Richard Branson once said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This shift in management mindset is becoming a significant trend across industries, as brand leaders aptly realize the importance of cultivating a happy, healthy and supportive workplace for their staff. It’s a rather simple concept; If you get along with your coworkers, if you feel that the people you work for (and with) care about you and your well-being and that you are appreciated and supported by your company, you are more likely to enjoy your work and (as a by-product) do a better job in that role. In fact, reports show that if you boost someone’s happiness, you raise their productivity 12-25% or more. Happy workplaces see less turnover, enhanced efficiency, fewer health care costs and a decrease in mistakes and accidents. Studies also indicate that happy employees are also rated by others as more trustworthy and likable.
Further, in a survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA), 56% of respondents said anxiety and stress affect their work performance, and 50% said it affects their quality of work. This comes as no surprise, as we look to popular literature such as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, which describes two, opposite modes of thinking. “System 1” is based on instinct, enabling us to make fast, emotion-driven decisions (under pressure, for example, in fight or flight mode). “System 2” describes our logical, careful thought processes. Unsurprisingly, System 1 is responsible for most of our bad decisions – and unfortunately, that system is constantly at work within workplace environments that don’t advocate against the daily perpetuation of employee frustration, sadness, stress, and anxiety.
This sentiment proves especially true when we look to the hospitality realm – an industry which relies almost entirely on its employees’ ability to take care of guests. After all, hospitality staff is expected to consistently curate a hyper-responsive, personalized and attentive experience for each guest, at every touch-point. This expectation would, understandably, be difficult to uphold if the workplace environment was lacking, and employees were continually working through feelings of stress, fear and/or frustration while on the job. And yet, this is, unfortunately, a familiar scenario for hospitality workers, as the industry is admittedly notorious for high-stress environments, staff safety concerns, and subsequently, high turnover rates.
According to the American Hotel and Motel Association (AHMA), the U.S. lodging industry brings in $134 billion and employs nearly 1.8 million people, including more than 400,000 hotel room cleaners. From cleaning guest rooms to maintaining hotel grounds, serving meals and daily manual labor, hotel staff is frequently subject to potential physical (or personal) risk. Beyond the concern of slips, falls or labor-related injuries from repetitive physical tasks and long hours, housekeepers and hotel staff also face an alarming incidence rate of physical or verbal harassment from guests – so much so, that it’s become something of a quiet epidemic across the industry. In fact, service workers across the board may be at higher risk for sexual harassment: In a new survey of 688 restaurant workers, for instance, 78% of women and 55% of men reported sexual harassment by customers; 30% of the women said inappropriate touching was a “common occurrence.” Considering a recent white paper revealed that employee turnover in the UAE’s hospitality industry is approximately 25-30% per annum, this should be a topic of major concern for modern hoteliers. What is lacking in the workplace of hotels? How can hoteliers better support and protect their staff to instill long-term loyalty? How should hospitality leaders invest in the safety of their employees?
1. The 5 Star Promise
It was this on-going (but often publicly understated) realization that inspired the AHLA’s ‘5 Star Promise’; a pledge to provide hotel employees across the U.S. with employee safety devices (ESD’s) and commit to enhanced policies, trainings and resources that together are aimed at enhancing hotel safety, including preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault. This pledge – issued in partnership with various major hotel brands – is in place to encourage the health and safety of a hotel’s employees and, in that same breath, heighten morale and decrease the occurrence of potentially dangerous situations.
This promise calls for the implementation of employee safety devices, which empower hotel staff to immediately (and discreetly) signal for help using a small, hand-held device that utilizes Bluetooth technology. Using these modern hotel panic buttons, hoteliers can pinpoint the location of a distress call down to the specific floor and room number. If the staff member in distress moves throughout the property, the safety platform will track them as they move, providing updated room information in real time. A far cry from legacy ‘noise-makers,’ these new-age flexible safety platforms allow for customized configuration to a hotel’s existing technology, ensuring easy and seamless integration. In many cases, a fast response can be the key differentiator in an employee’s well-being, and utilizing modern employee safety devices will allow hoteliers to locate an employee anywhere in the facility within seconds of a distress call.
2. Employee Wellness Programs
Housekeepers are especially vulnerable to physical injuries resulting from repetitive motions and manual labor, as they turn rooms over and lug heavy carts from floor to floor. Further, any front of house hospitality staff member likely finds themselves standing for long periods of time, which can be physically taxing on joints. Kitchen staff, as well, are subject to potential burns, cuts or slips while on the job. Pulled backs, strained shoulders, sore feet, and compromised posture are common ailments affecting staff within the hospitality sector.
With this in mind, corporate wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular. Something as simple as providing staff with a ‘wellness room’ where they are encouraged to stretch, unwind and/or mobilize before or after a shift, can make a big difference. If the hotel property offers sprawling, updated amenities and extensive wellness programs for guests but fails to provide any quiet, relaxing space or dedicated programs for their staff, what message does that send? How can employees feel connected to the property and their role within it?
Just last year, Hilton Hotels upgraded staff spaces to make employees’ work environment more inviting. These upgrades ranged from new lighting and fresh paint to more extensive renovations, including renovated cafeterias and locker rooms. Taking this a step further, many hotels are investing in dedicated wellness programs for their staff (access to fitness studios or stipends for gym memberships, improved benefits, complimentary corporate classes or workshops, etc.).
3. Make Training an Ongoing Priority
In the past, employee training was often viewed as a costly, time-consuming burden. Perhaps due in large part to legacy technology and antiquated protocols, training staff on new platforms and updated safety measures was difficult and rife with resistance, especially within an industry that is known for long hours and high demands.
However, as technology improves and hoteliers invest in the tools required to simplify and streamline previously taxing procedures, frequent training becomes paramount – and finally accessible. Modern platforms no longer require the presence of support staff for on-property demonstrations but can offer online, user-friendly training modules that are always available to staff. This paves the way for frequent training sessions, rather than one-off events, and curates an environment of educated employees who understand the value of the training they receive. Even further, with the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) hoteliers are approaching a time in which safety demonstrations could become entirely immersive, and therefore far more engaging and effective.
Ultimately, world-class guest service starts with the provision of a safe environment for your staff. Investing in the technology, programs, and procedures required to enhance staff safety is equally important to those investments you make in guest-facing solutions and will create an enhanced environment for staff and guests alike. So, as a hotelier, you must ask yourself – what measures does your hotel have in place to support and protect your employees? Is it enough, or is it time for an upgrade?
About the Author
Robb Monkman is the founder and CEO, of React Mobile, Inc. With experience launching multiple products, from idea to exit, Robb previously headed up the sales and marketing of advanced communications solutions to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Several years ago, Robb was the victim of an armed robbery and hostage situation that left a lasting impression on him. He soon learned that thousands of people every day were in situations where they desperately need help but couldn’t make a call. He made it his mission to solve this problem, founding React Mobile to create a simple yet powerful personal safety platform that today is transforming the way people call for help in emergencies. React Mobile is making tomorrow a safer place and already helping people all over the world.
Founded in 2013, React Mobile is a global leader in providing panic button solutions for hotels. Their best in class hospitality safety platform helps hotels keep their employees safe. The React Mobile system allows management to deploy response resources to the exact location of an emergency within seconds of an alert, getting help to where they need it fast. In an emergency quick response times are essential.