitality has overlooked some of the technological advances seen in other sectors. Robert Darling, COO of Eko explains how a piece of tech — which is already in the pockets of most hospitality workers — could help improve communication, productivity and staff retention.
Communication is the glue that binds industry together – ensuring challenges are met and a workforce is effectively managed. When it fails, the implications can be devastating for both revenue and productivity.
And with the global mobile-first workforce (people who don’t work with a computer) anticipated to reach 1.87 billion by 2022, that is a big issue.
Hospitality is once such industry at risk from a breakdown of this type, with archaic forms of communication restricting engagement between management and front-line workers. As an example, 83% of staff in the sector do not have professional email addresses.
Team meetings, noticeboards and emails are no longer doing an effective job, according to Robert Darling, COO of Eko, a messaging and task management app designed for hospitality and retail staff.
“This is a really big systematic problem that affects employees across hospitality,” says Darling.
“To some degree, they are the forgotten workers and they aren’t being equipped with the right tools.”
Lack of communication for hospitality staff
Darling explains: “If you don’t have that communication layer in place, you’re not able to build a company culture, you’re not able to keep people up to date with what’s happening and you’re not engaging with them on a day-to-day basis.
“Ultimately, they are disconnected.”
While working for Eko, Darling has experienced instances where groups of staff don’t even know the name of the company they work for.
“Not knowing the company you work for is a really foundational thing in terms of being disconnected from your workforce,” says Darling.
The impact this has for businesses and their employees is wide ranging, with 70% of front-line hospitality staff saying they don’t have someone they would call a friend at work and 21% claiming they are less productive due to a lack of engagement.
How a lack of communication leads to high staff turnover
The starkest impact of this void in employee engagement can be seen in staff turnover rates.
A healthy turnover rate is typically around 10%, but 100% is not uncommon in the hospitality sector.
While frontline staff are traditionally at the lower end of the salary spectrum, recruiting costs and retraining can cost companies £11,000 pounds for every employee that leaves.
For large hotel chains employing thousands of staff, the total figure can quickly add up.
Yet, surveys from Eko show the majority of senior executives don’t identify the issue as a problem with retention.
“They are seeing recruitment as the issue, because if there is a hole in their staffing they need to fill it,” says Darling.
“But they need to turn that mind-set on its head, because it’s not really a recruitment issue, the problem is retention.
“Through improved engagement and communication, these companies can start to address this turnover issue.”
How the Eko app brings hospitality staff together
One solution to staff retention and communication issues in the hospitality sector has been the Eko app, according to Darling.
He claims that companies using the application have seen a reduction in staff turnover, fewer absences, better operational efficiency and fewer accidents.
Like workplace messaging applications such as Slack, Eko allows front-line staff and management to communicate on a single professional platform.
Explaining the decision to create a mobile solution, Darling says: “The mobile phone is the common digital denominator that everyone uses, regardless of your background, education, or income level.
“Push Notifications are also a very big advantage when it comes to mobile technology, if there’s a corporate update that you want to reach 10,000 staff across all your properties across the world, smartphone technology gives you the ability to do that in real time.
“A bulletin board might work, but unless someone is constantly updating it, it’s nowhere near real-time.”
Other features built into the app — which is priced between $2.5 and $5 per employee depending on the size of the organisation — includes downloadable training sessions, task delegation and recognition, and picture and video messaging.
“Information accessibility is also an important barrier to overcome in the industry,” adds Darling.
“From talking to people in hospitality, you quickly realise the many different languages that are in play.
“We built the platform to be language agnostic, so it can translate in real time to help improve inclusivity — it doesn’t matter if you’re native language is English, Spanish or French, you get the information in the language that is most comfortable for you to use.”
After successfully introducing the app to the Asian hospitality market, Eko is now looking to expand its European operations following a €17.6m ($19.4m) funding round.