What The Great Resignation means for the hospitality industry in Australia

close up of coffee machine
The Coffee Commune

You might have heard about The Great Resignation – a term coined out of the US in response to a growing trend of workers quitting their jobs and reassessing their lifestyle after COVID-19.

Australia’s hospitality industry is not exempt from these issues.

“We have a talent attraction and retention problem in this country – and it is only going to grow over the next 12 months,” says Phillip Di Bella, founder of The Coffee Commune.

Why staffing is such an issue for Australia’s hospitality industry

The reasons for this are threefold.

Firstly, Australia’s state and international borders have remained closed for the better part of the past two years. We saw the majority of foreign students and hospitality workers go home in March 2020 when the borders first closed – which adds up to a lot of front-of-house staff, bartenders, cooks, chefs and cleaners.

“The workforce has diminished and businesses have reported skilled migrant shortages ever since,” Phillip says.

With the majority of state borders – and Queensland in particular – being closed off to the rest of the country for most of 2020 and 2021, this has also meant less migration of people moving within this industry like there would normally be.

Secondly, there is a supply and demand issue, where the demand is high but supply is low.

“A higher demand for staff across different industries results in wage inflation,” Phillip explains. “Some industries can handle this, but others cannot. Unlike someone serving alcohol in bars, clubs or gambling, cafes and restaurants that run off already tight margins cannot handle wage inflation.”

Finally, we’re seeing more people wanting a change in lifestyle, whether this means working less, or more flexible, hours.

“Unfortunately the nature of the hospitality industry doesn’t allow this – our staff cannot simply choose to work from home,” he says.

This has created a shift in lifestyle where people are rethinking the type of job they want in the future.

While there will always be a place for the best and brightest at their jobs, others will be looking for new trades and occupations – including hospitality workers who are looking for something that won’t be shut down every few months.

Hospitality specialist Joshua Clifton agrees.

“Staffing has always been a difficult process for our industry, but it has definitely been exacerbated since COVID-19 with foreign worker shortages and venue closures,” he says.

Joshua also runs the Australian Cafe Owners Network Group on Facebook, and has expressed similar sentiment across the group within the last six months.

“The whole industry is desperate for staff. People don’t want casual jobs because they don’t want shift cuts if the industry goes through another massive upheaval. Or they want to work somewhere that is more fulfilling to them. You need to give them one or the other,” he says.

“Aside from the above, there are a number of other factors. Reward versus effort, more options, culture and the Government have all played a part.”

What can cafe owners do about it?

With borders open once again, businesses must ensure they are adequately prepared for all avenues, from staffing to education to legislation. This will likely bring forward opportunities for businesses to help solve this problem, in terms of specialised recruitment focused on the hospitality industry.

“We need better recruitment services that quickly and easily connect prospects with venues,” says Joshua.

“I also feel that collectively, prices need to go up across the board in cafes. This will allow more breathing room for owners and put more money back into their team to provide a better, more encouraging environment. People today are spoiled for choice, and if they can do more for less – especially given the instability of the market now because of the pandemic – they will take it.”

But Joshua says it’s not all doom and gloom.

“Staff turnover in our industry is common, but for the most part people don’t necessarily want a pay rise – they want job satisfaction and fulfilment. Success in our industry is based on your ability to build relationships. Focus on having an environment that people want to be a part of, and build your culture to promote a fun, enjoyable space that prospects will find attractive.”

Phillip Di Bella agrees, and suggests that building that culture requires upskilling and education.

“Part of what we’re doing at The Coffee Commune is bringing the community together to collaborate and helping people accelerate their potential,” says Phillip.

“One area we are working hard on is attracting more people to the hospitality industry and upskilling them, so that we’re helping to solve the attraction and retention problem as best we can.”

It’s the businesses that can solve these problems – the ones that can recruit great staff, and more importantly, hold onto them – that will prosper in the future.

The Coffee Commune