Are Hospitality Workers Burning out?

It’s official: Workers in the hospitality industry are burned out. Not all of them, of course, but a high percentage.  An annual survey by the Dutch government—known as the Permanent Life Situation Survey—puts the number at one in seven which is one of the highest rates for sectors assessed. And it’s not just the Netherlands. Studies undertaken in Nigeria also note the increase in burnout amongst hotel workers there, which is also consistent with other studies in the US. So if you have a staff of twenty, chances are that several of those employees are on a crash course with the condition known as burnout.

But you probably don’t need a survey to tell you this. The fast pace and competitive nature of hospitality is well known amongst professionals in the industry. Chances are, you know what burnout feels like. Demands are constant and spontaneous. Seeing to the needs of every guest—to say nothing of marketing and occupancy efforts- is challenging to say the least. Worries, and also negative interactions with guests or other staff, come home with you at night. The job can be emotionally and physically taxing.

Quality Control 

At the precise moment you understand the tangible link between stress levels, job performance, guest satisfaction and reputation management reducing stress amongst employees becomes a critical quality issue.  Stress levels have a direct impact on quality control and there is plenty of research to show it.  An article in the International Journal of Hospitality Management from December of 2012, explores the connection between stress, emotional intelligence and job performance amongst workers in the hospitality industry. Higher stress levels, in short, are found to increase behavior classified as emotional dissonance (ED), whereby we are forced to show emotions that we really aren’t feeling. ED negatively impacts guest-employee interactions and thus the quality of service.

So the practical question for hotel managers and owners is this: Why are my employees stressed, and how can we mitigate these effects to achieve better quality of service?

Clarifying Abstractions

Several documented sources of stress in the hospitality industry—including feelings of isolation or “lacking control,” constricted lines of communication between employees and managers, inadequate training, and poorly defined job descriptions—can be resolved by a technique known as “clarifying abstractions”. A lack of guidance or direction adds significantly to employee stress, especially when they don’t know who to talk to. Fostering clearer channels of communication is perhaps the best place to start.

The solution

Be clear in your communication then and encourage employees to ask precise questions to clear the air. When employees sense a bond of trust and openness with their manager, it’s easier to iron out other issues, such as job descriptions that don’t fit, or duties for which an employee does not feel adequately trained (yet is expected to perform). The HR  mechanics of any given hotel should be thoroughly understood by every team member.  And where they are not, employee stress levels will rise.

Working with the realities of the industry

Hospitality work can be monotonous and repetitive. It can entail long hours, nights, unhappy customers, and the need to suppress emotions in favor of professionalism.  From this perspective, stress is something that comes with the territory so it can’t be avoided altogether. (And let’s be honest, sometimes we get a buzz from the stress which leaves us on a high after we have dealt with it. This is called “eustress” or positive stress, however it doesn’t take much for this to turn into its nastier cousin, distress).

Addressing these negative stresses—and helping your employees deal with them—is largely a question of incentivizing them. This can be done by giving them control and authority over certain aspects of their work (thus strengthening the responsibility and pride they feel in doing their jobs), and constantly seeking their feedback.  Sometimes talking frankly about workplace stress can make all the difference. Consider holding a meeting to discuss what the stresses are.  It’s a simple measure with enormous potential, especially since it invites all employees to help define the workplace culture.

Practical measures

If you do discuss stress with your employees, you may learn about several problems of which you were unaware, but  can be helped with technology and infrastructure. For instance, front desk and room service staff are under constant pressure to move around and multi-task while keeping one eye on the phone. VoIP is useful here.  Using mobile apps, calls to the hotel’s fixed line can be routed to any number of internet-connected devices, allowing staff greater freedom of movement without the worry of phones ringing at empty desks. Even allowing staff to divert calls to other areas would help.

It could be anything. Maybe the front desk keyboards are sticking, or the reservation software is out of date or that guests are continually complaining about the online check-in being too slow. The point is to demonstrate empathy (a very valuable tool), gather up this information and decide what measures are realistic.  Certain aspects of the job may also create unneeded stress—such as working through a mountain of accounting tasks or peeling 500 potatoes. Encouraging employees to divide large tasks into manageable chunks is often helpful. This, of course, leads back to adequate job training and managers that are trained to be empathetic and approachable.

Conclusions?

Stress will always be a part of the hospitality industry, and owners and managers should not remove it completely.  Positive stress is a motivator, and no profession exists without it.  Negative stress however can affect our business in ways that we may not understand until its too late.

So, by facing these and other stress-related issues in the hospitality industry, we can diminish the unusually high levels of stress for which our industry is famous. And by doing so we can have a direct and positive effect on quality of service and brand reputation. Who knows, you might even help yourself. 

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