62-93% of hostel staff leave within 6 months.  So, how can you make your best employees stay longer?
This foolproof guide reveals time-tested and proven methods to facilitate the management process and make your staff want to stay at your hostel.
It’s a two-part series. This article, plus its little brother “8 proven tips for hiring hostel staff”, will help you skip years of trial and error.
Without further ado, let’s just jump right into it!
9 Staff Management Tips For Your Hostel
#1 Be A Leader, Not A ‘Bosshole’
Your style of leadership greatly impacts not only your staff’s motivation but also how likely they are to stick around. A ‘bosshole’ is what I call an authoritative micromanager.
Yet, for many, the distinction between a bosshole and a true leader is a blurred one. Let’s fix that.
In a nutshell, these are three main differences between a leader and a ‘bosshole’:
1) Goal setting
- A ‘bosshole’ says what he or she wants and explains the way how to get there while micromanaging each and every step.
- As a leader, you give clear directions and set specific goals but leave plenty of space for self-initiative to achieve these goals unless you’re asked for advice. Then you act as their mentor by asking the right questions so that they are able to experience the needed aha-moments themselves.
2) Walking the talk
- A ‘bosshole’ says something but doesn’t actually practice what he preaches.
- As a leader, you hold yourself accountable to a high standard and set an example for all your staff.
The worst of the worst are micromanagers who haven’t been doing themselves what they expect from their employees. Here’s an easy yet effective advice to boost your reputation among your employees:
Ask yourself what the worst or hardest task of your employees is. Then do it with them. And yes, this might include getting your hands dirty.
Here’s a quick story I want to share with you: When I arrived in Australia as a backpacker, one of my very first jobs was working as a general laborer on construction sites.
On my first site, my job was to dig a massive pit by hand within one week. I was literally shoveling 8 hrs every single day at around 35°C (95°F) in summer. After my boss, the site manager, saw me working like a slave for a full day he did something I’ll never forget.
On day three I arrived at the site and saw him in “my pit” shoveling like a maniac. Confused about what I saw I asked him what he’s doing: “I thought I’m gonna join you today…”.
And guess what: He spent the entire day with me in the pit shoveling literally tons of dirt and clay. We didn’t take a single break and went above and beyond our physical limits that day. When we finished, he said to me the following: “You’re doing a good job. I know how hard this work is.”
Saying that ‘I was flabbergasted’ is an understatement. The respect he earned that day shaped every single day on his site.
3) Empower individuals
- A ‘bosshole’ criticizes every small mistake and creates an atmosphere in which employees are afraid of asking questions and making mistakes.
- As a leader, you encourage your staff to ask questions any time and if they make mistakes you take responsibility for having not trained them well enough.
Simply put, leaders enable people to work independently and confidently. They make people feel safe, take responsibility and see opportunities in mistakes.
They develop people to the point where an “open-door policy” is no longer needed since people have been enabled, empowered and trusted to make the right decisions for the group.
#2 Unleash The Power Of Todoist
If I had to limit myself to a maximum of 3 tools that I’m allowed to use in my life, Todoist would be among them.
As the name implies, Todoist is an application to manage all kinds of tasks. Yet, it’s way more than that. It allows you to set deadlines, reminders, and lets you prioritize your tasks by using different colors.
Here is a screenshot of what it looks like in action:
Okay, now to the real game-changer features – here’s what I love about it:
Todoist recognizes your written text and automatically transforms it into commands.
Example: Your staff member Robert shall empty the trash can at the front desk every Wednesday and Friday and it’s really important to you.
So you write: “Every Wednesday and Friday P2 #Robert Empty the trash can at the front desk”
- P2 stands for priority 2 on a scale of 1-4
- Using # enables you to assign the task in the different categories you’ve created (see left sidebar in the picture above)
Don’t worry. These two commands are all you need to know in order to use all their features. However, they are optional since you could also click a button instead of writing them.
Here’s how it looks like when Todoist recognized your commands:
And here’s how it looks like when you hit “Add Task”:
Gosh. I love this tool.
You can even add a specific time, add a reminder, or upload a description including a photo as a comment. Todoist knows no limits.
I pretty much use it to organize all aspects of my whole life:
- Finances: Every first of the month – track my net worth and enter data on my Google sheet
- Relationships: Every two weeks – Send my father a message or picture
- Health: Every day – Remember: Eat more slowly and chew at least 20 times
- Fitness: Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday – Hit the gym
- Personal development: Every day – Read for 30min
- Business: Every other day – Publish a new blog post
Forming new habits has never been easier.
Here’s what I suggest for your hostel:
- Create a “project” for ALL staff members in order to exchange ideas and daily activities (e.g. “General”)
- Create a “project” for each staff member in order to be able to delegate specific tasks (e.g. “Robert”)
The latter makes sure that Robert only sees the tasks you assigned to him.
The basic version of Todoist is completely FREE and includes all the options that I’ve mentioned except the comments underneath specific tasks. I personally use the premium version which is still suuuper affordable, but it’s not a must-have in my opinion.
That said, if you use this link, you’ll get 2x free premium months to check it out.
Todoist has been a serious lifesaver for me. If you’re interested in more awesome tools, you’ll love my resources page!
#3 Create An Ever-Evolving Staff Manual
In one of my surveys I asked hostel owners the following:
Here’s one of the answers:
I agree a 100%.
Yet many hostel owners find themselves in a catch-22: They’re too busy working IN the business (e.g. teach new staff the PMS) so that they don’t find the time to work ON it (e.g. creating a staff manual).
I’d say this is one of THE most important pieces of documents you’ll ever create for your hostel. As a hostel owner, you’ve committed to a 24/7/365 job – something few people can relate to.
Hence, building systems that reduce the overall workload are not only sanity-saving tips but an absolute must-have in order to be able to do the job long-term.
A staff manual enables new employees to teach the processes on their own and can nip a myriad of common issues in the bud. Here are a few tips that worked well for other hostel owners:
- Use Google Docs instead of pen and paper
By using a digital and cloud-based version, new employees are able to access it from anywhere and at any time. It allows you to embed not only pictures but also videos.
That said, Google Docs can get really slow as soon as the file size has reached a certain level. Hence, I highly recommend using the following two tools in order to keep the file size small.
- Use CamStudio’s free screen recording software
This tool allows you to record your activities on your screen while also recording what you’re saying through your microphone. This is by far the easiest and fastest way to explain certain aspects of your property management software or other administrative tasks.
In fact, I use this tool for pretty much every single task I outsource to freelancers. Instead of uploading the video into your document, I recommend you upload it on YouTube using their “unlisted” feature. That way no one is able to see your video except for you who has a link to it.
CamStudio is 100% free and takes less than 2min to get started.
- Use LightShot for screenshots
While there are many different options to capture a screenshot, I am an absolute fan of LightShot’s free software. It’s free, available for both Mac and Windows and takes less than 1min to install.
Once installed, you’re able to take screenshots by pressing a single key and can edit them immediately (e.g. adding red circle or arrow). You’re also just one click away from uploading it online so that you don’t have to embed all the pictures in your document but can link to it instead.
Just give it a shot. I bet you’ll never want to go back to the old way of doing screenshots. These three tools in combination are what I literally use each and every day.
- Add a FAQ section
As soon as you hear the same questions more than twice, I recommend you add them to your ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ – section.
That way, staff can use the search function (Ctrl + F) to get their answers within a few seconds without having to ask you.
- Update continually
As soon as there are any changes in your procedures, it’s time to update your manual. If your staff is confident in editing your file, you can also delegate it to them.
All in all, it will make the process of educating new staff a breeze, prevents mistakes and frees up plenty of mental space on your side.
#4 Use Work Exchange Staff / Volunteers Wisely
People who work in exchange for accommodation without getting paid money are often referred to as “volunteers”. Staff that receives a regular payment is usually referred to as “paid staff”.
Many aspiring hostel owners think volunteers are the holy grail of hostel staff since they don’t cost actual money… or do they?
Before using volunteers in your hostel, you should know about the pros and cons they entail.
Advantages Of Using Volunteers
- You don’t get billed: Using volunteers often ‘feels better’ because you’re offering other services in exchange for their work instead of getting your wallet out.
- Skilled people: Sometimes you’re lucky to get people that are carpenter, plumber, travel blogger or bring other valuable skills and experiences to the table. This can increase the actual value you receive dramatically!
- They contribute to the atmosphere: This is probably the main reason why most hostel owners love using volunteers – they’re often “people’s people” who love to engage with others and contribute to the community of your hostel.
Drawbacks Of Using Volunteers
- Burn out quickly: Since volunteers don’t get paid actual money, they tend to burn out way more quickly than paid staff. As soon as they feel “too comfortable” or “too much at home”, it can get tricky to keep them motivated. Hence, the turnover rate is typically extremely high (2-8 weeks)
- Common sources of headaches: While every staff member demands a certain degree of supervision, volunteers are typically the most time-consuming types of employees.
- They are unfamiliar with the area: I’ve never met a volunteer who was a local.
- Reduce revenue: In my opinion, the differentiation between ‘volunteers’ and ‘paid staff’ is bullshit. Even if they don’t appear on your payroll, they still increase your utilities and cause opportunity costs.
Example: If you’re unable to sell a bed in the high season when you’re fully booked, you literally miss out on a full rate each day.
That might not be as relevant in your low season. However, don’t believe the myth that they are ‘free’ workers just because they don’t receive a regular payment.
Now that we’ve established a basic understanding, let’s quickly summarize it before we get to the nuts and bolts of using them wisely:
- You don’t get billed
- Skilled people possible
- Contribute to the atmosphere
- Burn out quickly
- Common sources of headaches
- Typically don’t know the area well
- Reduce revenue too
Here is a list of proven tips that did wonders for other hostel owners:
- Keep them for max. 6 weeks
It typically starts at week 3-4 that volunteers start feeling “too comfortable” and their motivation drops. Common signs are that you have to supervise them closer in order to make sure they do their jobs and or that they stop interacting with guests.
However, note that it’s often not a case of not wanting to interact with others, but rather an exhaustion of doing so. After having the same conversation (“How are you? Where are you from?”) fifty times it just gets too boring and repetitive.
To prolong this point, I suggest you encourage them to talk more about their passions and interests. If someone loves playing ukulele, why not ask “hey, who plays the ukulele?”.
- Accommodate them in separate rooms
If you’re operating a hostel that is big enough for a separate volunteer room or area, that’s probably the best choice.
Otherwise, it can get really messy. I’ve seen the quarters of volunteers in several hostels and they looked like…like… I’m running out of words, but “messy” is an understatement – I can tell you that.
- Offer additional extras
Besides free accommodation, you can further motivate your volunteers by offering exclusive extras such as free laundry, cheaper drinks, discounts on tours, etc.
That can be an effective booster after the first symptoms of “burnout” appear (~typically after 3-4 weeks).
- Give them the right tasks
In general, I recommend using ‘paid staff’ for administrative jobs such as working at the front desk and volunteers rather for all other things (e.g. social activities, housekeeping, maintenance,…).
- Choose different cultures
While most hostels use volunteers to enhance the atmosphere, it can backfire if too many of your workers come from the same country or speak the same foreign language.
This results in volunteers staying in their own group rather than interacting with the guests.
- Treat them well
Just because you’re paying them no actual money, it doesn’t entitle you to be disrespectful and rude.
To me, this sounds like a no-brainer. Yet I experienced it in many hostels that managers are super nice to their paid staff and super impatient when it comes to their volunteers.
- Promote having a social life
No matter how many hours you want them to work in exchange for an accommodation, I recommend no more than 5 working days each week.
2 days off will make sure they can recharge, take trips, and build real friendships.
- Do the math
Not every hostel will benefit financially from using volunteers. If you’re located in a country with a high statutory minimum wage such as Australia you’re more likely to profit from it than if you’re located in India:
- Statutory minimum wage in Australia = 19.49 AUD (=13.47 USD)
- Statutory minimum wage in India = 176 Rupees (=2.5 USD)
Last but not least, I’d like to share a story with you from Vikki Matsis, manager of the NotSo Hostel in Charleston, USA, and author of “Inside an American Hostel” (recommended read).
In her book, she says “switching from 100% volunteers to 100% paid employees […] was the best thing I have done for the success of the hostel.”
If I had to summarize her experience with people who work in exchange for accommodation in a few sentences, it’d look like this:
It typically starts out wonderful. The volunteer is excited about not having to pay rent and she was excited about not having to pay him or her. However, after a few weeks, they got more and more sloppy and she had to constantly control their work in order to make sure that it was really done.
It reached a point where she dismissed everyone and started all over again.
After switching to only paid employees, she experienced more consistency, a higher work ethic, thriving relationships with staff members and overall fewer headaches.
She assumes that part of this difference in work ethic comes from the change in environment: Since her paid staff leaves after each shift to go home, they tend to be more focused and committed once they arrive at their workplace.
Last but not least: After doing the math, she found out that paid staff was also the cheaper option for her hostel. Occasionally, she still uses volunteers for single days or sporadic jobs like painting a mural.
#5 Reward Your Staff Properly
Notice that the header doesn’t state “pay your staff properly”. That’s because the “real” reward of working for someone else is much more than the money itself.
While there are hundreds of factors contributing to this, here are the three most important aspects that play a crucial role when it comes to the overall reward:
Obviously, money matters. In fact, 45% of employees state that their salary was their top reason for quitting their last job. [Source]
Hence, you want to make sure you pay a “fair price”: If someone is doing an extraordinary job for me, I’m the first to give him or her a raise. In the end, it’s cheaper to keep great staff than constantly hiring new people.
Besides a fixed payment, I also suggest to add a variable component based on their performance.
For some reason, this is a common tool to make managers care more about the hostel, yet it’s seldom used for the remaining staff.
There are no boundaries when it comes to the actual realization:
- A hostel in Cairns, Australia, pays $5 for every review that contains the name of a staff member to promote more interactions with guests
- A hostel in Surfers Paradise, Australia, pays their staff $1 for every 5-star review they receive in order to keep delivering excellent service on a consistent basis
- Managers typically get a fixed monthly income plus a percentage of the yearly profit (e.g. 25%)
- Vikki Matsis sets monthly goals and if they achieve them, everyone gets a bonus of $75
The bottom line: be creative!
So, if money is the primary reason why people leave their jobs, what is the secondary reason for their termination?
2) Additional Benefits
Yep, additional benefits rank directly after the actual salary. [Source]
Several studies have shown that humans tend to react irrationally when it comes to bonuses. One of the most popular examples is the following:
- 40% of people bought a cupcake and 2 cookies for 75 cents but
- 73% of people bought a cupcake with 2 cookies added claiming they were “for free” for the same price.
That’s a staggering increase of 82% though the reward and the prices are exactly the same! If you like these kinds of studies (like I do), you’ll love the book “59 Seconds” from Richard Wiseman.
I could share heaps of other studies but they all boil down to this: Small hinges swing big doors!
Studies have shown that employee performances improved by 15% when a reward was offered. It they were rewarded again, it even reached 27%. [Source]
Here is a list of ideas:
- Take them out for lunch once a week
- Surprise them with a coupon for a Starbucks latte
- Create a front parking slot with their name
- Let them enjoy the free breakfast that you offer for your guests as well
- Name your front desk after their names “Anna’s reception”
- Surprise them with a ticket for skydiving, bungee jumping, movies, etc.
- Give them a new, improved job title → “Chief front desk manager”
Especially the last one might sound silly, but it makes a huge difference when they are asked by others about their job! A title implies something that people can be proud of.
Employees who feel valued tend to stick around. Wages may motivate your staff to show up to work but sincere appreciation will make them excel.
As a former employee and current employer, I experienced both sides. The main difference I noticed is that as an employee you need constant positive feedback and praise in order to fully enjoy your job. As an employer, we often think that we praised them enough already.
I further experienced that the frequency of my appreciation slowed down the longer I was working with someone. Since I know how employees feel, I’ve set a weekly reminder on Todoist to sincerely recognize all of my employees and telling them how much I like to work with them.
And I’m telling you this as a student (not a master) on the matter since I think there’s still plenty of room for improvement. That said, I believe my level of consistent recognition is the primary reason why I’ve never had a single employee who didn’t enjoy working with me.
Here’s one review I recently received from a freelancer on freelancer.com (my favorite website for outsourcing jobs).
This one in particular even told me that others pay him more money for the same kind of job, yet he doesn’t like to work with them as much as he did enjoy working with me. That really hit me!
Here are other common ways to make your staff feel appreciated:
- Leave a handwritten thank-you note
- Organize a birthday present as well as an anniversary present
- Praise individuals in front of the whole team
- Create a “worker of the month” wall or feature them on your website
It’s all about showing them that they are valuable – because they are.
#6 Host Weekly Staff Meetings
There are different opinions between hostel owners when it comes to staff meetings. In my experience, most organize a weekly or biweekly staff meeting, few have a monthly meeting and others have none at all.
That said, the research on the topic is clear: engaged employees are between 10-40% more productive. [Source] Hence, I definitely recommend weekly staff meetings for maximum engagement.
Besides getting everyone up-to-date, I suggest designing the meetings to a social gathering that your staff looks forward to. After all, you’re running a hostel – make it fun!
Vikki Matsis, manager of the NotSo Hostel in Charlson, has breakfast with her staff every Monday morning. They talk about guests (the good and bad ones), discuss what needs to be fixed and get to know each other better.
Especially if you’re managing a small hostel, working shifts can become a lonely job. A weekly meeting can mitigate some of the isolation and can improve the general atmosphere.
In my opinion, staff meetings are also a great method to receive valuable feedback. Here are my two favorite questions:
- How satisfied are you with your job on a scale of 1-10?
- And what needs to happen to get to 11?
To get more insights into how to improve your management skills, I suggest implementing half-yearly surveys using Google Forms.
After all, being an excellent leader is the foundation of having excellent staff. Hence, actively ask for feedback on how you can support them better.
#7 Give Your Employees Responsibility
One common challenge hostel owners face is a high turn-over rate when it comes to their staff. Especially great employees tend to leave earlier than your subpar staff.
So how can YOU make them stick around?
Well, here’s another answer to my survey:
Yet the exact same principle holds true for all of your staff: Make them invested in your hostel by giving them more responsibilities. As a rule of thumb:
The more responsibility your employees get, the less likely they are to leave.
(and vice versa)
You know you nailed it when you hear an employee say something along the lines of “I’m responsible for X, Y, and Z,… You know, I can’t just leave…”
Even small things like being the only one who’s responsible for counting stocks can contribute to a sense of meaning.
One hostel owner I met in Cairns, Australia, sets a fixed weekly budget for the staff to organize different social activities. This can be as simple as a ping pong championship or cooking dinner for the entire hostel. It is also their choice to make a profit by offering these services for a small price.
The result: Not only do guests love the mixture of different activities, it’s also always a new project for staff that makes them feel involved and responsible → win/win.
#8 Communicate Properly
Richard Branson, one of history’s greatest entrepreneurs, once said the following:
“Train people well enough so they can leave,
but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Communication is a two-way process. Yet, most people tend to focus on the back-end (talking) and neglect the front-end (listening).
Hence, let’s start with the latter: listening.
Active listening starts with having an “open” posture and being 100% present for the person who speaks. Hence, if you’re sitting in front of the computer, put your mouse aside and turn towards the respective person. Really try to face them squarely to subconsciously signal “hey, I pay complete attention to you”.
Then listen until they’re finished. Do not interrupt. Especially when it’s an uncomfortable issue, you might want to start paraphrasing the other person instead of shooting a direct response: “What I think I hear you saying is… Is that right?”
I can’t stress the effectiveness of paraphrasing. This is something I read over and over again in several books I read of one of my favorite authors: Stephen Covey.
- Steven Covey
His book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” literally changed my life (highly recommended).
When it comes to talking, I feel like most rules are well-known but rarely acted upon. Again, this chapter alone could be turned into several textbooks. Hence, I’ll limit myself to the fundamentals
- Avoid generalizations: never, always, every time,…
Just because someone didn’t do something twice doesn’t mean he never did it. By using generalizations you’re exaggerating their actions with a small lie to the point that it hurts other people’s feelings.
- Use their name
Using other people’s names is a sign of respect and appreciation. There is no other word than we like more than our first name. If I learned anything from making cold calls for weeks, it’s that: people LOVE hearing their name.
- Don’t complain about another person behind their back and in front of your staff
By doing that, your other staff will think you do the same with them. If you need someone to talk to, keep that for people who are not actively involved in your business (e.g. your loved one).
- Be at eye level with the speaker
If someone is sitting, try to sit down too instead of speaking down on him or her.
- Never criticize, condemn, or complain
If something bothers you, tell them that the action they took made you feel so. Never ever blame them for the person they are (e.g. you are…)! Moreover, if you think there’s a better way of doing something, suggest your solution instead of telling that something is “right” or “wrong”.
If I had to recommend only one book of the entire bookshelf I read about this particular topic, I’d say that “How To Win Friends And Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is my all-time favorite.
The sheer fact that the first edition of this book was published in 1936 and is still a best-seller on Amazon TODAY proves that the content you get is absolutely timeless and a true gem. Just take a look at the reviews… boom!
If you wish to learn more about communication, let me know in the comment section below. I’m more than happy to create a separate in-depth article about it.
Last but not least, I want to share with you a list of things that I think are important enough to be mentioned, yet not fundamental enough to be dedicating an extra chapter to them.
- Terminate bad employees earlier
If someone is not a good fit, make it a short one. Some innkeepers are notorious for keeping less than satisfying employees past their “expiry date”.
Even if you’re a people-person and you hate giving up on someone, be aware that you’re actually doing them a favor in the long run by terminating them quickly.
- Pair new staff with seasoned employees
When teaching new staff how everything works, I recommend you spend the first few hours or days with them personally and then reach out to your seasoned employees to go into more detail with them.
That way your newbie is able to get different perspectives on the same topics.
- Set fixed training goals
Especially when being in the process of teaching new front desk staff, I suggest writing a list of questions for each area of the hostel that they should be able to answer after the teaching section.
When you notice that some answers are not exactly what you wanted to hear, you get instant feedback on what you have to work on.
- Create a “wall of fame”
Hostels are all about being social. I once saw a “wall of fame” in a hostel in Townsville, Australia, where they added a photo including the first name of each staff member that has ever worked in the hostel.
Over the years, it became a gigantic picture that not only looks awesome but also greatly contributes to the general homey atmosphere.
- Have an idea box for improvements
The hostel industry is changing at a fast pace – and so should your hostel. Especially your staff who spends a lot of time working in your hostel will probably come up with many ideas on how to improve certain aspects.
By providing an idea box, you can profit from their creative minds and enhance their proactivity. Moreover, you could connect an idea box with rewards to further motivate them.
Note that this doesn’t have to be a physical box. A simple project category in Todoist will do the trick.
- Keep your staff’s work-life balance in mind
You can’t expect someone to function like a robot for a long time. Always make sure they get enough rest and time for themselves to recover from work.
If possible, try to create your roster as family-friendly as possible while also including flexibility for trips.
- Knock out boredom
Nothing saps motivation and productivity more than boredom. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, I vividly remember how much I hated working days when there was quite frankly “nothing to do”. It’s simple: human beings need a sense of purpose.
Hence, whenever possible, try to ensure that the most repetitive tasks don’t always fall to the same people.
- Tell your staff when you hear them being complimented
“Hey, I just talked to our guest Anna and she couldn’t stop praising how friendly you were.” – this quick sentence will be remembered for months to come.
- Apologize when necessary
Shit happens and when it sums up, we often tend to unleash our anger to the next available people: our staff. If you messed up, that’s okay, but stand your ground and sincerely apologize if you slipped.
If you’re not able to talk to them in a respectful and polite manner, let some time pass.
- Don’t hog glory
Someone praises your hostel in front of your staff? – Answer that it wouldn’t be what it is without such amazing staff!
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
What’s YOUR #1 advice for managing & retaining staff?
Share your opinion in the comment section below!