“Your patience is appreciated. We are very short staffed today.”
That’s the new signage for restaurants everywhere. For the hospitality industry, staffing is the latest obstacle in the long, tumultuous course the pandemic is paving.
Yet this industry is resilient.
Preceded by mandated closures, distance requirements, and pivots to curbside and outdoor dining, the lack of workers now hampers the efforts of the hospitality industry to fully reopen. According to the National Restaurant Association, three in four restaurant owners cite recruitment and retention as the toughest challenge facing them going into the fall and winter months.
In workers’ compensation, the ebb and flow of employees impact more than coverage and premiums. Training, injury prevention, claim management, and return-to-work strategies all need to stay in place even when a business is dealing with circumstances outside its control.
This is when niche market expertise really matters.
Hospitality is one of several niche markets at A.I.M. Mutual, and within that market, different businesses have different needs.
Consider that golf courses were able to reopen sooner than most hospitality-based industries. At A.I.M. Mutual, eligible classes include golf and country clubs as well as restaurants, brew pubs, and wineries with food service. Rounding out this sector are hotels, motels, resorts, and inns.
For most restaurants, it has been a roller coaster ride. Many longtime establishments closed their doors permanently. To help others persevere, A.I.M. Mutual was ready with competitive pricing and payment plans, especially beneficial for smaller businesses. The move wasn’t lost on brokers.
“The hospitality industry was especially hard hit, and we had no ability to predict how the carrier market would respond when revenues and payroll declined overnight,” recalls J.J. Filiault, President and Managing Director of Berkshire Fairfield Insurance Agency. “As much as the market had been strong, cash flow was still tight, which only made it more challenging. Fortunately, A.I.M. Mutual has been patient with many of our impacted businesses, working with us and with them. They take the longer view, which is invaluable.”
A.I.M. Mutual has experience, having been a player in the hospitality market almost from day one, writing and servicing nearly 1,000 hospitality industry policyholders throughout New England. The company launched a unique hospitality group in Vermont earlier this year with Hickok & Boardman, a partner broker located in Burlington, Vermont. The companies market the program jointly, providing additional policyholder services not typically seen on small business accounts. Competitive premiums, injury prevention services, and generous payment plan options are extended to members of the Vermont Hospitality Group.
Within the hospitality sector, owners and operators had little time to focus on safety committees and walk-through inspections. The Injury Prevention & Worksite Wellness team recognized early on that the industry would need help.
The team knew that shifting priorities could create pitfalls elsewhere. Risks include workers coming back after a long hiatus, new workers getting on-the-fly training, and people taking on additional jobs and responsibilities. Combined, these risks can form the perfect storm for workplace accidents if not properly managed.
The industry employed 12.4 million employees going into the summer months, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a drop of 12% from 2019—nearly 1.6 million fewer workers.
A.I.M. Mutual specialists are tracking these trends closely. In Connecticut, the American Hotel & Lodging Association projects jobs will still be down from 2019 levels by 5,900 through year-end, according to the Connecticut Mirror. The tally is higher in Massachusetts, where hospitality jobs are down by 34.1%, followed closely by Vermont at 27.6%, compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Amy Landers, Executive Director of the Lakes Region Tourism Association in New Hampshire, cites labor and housing shortages as the biggest concern for the state’s hospitality industry, which reports a strong summer season and high demand going into the fall and holidays.
“Many of the businesses that are normally open seven days a week had to close a few days to accommodate staffing levels,” she said. “Others weren’t open 100%. We are working with many regional and statewide organizations to address workforce issues for 2022.” On the plus side, she adds that guests have embraced changes made last year, such as online ticket sales and check-ins, which helps keep services in place.
Injury Prevention Strategies
At A.I.M. Mutual, Injury Prevention & Worksite Wellness consultants develop a wide range of online and industry-specific safety resources, such as food safety guides, proper lifting techniques, and ways to avoid burns and lacerations. Most small hospitality businesses don’t have dedicated safety professionals on staff so these resources are especially valuable.
Virtual and phone consultations never stopped and are now supplemented by in-person visits. The IPWW team alerts hospitality accounts to the most frequent types of accidents, namely slip-and-falls, lifting, and material handling. Consultants also help with putting workplace violence education in place, an increasingly common request. They custom design services in the best way possible for each business.
The benefit of a hospitality group, like the one in Vermont, is that services can be further targeted with training and webinars. Working with Green Mountain Safety Consulting, a Vermont loss control group affiliated with Hickok & Boardman, the team delivers sessions on key topics like new employee orientation best practices, ergonomics, and Workers’ Comp 101 to engage and support members of the group.
A.I.M. Mutual underwriters actively assist brokers and their hospitality clients as renewals come up in addition to reviewing new business submissions for the sector.
With an appetite for the hospitality class of business, A.I.M. Mutual is looking to explore opportunities in other New England states. If you are a broker with a relationship with a hospitality association in your state, contact us at new broker form or call any member of our underwriting team.
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PATRICIA COUTU, CIH, CSP is a Supervisor for Injury Prevention & Worksite Wellness and has been with the A.I.M. Mutual consulting team since 2014. She is a Certiﬁed Industrial Hygienist and Certiﬁed Safety Professional. She earned a Master of Science degree in Industrial Hygiene from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and maintains a Journeyman Electrical License through the state of New Hampshire. Patricia also serves on the Board of Directors of the Northern New England National Safety Council, which takes an active role in safety initiatives in Maine and New Hampshire.
MARK BROUGH is a Senior Underwriter for A.I.M. Mutual, specializing in workers’ compensation for New England region accounts. He has been in the insurance industry for more than 30 years—primarily in commercial lines—working on both the agency and carrier sides of the house. He has an extensive background in managing and underwriting commercial lines accounts and is also an experienced account executive/producer.