The Restaurant, Retail, and Hospitality Talent Crunch and What to Do About it

Few HR professionals have it as tough right now as those of you in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries. Challenges that existed well before the pandemic — high turnover and trouble finding qualified workers — have only been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the current labor shortage.

Consider that at least 1.7 million leisure and hospitality workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic have either found work in a different sector or left the labor force entirely. That means that the struggle to find workers in the midst of one of the toughest hiring environments in recent history is even more difficult in these sectors than it was before the pandemic.

Worries about wage increases, inflation, price hikes, and the Delta variant are also disproportionately affecting these industries.

So what’s the best way to hire and retain workers in these wildly uncertain times?

Start by asking yourself what you and your company can do to shake up your employment benefits package. Financial wellness benefits can help attract talent and, importantly, improve employee productivity and loyalty once staffers are on the job. What’s more, the uncertainty and economic hardship the pandemic has caused have put financial wellness front and center for most job applicants.

Here are three steps you can take to adapt your financial benefits package to help attract and retain talented workers.

1. Consider Offering Debt-Free Tuition Payments

Restaurant, retail, and hospitality workers often view their low-wage entry-level jobs as a stepping stone to better things. And their goals often entail getting more education.

At the same time, many employers have realized that offering accessible education benefits can help retain workers and train them for higher-level jobs within the company.

Amazon is the most recent large company to announce debt-free tuition benefits that allow low-wage workers to earn college degrees and other education credentials. Target, Walmart, Chipotle, and McDonald’s are also companies that offer these types of education payments.

These benefits differ from the traditional tuition reimbursement programs employers often offered. Instead of the employee paying the cost of tuition upfront — something that was often impossible for low-wage workers to do — the company pays the full cost of tuition directly to the school. There can be limits on payment amounts or where degrees are earned, as well as other restrictions.

If your company offers some type of education payment program, be sure to communicate it to your workers. Employers across the board have reported low sign-up rates of both the upfront tuition payment plans and more traditional tuition reimbursement programs. Communication that reaches deep into your organization’s stores, branches, or franchises is vital to attract participation. So is offering support and resources for students trying to juggle work and school.

But rest assured that all this effort can pay off. Chipotle reports that its employee retention rate is 3.5 times higher among its student workers.

2. Consider Student Loan Repayment Programs

Many of your potential hires and employees who have already attended college most likely carry a substantial amount of student debt. Many young workers may be facing student loan repayment for the first time next year. That’s because the government pause on federal student loan repayment that was part of the COVID relief package is ending in May 2022.

Consider supporting these employees with a student loan repayment benefit. New government rules make it easier for you to offer these plans. Now employers may provide up to $5,250 tax-exempt annually toward a qualified employee’s student loan repayment through 2025.

3. Encourage Emergency Savings

The pandemic has shed a revealing light on the need for emergency savings. Low-wage workers and potential hires are looking for ways they can start saving, even a small amount, in a painless way.

To fill this need, many employers have begun offering payroll deduction emergency savings programs. Automatic deduction can make it much easier to motivate employees to save. And the extra peace of mind that even a small amount of savings inspires can significantly enhance employee financial wellness.

The Takeaway

Tailoring your employee benefits package to fit the needs and challenges of your industry sector can help attract talent and decrease turnover.

SoFi at Work offers the platforms and information you need to design a financial wellness program that inspires loyalty at all staff levels.

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Photo credit: iStock/LumiNola
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Walecia Konrad ABOUT Walecia Konrad Walecia Konrad is an award winning financial journalist and content producer specializing in health care and personal finance. She has held staff jobs at and contributed to several media outlets including The New York Times, Money, SmartMoney, BusinessWeek, NerdWallet and She currently develops content, including web, video, print and social media, for several financial services companies.

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