More tough times ahead for hospo operators as more than half of employees are considering leaving

by | Mar 1, 2023 | News

New Zealand now has better data on working conditions in tourism and hospitality, for those on the frontline as well as for managers, following a survey of more than 900 people working in the industry.

The He Tangata survey, conducted by AUT, was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and helps to inform the work of the Tourism Industry Transformation Plan Better Work Action Plan, launched by the Minister of Tourism today in Queenstown.

The Better Work Action Plan is a partnership between government, unions, industry and Māori and seeks to address tourism workforce challenges, including those highlighted by this research.

The survey found that 59 per cent of staff were either planning to leave their jobs within a year or were unsure if they would stay. Of those planning to leave, about a third wanted out of the industry altogether.

“It is particularly worrying that senior staff want out at a similarly high rate to frontline staff,” says David Williamson, report co-author and a Senior Lecturer at AUT.

“The main reason people gave for wanting to leave the sector was that the workplace had bad conditions, stress or was a toxic environment. This was followed by bad pay and conditions and then by wanting a better work-life balance.”

Dr Williamson says that although there was a lot of concern about the base pay rate amongst employees, people also felt that training or promotion was not recognised properly. Sometimes it was just $1 an hour extra for greatly increased responsibility, he says.

He Tangata is one of the largest surveys of employees in the sector to date. Participants in the survey were invited via a link circulated in the tourism and hospitality sector. It ran in mid-2022 with 902 employees sharing their experiences, generating 25,000 comments for analysis.

The report raises many concerning employment relationship and work issues, including problematic pay and working conditions, disturbing reported rates of bullying and harassment and significant levels of non-compliance with basic employment law. Its findings include:

  • 9% did not sign employment agreements before starting work.
  • 29% did not get paid correct holiday pay.
  • 42% did not always get rest breaks.
  • 45% are either unsure or not planning to have a career in the sector.
  • 27% thought they would leave their current job within the next 12 months, and a further 32% were unsure.
  • Of those that said they would leave their current job, 34% were going to leave the sector and a further 47% were unsure if they’d stay in it.
  • 23% had experienced bullying and harassment and 34% had witnessed it.
  • When bullying and harassment was reported, 50% were unsure or were not told if any action was subsequently taken.
  • Bullying and harassment was only reported half of the time.
  • 53% didn’t know what the health and safety risks were in their workplace.
  • 35% did not say that health and safety risks were well managed in their workplace.
  • 13% had no training at all, and a further 38% have received only on the job training.
  • Only 4% belonged to a union, however 43% indicated they’d be interested to join one.

He Tangata also found that workers often got into hospitality and tourism in the first place because they wanted to work with people – but that this wasn’t the only reason.

“We often talk about the casual nature of work as a negative, but for a significant number of employees this freedom and flexibility is a positive.

“It is also worth pointing out that our research found that 52% of workers have had careers of six years or more in the industry, which looks poised to begin its return to be a major contributor to the New Zealand economy.”

The research was headed by Dr David Williamson from AUT’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, with Professor Erling Rasmussen from AUT’s New Zealand Work Research Institute.

It provides an overview of employment relations and working conditions in the tourism and hospitality sector at a crucial time as it re-emerges from Covid disruption.

Previous research by AUT, Voices From The Front Line, highlighted similar employment problems but looked only at frontline workers in the hospitality industry. He Tangata expands this to tourism as well as to managers, and looks at the issues in more depth.

In the latest Times Higher Education university rankings, AUT ranked first in New Zealand for its global research impact.

He Tangata can also be downloaded with this shortened link:

Have a look here for The Feed’s take on the hospitality industry’s woes.


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