Stress Levels for Hotel Managers at All-Time High

By Robert Woods, Ph.D., CHRE, ISHC Professor, William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, UNLV | August 01, 2013

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and a diminished interest in work. In other words, burnout is emotional exhaustion, according to Cristina Maslach, who first coined the term in the 1970's. But while it seems to be a personal issue, Sarah J. Tracy, who studied burnout among cruise ship employees, pointed out that "Burnout is largely an organizational problem caused by long hours, little down time, and continual peer, customer, and superior surveillance."

Burnout is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. While some say "people just don't want to work today," the answer is more complicated and not necessarily because of the people involved. More likely, it is the result of changes in the workplace and in society. One of the major problems, according to Maslach, is that managerial confidence is eroding (and along with it enthusiasm). Managers are constantly watched by their boss, customers and employees. In such an environment managers are less likely to enjoy success and less likely to feel the thrill of achievement.

An article by Brent Patten, "The 21st Century Survival Guide for Hotel Management," noted that hotel managers are in a difficult position. Their businesses are in a constant state of evolvement, often have outdated strategies, too few resources and are in severe competition with others. Smaller margins, stiffer competition, an overbuilt industry, and getting everyone on the same page are difficult to negotiate. On top of this, customers have more experience with hotels today and expect more. This constantly raises the bar for hotel managers. The result: more stress and more burnout.

Academic studies of stress among hotel managers have been replicated for more than 20 years now. Unfortunately, each assessment has shown higher levels of stress. A study conducted in 2008 showed that the level of stress hotel managers feel nearly doubled between 1998 and 2008. Managing Hospitality Human Resources, Fifth Edition, by Robert H. Woods, Misty Johanson, and Michael P. Sciarini, published by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (EI), features a chart comparing sources of hotel managers' stress during those years.

A study by O'Neill and Xiao showed that the level of emotional exhaustion (burnout) felt by hotel managers in the U.S. is a function of organizational and occupational characteristics, job demands, quality orientation, pressure to produce and even perhaps, personality types of the managers. O'Neill and Davis went on to explain that the most common stressors for managers include interpersonal tensions and overloads (e.g. technology not working right) and the personal physical health of the managers. Even the leadership style of managers makes a difference. Zopiatis and Constanti, in a 2010 study, noted that transformational leaders have a significantly more positive association with personal accomplishment - and less emotional exhaustion than those with more aggressive approaches to management. Kim, Shin and Umbreit found something similar in their 2007 study and reported that job demands, job control (making decisions) and work-life balance are likely predictors of burnout. Gursoy, Maier and Chi also found that high demands and low control can lead to burnout.

But how does one control their job demands, job control and work-life balance? Pienaar and Willemse, who studied burnout, engagement, coping, and general health of hospitality employees, believe that the solution to burnout lies in improving workers' feelings of personal accomplishment and dedication, having coping strategies upon which to rely when necessary and personal health accomplishments are the key to reducing workplace burnout.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.