Innovative Ways Tribes are Tackling Staffing Problems

Recruitment and Retention Tools

The recruitment and retention of staff continues to impact Tribes across the country, cutting into their operations and adding costs because of the high turnover. Tribes are tackling the problem head on by launching successful new programs for both recruitment and retention by guaranteeing salary, providing education incentives, flex schedules, career planning and more.

“We have to understand our issue before we can begin to solve it,” said Rachele Lyon, a Raving Partner in Human Resources. “One way to do that is with surveys and looking at your turnover rate.”

Lyon said a recent survey in the Pacific Northwest of 17 Tribes showed the average turnover rate in gaming and hospitality was 52%.

Tackling the Turnover Rate

Raving survey data shows that 31% of employees leave their jobs within the first six months with some 80% of the turnover being due to bad hiring decisions. Other reasons included a lack of career growth opportunities, lack of recognition, low morale, low wages, poor leadership, and poor communication. Some 75% of millennials want the ability to work flexibly.

Prior to COVID-19, Janet Borland, an Administrative Manager at the National Native American Human Resource Association (NNAHRA) and former Assistant Director of Talent Acquisition at Pechanga Resort Casino in Southern California, said they received 100 to 200 applications a day. When COVID-19 hit and shuttered casinos until reopening, people didn’t want to come back, but wanted to be with their families, especially if they had children. Managers are now showing more compassion and empathy to help with retention, she said.

“You have to be really creative with turnover,” Borland said. “It’s not just a percentage. You have to dig deep in the analysis.”

Borland said she broke down turnover by gender, age, demographic, where staff are living and who is their supervisor.

“You don’t want to look at a number, but the reason why they are leaving and whether there’s something going on with that supervisor,” Borland said. “Are there more people leaving that shift than other shifts? It’s a good opportunity to fix the problem. You cannot look at the data and not do something about it. We did and became really successful in having those communications with their supervisors.”

Why Calculate Your Turnover Rate?

Calculating turnover is important because it provides insight into the property’s leadership, procedures, and overall culture. It identifies team member needs or dissatisfaction in order to make meaningful changes to improve retention, Lyon said. She also said it provides a better understanding of the time and money spent on looking for, interviewing, and hiring new employees and pinpoint where a property may be lacking in terms of employee satisfaction and engagement.

Borland said recruiting isn’t just hiring people, but is analytical because you’re spending money on interviews, drug tests, and gaming commissions. It’s important to take the time to hire the right person rather than a body, she said.

“We have to get innovative and do things differently,” Lyon said. “We can’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We need to think like a job seeker. Where are we going to find the labor force to fill all of these positions that we have? We need to tell our story and employees’ story, and we need to share what we’re doing, what’s unique and what it feels like and looks like to work at our property.”

The Importance of Training and Job Descriptions

Chairman of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, Andrew Alejandre, said, when you have new employees, they don’t understand what it’s like to work in the casino industry. It looks like a fun place and environment, which it is, but it’s also hard work, especially in a 24-hour operation.

“It’s important to help them understand the workforce and help them get the training they need to be comfortable in their position as they continue to work through it,” Chairman Alejandre said.

In many cases, employees said their job descriptions weren’t clear and failed to explain what it was like to do the work, Lyon said.

Chairman Alejandre advised that they’ve increased marketing to seek job applicants by using billboards. They have also gotten applicants who saw the Tribe’s interviews posted on LinkedIn as part of sharing the “great things the Tribe is doing,” he said.

The Tribe does a lot of charity events, including food giveaways, and that’s powerful to show how the community is working together to solve issues. Prospective employees want to be part of that change and make a difference in the world, Chairman Alejandre continued.

“People want to be part of something that’s innovative and something that has a purpose,” Chairman Alejandre said. “We need to share that with possible employees, and that goes a long way. They want to be part of that progress that’s making a difference in your community.”

Lyon added that millennials want that purpose and to feel connected to the work, so it helps to showcase what the Tribe does outside of gaming.

“If we can make those connections about our workforce to the community as well, we might attract talent that might not otherwise consider us as an employer,” Lyon said.

Techniques That are Working

Borland said instead of having only written job descriptions it helps to have digitized a day-in-a-life work experience of employees. For example, a cocktail server will talk about their job and show her talking to customers. It can be done with other positions as well.

Borland continued saying they’ve developed a shadowing program in which a recruiter who works in hotel operations, for example, uses a guest room attendant to recruit for that position.

“What better way to recruit that position than when you are interviewing candidates and saying I’ve done the job and know how hard it is,” Borland said. “We have done that along all the positions in the organizations.”

When conducting job fairs and hiring in food and beverage, why not have the culinary staff cook and invite servers and cooks who can meet applicants and get real-life information. The applicants can even ask questions of employees, Borland said.

Some of the other suggestions include partnering with local organizations, high schools, college job fairs, and other grassroot initiatives that have budding talent. Properties can enhance employee benefits beyond what they offer in wages.

“We have done comp studies and show whoever is coming in where the base is and guarantee that to the median of the comp instead of the lower base line,” Chairman Alejandre contributed. “That is what a lot of people have to work towards when they are starting with an organization, and this allows us to retain and onboard new employees.”

Maximizing Retention

As for retention, Lyon said a big part of why employees leave is they don’t feel recognized and appreciated and that communication and appreciation counter that.

To address that, Chairman Alejandre commented that they will host a dinner a couple of times a month to discuss what’s going on in their department and what issues they’re facing. Everyone gets to share their ideas, and they appreciate that, he said.

It’s important to make employees feel comfortable, valued, and welcome from the start. Property swag or critical supplies on the person’s first day can help the person settle into their job, Borland said. It helps to have mentors and ambassadors for new employees and that training matters.

New employees also get tours of all aspects of the Tribe and its enterprises to show they are working for a family-owned business and not a corporation, Borland said.

“What is cool is when you take a picture of them welcoming them to the family,” Borland said. “They share everything on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. That’s how you get people through social media.”