Keeping the Fire Alight: Understanding and Preventing Burnout

By Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | August 01, 2013

Ever have one of those days where you just want to run screaming from the building and never return? Perhaps you thought you truly loved your career, but lately you just don’t know if you can face another day, another employee, another guest? Or maybe you just don’t care anymore, and are completely disconnected from a job that once gave you such fulfillment? Don’t worry, you are not losing your mind (well, maybe not yet), and you are not alone. These feelings are most likely due to a form of work-related stress, called ‘burnout’, and the phenomenon has been dubbed one of the most significant occupational hazards of the twenty-first century.

Burnout is a type of job stress typically characterized by a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion combined with feelings of depersonalization, delusion, and/or disconnect at work. This type of excessive stress has been connected to a variety of health problems, and behavioral stress reactions can range from depression to violence. While the specific causes of stress for an individual will vary based on a number of factors (i.e. personality, tolerance, etc.), the majority of individuals can only handle excessive stress for a short period of time before experiencing burnout... or worse.

Because stress can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways, the value of stress management at work can be seen at individual, organizational, and societal levels. At the organizational level, excessive stress resulting in burnout may present itself as cynical attitudes in the workplace, apathy and lethargy towards work, irritability with co-workers and guests, and a general lack of satisfaction with accomplishments on the job. Other undesirable workplace outcomes may include decreased performance, job dissatisfaction, decreased organizational commitment, increase absenteeism, and increased turnover. Consider the cost of lost productivity, add in the expense of recruiting, replacing, and training staff, the throw in the cost of guest satisfaction due to burnout spill over into guest service, and you’ve got quite a problem. In short, burnout is bad for business, and small investments in addressing this problem can have big returns.

Once you have an understanding of what burnout is, the next step towards generating a solution for your organization is to identify causes of burnout. When asked what causes them to ‘burnout’ at work, here are some of the responses hospitality workers provided:

  • Overwhelming workloads; having too many tasks and too little time to perform these tasks, as well as no help getting the work done.
  • Feeling like I have no control over my work life.
  • Constantly dealing with guest complaints and unreasonable expectations.
  • Workplace politics or dysfunctional workplace dynamics.
  • Not enough time between shifts to recover and get ready to do it all over again.
  • Micromanagement from my supervisor.
  • Constantly performing the same monotonous tasks over and over every day.

    And, the most commonly reported response:

  • Poor work-life balance

Reading over this list of causes, one’s first reaction might be, “It’s the hospitality industry! That’s just the nature of the business!” Historically, perhaps you’re right… American society has continued along a steady trend of less people doing more work, especially given the recent economic devastation. In hospitality, specifically, burnout rates are among the highest, with a reported employee burnout rate of one in seven (incidentally, the same rate at which education professionals are burning out).

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.