Solving the Riddle of Tenure

Statistics hold the power to do many things, but “shocking” is generally not one of them.

However, the latest bi-annual release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stats did just that:

Median job tenure in hotels and restaurants increased 44% from 2002 to 2012.

How is that possible if we keep hearing hospitality operators consistently grumbling about a lack of longer-tenured candidates?

""If job tenures are lengthening but employers are seeing fewer and fewer résumés with better than average tenures, then it would stand to reason that the situation is polarizing: The small population of longer-tenured employees remains small but their length of employment continually increases, creating the illusion that their overall population is growing. In fact, the increasing tenure of this rare species masks the shorter-tenured employees’ ever-shrinking longevity.

As an industry, how do we handle this?

Our clients place a high value on job tenure for a variety of reasons. So do we. We were debating this paradigm shift at last week’s leadership meeting. Questions put to the floor:

  • If this trend continues, how many long-tenured employees will there be in ten years?
  • Can a short-tenured candidate become a long-tenured employee when there is a better culture fit?
  • Can we do better at qualifying shorter-tenure candidates to see how much of the short tenures were due to the employer and not the candidate?
  • Is this the “new normal” and everyone needs to get used to it?
  • Did we lose more longer- or shorter-tenured managers to career change after the Great Recession?
  • Are the longer-tenured employees retiring faster than they are being replaced?

Scott Lager challenged: “They’re out there. You just have to work hard to find them!” I love that. Scott has proven to be one of the top recruiters in hospitality, and has earned the trust of his many clients. I fundamentally agree with Scott but I also believe that a short tenure isn’t always the fault of the employee (though a string or pattern of short tenures does indicate that the candidate’s growth in decision-making is stunted).

Our Solution: Tailor the Recruiting

Last week I met with the Multiunit Director of Operations of a successful restaurant group. He is a client, colleague, and dear friend who is probably in the minority of restaurant leaders. While he does not want to interview candidates with repeated short or micro-tenures, he is open to consistent tenures of less than two years ”if they have what it takes to succeed with us.”

Hmm… If we can connect the “if” with the “us,” then we can discern the best fits for his group and empower them for the growth they are projecting.

We met with key stakeholders within the company to understand the mix of behavior traits, skills, and experience that make a long-term culture fit. Then we went back to the lab and looked for overlapping data:

  • What traits were mentioned by everyone?
  • Emphasized by everyone?
  • What wasn’t said?

The result: Seven unmistakable and unavoidable traits specific to my client’s company. From this list we tailored a list of questions, most of them with several layers of sub-questions. We then created a range of acceptable answers for each question, and shared that work with our client to ensure we are on the same page.

These questions moved to the front 10 minutes of the interview, because if the candidate’s answers don’t match the desired responses to a high degree, the rest of the interview doesn’t matter.

This process is not brand new. It is a form of behavioral interviewing that has been used increasingly in the last decade. Are you using it, or have the pressures of day-to-day operations kept you from implementing a proprietary process?

Until next month, ponder your own internal retention work. Consider this excerpt from the January 9, 2014 article in QSR Magazine “Why People Quit” written by Dr. Jerry Newman, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Organization and Human Resources:

“People don’t behave the way we want them to for three reasons: Either they don’t have the ability to do what we want; they aren’t motivated to do what we want; or something in the environment is stopping them from doing what we want. Reducing turnover is about figuring out which of these is the primary cause of your turnover.”

Consistent, sustainable growth requires a focus on all three areas to ensure the right candidates are placed in the right role, motivated properly and turned loose to build success.

Joseph D’Alessandro

About Joseph D’Alessandro

Joseph spent 15 years in leadership positions in hospitality operations before becoming a full-time executive recruiter in 2000. Joseph founded SHS in 2002 and has grown the business from a one-person outfit to a full team of dedicated experts.


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