Are You Unknowingly Running an Exempt-Employee Sweatshop?

By Bernard Ellis President & Founder, Lodgital Insights LLC | November 11, 2018

It stands to reason that the older you get, the less you get to work alongside people who are a lot older than you. Some of my favorite memories from working in hotels are the conversations I used to have with both guests and co-workers who were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. I miss that. It was one of many examples of the richly diverse environment hotels offer, where you can learn a lot about your fellow humans in a short amount of time. What do you have in common, and what makes them different and interesting?

This is the very essence of why people travel on their own dime. Visiting a full service hotel's public areas can be one of the most efficient ways to get a sense of a community's culture-how they celebrate, how they mourn, how they work, how they play--and many of us first got into this industry because we wanted to be in the middle of all that, and have our fingers on the pulse of our communities.

But it can work both ways. in these polarized, chaotic times, hotels now offer a front row seat to witness all the dynamics that increasingly divide us. List any of the major issue of the day, and there are likely to be people in the building whom it affects, be it the immigration controversy, income inequality, racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and the list unfortunately goes on. Our older colleagues and guests will say these things have always been undercurrents that were hiding in plain sight, but now the ugliness and tension that have come to dominate our politics are also now quite at home in hotel employee cafeterias and breakrooms, and even front of house.

Participants in this diverse workplace have been discovering that they have even less in common with each other than they thought, not to mention with the guests who increasingly seem like they come from a different world, and who to a growing extent, can't seem to get out the door fast enough to seek their unique travel experiences off property.

While all this broader tension has been fomenting over the past year and a half, it has perhaps overshadowed another undercurrent of deep division, anger, and bitter disappointment that has affected a certain group of people: the new Fair Labor Standards Act overtime regulations that were supposed to go into effect on December 1, 2016--but didn't. 1 For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to (and clearly you don't work in HR), these were the rules that were to nearly double the minimum salary an employee had to be paid before being ineligible for (also known as "exempt" from) overtime pay.

Before I go any further, I should explain why this issue is so near and dear to me. Most of the life-long hospitality professionals now reading this will distinctly remember a significant career milestone: the day that your new name badge began to include your last name and job title. It may have also entailed turning in your ugly polyester uniform to the laundry one last time, and finally getting to wear the business attire of your choosing. Most significantly, the transition usually involved moving from being an hourly employee to a salaried one, otherwise known by the now familiar term "exempt."

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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.