Should Hospitality Organizations be Forgiving?
Impact of forgiveness climate on employee turnover, commitment, satisfaction, learning and performance
By Priyanko Guchait, PhD Associate Professor Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston | October 20, 2019
"To err is human, to forgive is divine," the famous quote by Alexander Pope, an English poet known for his satirical style, is, in fact, ironic when relating to the hospitality industry. Individuals often do not forget the errors that occur as part of their overall guest experience. Hospitality organizations are faced with the possibility of errors (e.g., service failures) every day and are very familiar with the negative consequences these errors can produce, such as stress, accidents, loss of time, faulty products, quality and performance problems, negative word-of-mouth, customer dissatisfaction, increased costs, and loss of revenue.
Therefore, hospitality organizations often take a proactive approach to prevent errors through the use of sophisticated technologies, rigid systems, and strict policies focused on controlling employee behavior.
However, human errors cannot be totally eliminated or prevented. Although it is difficult to predict what (when) specific error will occur, errors will occasionally occur. In hospitality organizations, however, errors often occur because of the very nature of the work (high workload, time pressure, and fatigue). Errors may also occur through no fault of an individual, but the individual may still be responsible for resolving the error.
Errors can occur anywhere in a hospitality organization: external errors involving customers-front of house (e.g., servers placing wrong orders) and back of house (e.g., cooks overcooking meat)-and internal errors involving employees, managers, and department (e.g., errors in accounts, finance, and human resources). Therefore, it is important that hospitality organizations focus not only on error prevention but also on error management (i.e., ask what needs to be done after an error has occurred).
Error management is a strategy that focuses on minimizing the negative consequences of errors by early detection and quick error correction and on preventing similar errors in the future by analyzing the causes of and learning from errors. Open communication about errors is the most important error management practice, which allows for the development of shared understanding about errors, potential error situations, and effective error-handling (e.g., service recovery) strategies. This methodology also results in quick error detection and makes it possible to receive help from others in these situations.
All these factors result in quick, smooth, and well-coordinated error handling. However, open communication about errors is only possible in psychologically safe work environments. In such work environments, employees feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks (e.g., admitting a service error, seeking help after committing an error, sharing information about service errors) because they are confident that they will not be punished, blamed, ridiculed, embarrassed, and looked down on. Therefore, a forgiving work climate seems to be critical for the hospitality sector.