Maintaining Employee Morale and Motivating Employees
By Amy Landry Director of Human Resources, Hotel Monteleone | March 25, 2012
Holding a focus group last month, one employee stayed behind to ask me a question privately. He stammered out, "I know, I am in the service industry but does that make me a servant?" He continued, "Because that is exactly how guests can treat us." The employee at hand is a college graduate-actually a struggling writer in his mid-twenties-disgruntled, of course, with what the economy and life has dealt him. He is not alone, many hotel workers are well-educated individuals either starting out with a college degree in hand or individuals that have been burned out or lost high-paying jobs in other industries. So, how does an HR Director answer such a question?
To be honest, I understand how he feels. I started out in the hotel industry with energy and zest. I worked a variety of jobs putting in countless hours smiling and tap dancing to make guests happy. I loved working in the hospitality industry. I believe it takes a special person and there is no greater high than making someone's day. However, along the way somewhere between college graduation and still making minimum wage working in the industry I loved so much, I realized I wanted something more. I enrolled in graduate school still not convinced of my career path. However in graduate school, two events happened concurrently. I was inspired by a professor that shed light on how the Human Resources function has to be a strategic partner, a driving force, in achieving business and meeting company goals. The other event is too common these days. I experienced the de-motivating consequences of a really bad manager. A manager that did not grasp the concept that employees are your most important asset and you have to treat them respectfully if you want them to treat your guests the same way. Luckily, for me the collision of these two events happening simultaneously led me to discover my passion for the Human Resources field, which has been the perfect fit for me.
I was hired with a big corporate company learning the ropes of Human Resources as the HR Generalist Coordinator straight from graduating. I was eager to work every day and could not have loved my job anymore. However, after 2 years, I became a victim to the economy and downsizing. Someone in Corporate who had never even met me made the decision to eliminate my position to help the bottom line. Devastated, my generous GM assisted and created a position for me at the Front Desk as a Supervisor, while something in the pipeline in Human Resources opened up for me at a new sister hotel. Now, going back to the operations side after being out for almost 5 years, I had the wake-up of a life time. Perhaps, it was my tolerance level that had changed, but the service side was not as fun as I once remembered. In fact, it was downright insulting, even depressing at times. On one particular day, I remember walking into the HR Director's office, my previous direct manager and mentor, and breaking down. I was exasperated and almost in shock and said, "If an employee talked to you, the way that this guest just spoke to me, that employee would be fired on the spot! How can guests get away with being so incredibly rude to our employees? It should be illegal."
Quite frankly, who in their right mind willingly wants to help someone when they are so undeserving of kindness and provoking every volatile emotion one feels when all of their buttons are pushed? One human being screaming at another human being simply because their needs have not been met, how can this be right? And, when I say needs, in the hotel world this can mean being given the wrong room type, the remote control does not work, or the hot water is not hot enough. Yes, all these things can be annoying, but really is it worth the angry response it can elicit from enraged guests? I would absolutely beg to differ. I remember one day, after getting yelled at in three separate phone calls from the same guest who could not leave for dinner until his bed was re-made. I was at the end of my rope begging housekeeping to finish the task, unable to assist because of their full plate, when I finally threw my hands up and went upstairs to change the sheets myself. I re-made the king-sized bed with four different layers of sheets and blankets and 8 pillows as the guest sat there and watched me. Astounded and truly appalled, I gained a new level of compassion for the hotel employee. A lesson that every Human Resources professional working in the industry should learn and always remember- hotel work is hard, draining and can even be demeaning at times.
Guest abuse will most certainly happen; it is not a matter of if but when. Ultimately, if employees are not prepared or trained how to handle this, eventually what will happen is the one time star employee over time gains an attitude of indifference. This sadly is where everyone from the guest, to the employee, to the entire hotel loses. We have to be honest that guest abuse does happen and we have to prepare our employees to properly handle these times.
It is a balance to struggle the people side and the business or "operation" side of a hotel. The operation dictates that we need all employees on deck, meaning employees do not get a day off from this which translates to tired employees and increased likelihood of poor, careless performance. Or, the business side dictates that we pay most employees minimum wage, which leads to many employees working dual jobs and still those that barely make enough to cover rent or college tuition. Some employees, so overwhelmed with the stress of making ends meet, cannot overcome the temptation; instead they make the detrimental life-changing choice such as 'borrowing' money from the cash register or not turning in a lost and found item.