Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Shortcuts to Cope with Short Staffing

We can’t escape it, right?

Everywhere you go there’s a shortage of staff from the grocery store checkouts to airport security lines. And, for those of us working in the hospitality industry, most notable are the gaping holes in both airline and hotel staffing. From pilots to baggage porters, front desk personnel to convention service managers, the vacancies in our particular industry are definitely noticeable.  I say this as a professional meeting planner that has covered a lot of ground (and air) in my 2022 travels: I can attest to the fact that it’s real and it’s a problem everywhere I travel, without exceptions.

So, what can we do to get through this constant frustration?  Well, you’re probably not going to like this first suggestion, but just like your mother’s unwelcome advice, I’ll give it to you anyway.  Pack your patience.  Yes indeed. And if that’s a problem for you maybe just start with the baby steps like switching to decaffeinated beverages because, well, we all know that too much caffeine can lead to higher stress levels and untamed temperaments. Neither of those bode well for stressed out travelers facing long lines at every turn all the way from our homes to our final destination. Over many days that’s a whole lot of lines to cue up in.

Other helpful tips listed below require a little more preplanning, but even choosing to focus on one or two of them will benefit you as we all fumble our way through this “the New Now” that may not go away even if and when more staff comes back to work. Friendly customer service has often been replaced by the overwhelmed and stress-filled snippy kind or, more often, no service at all, so consider these options:

  1. Ask questions about basic services (the ones you used to take for granted) before you engage in an argument. For instance, no sense in complaining that your room hasn’t been cleaned if you weren’t told (or didn’t inquire) at check-in about the current housekeeping policy and believe me when I tell you it changes constantly.  I’ve even had this change during a weeklong stay at a major hotel due to employees calling in sick. When we first climbed out of the pandemic confinements, almost all the hotels explained their new, updated policies at check-in but now it seems they all think we are used to picking up our own supply of clean towels from the front desk as needed, so they don’t even mention it to us unless we ask first.
  2. Whenever possible, fly direct and do it as early in the day as possible. This has always been my motto but even more so now  because of airlines coming up short-staffed later in the day as flight crew have maxed out time and/or called in sick. Plus, with all the airlines cutting back on overall flight schedules it takes longer to find your sweet spot when booking a ticket. I just rerouted myself on a client-issued ticket into a longer flight with a stopover instead of a stress-inducing change-planes-quickly situation because I practice what I preach. Think twice before booking a connection with anything less than an hour even if you are an experienced traveler.  Flight delays, weather interruptions and gate changes are daily occurrences now, so no excuses if you back yourself into a corner on this issue.
  3. Plan ahead. And plan farther ahead. Everything takes more time now. I am constantly hearing meeting planners complain about not getting their required paperwork from (insert hotel contact) in a timely fashion and yet when I gently inquire to those planners if they have actually supplied the information to said hotel person in a timely fashion they respond, “I just found out about this meeting!” And so on.  The blame game continues ad infinitum, but this is the “new” reality, folks, staffing shortages are real! Do whatever it takes to deal with it, but do it nicely and with a smile, it’s always important to bring your own sunshine and patience.  Please don’t forget your patience!

Here is where I’m reminded of a quote I once read from a Buddhist Monk: “Cut yourself some slack.  Remember, 100 years from now all new people.”

I’ll wrap up with two quick tips.  I try to always carry some $5 gift cards with me to pass out as needed when it seems someone is ready to implode or, more often than not, to pass out randomly to service people that still smile even when the line in front of them seems endless. (And yes, places like Starbucks, Subway, McDonald’s, etc. all still do have $5 gift cards and even a little bit goes a long way in spreading that sunshine.)

And my final tip, much like the first one at the top of my list, is to extend grace to everyone you meet.

I hope you find these tips helpful and if so, please pay it forward!

Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP

Terry has a long history as a successful meeting planner, and was among the first to become Certified in 1987. Her TML Services Group client list includes a variety of corporate, association and incentive programs held all over the globe  Additionally, her alter ego is that of a writer focusing on industry trends and tips, and you’ll find her published in multiple trade magazines including this one. Watch for writing updates via her blog, Terry is also the author of the newly released book Meetings Mayhem! which is a fun look at the chaos behind the scenes with meetings and events, now available wherever books are sold.