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De-stress the Workplace

By Stephen Ayers

Hospitality is a famously stressful field for owners and staff alike, but how to keep the atmosphere light and fun, and hold on to your best people? STEPHEN AYERS, CEO of Stay Ahead Hospitality, shares his tips on how to keep your employees happy and de-stress the workplace for maximum rewards.

Stress has become one of the main impediments to smooth service and harmonious relations between employees and departments in the modern workplace. The very real feelings, needs and expectations of staff are often overlooked in the fast daily pace of work and effort to fulfil scheduled duties. If left unattended, it can become a festering wound that spreads and poisons the atmosphere in the hotel, which in turn relays itself to the guests. Stress can be noted as the underlying factor in online reviews that comment on impolite staff, slow service and dirty rooms.

It is therefore imperative to take as much stress out of operational life as possible, and this can be done in a variety of ways. Keeping stress at bay is an ongoing and important part of how you treat your most important asset – your human resources. It is a comprehensive process that encompasses all of the many aspects of life at work. It is important to note that millennial customers’ values, needs and expectations are radically different than those of the traditionalist and baby boomer generations. Many of your employees are millennials.

First and foremost, I believe that all employees must understand how other employees in other departments work – the importance of what they do in the hotel’s success, and the importance of the collective work towards the hotel’s goals. A dishwasher comes to work, slogs in the dishwashing area and gives little thought as to the importance of his job. He feels that he is basically at the bottom of the HR ladder, but this is not true. For the diner he is more important than the GM. The same can be said of almost all employees who are directly involved in front-line service, with whom the guest interacts and judges his stay on.

The greatest human need is to feel appreciated, and the same is true for your entire workforce. It is up to you as the hotel leader to make sure that the team feels they are doing a good job, and to make sure that this filters down the chain. The executive team need to show leadership in this anti-stress fight, engage their workforce and create a nurturing culture.

In a hotel that I managed, I hired an outside HR consultant to run a series of interactive seminars that included all the staff. Each seminar brought employees from every department together for the first time, along with department heads. Every department illustrated not only what they did every day, but also the importance of the other department’s assistance in them being able to produce their best efforts and results. For example, the food and beverage staff depends on housekeeping to deliver clean linen to the restaurants on time to prepare for mealtimes. The kitchen depends on the storekeeper to prepare his goods on time to cook in time meals – the list is neverending. Of course, none of this is new but what is new is that each and every staff member will now know what his colleagues in the other departments go through to give him what he needs, therefore engendering respect and appreciation.

The seminars were designed to bring new understanding, allowing them to express their feelings and for management to listen.

The expense of the seminars was not great but the reward was huge. I had staff approach me thanking me for the chance to be a part of the whole rather than a separate entity working alone. The stress level of the hotel went down considerably, and new smiles were apparent on the employees’ faces. The happiness level, if you like, went up and this was noticeable in the guest comments almost immediately.

We overhauled the staff dining room menus to include more fresh food and accommodate diversity. We updated the look in the dining room with fresh paint, new tables and chairs.

I toured back of the house at least twice a week with the express purpose of thanking employees for their efforts in person. On birthdays I sought out the employee at their workplace to wish them a happy birthday and give a card. I held breakfasts regularly with employees from different departments to get feedback.

I held annual cocktail parties for those completing their first year’s service, and dinners for the long timers, including their spouse, so they had the chance to see the workplace and how much they were appreciated. The executive team made it a policy point to say ‘good morning’ to all when they arrived and thank staff they saw working hard or doing something out of the ordinary. The hotel became a polite hotel, reducing stress considerably.

We sent employees on weekend stays at other hotels on a barter system so they could experience other operations while having a relaxing time with their spouse. The cost was minimal while the benefits huge. I sent the chef and F&B manager on trips to London to experience as many new restaurants and trends as possible and bring back new ideas. It pumped them up and kept the hotel at the forefront of the F&B scene locally.

Uniforms were maintained at the highest level so staff were proud to wear them. Exit interviews were taken seriously to learn why employees left and shortcomings were corrected. Staff members who got married were given a cash gift and we attended funerals of immediate family members. The HR manager would call sick associates and hospitalised colleagues would be visited with flowers and a basket of fruit. It showed we cared.

Of course, we had bonus systems in place to reward outstanding employees, but these are now commonplace. Management trainee programs were also in place and our team was constantly on the lookout for exceptional employees who were earmarked for promotion from within.

Lowering stress in your property is an ongoing effort made up of so many active parts that must be taken care of. It is a defined policy that must be adhered to. How many general managers have put in place bonus systems and outstanding employee prizes and then sit back and think that they have done enough? Then, when the stress levels hit a peak, employees quarrel with each other in front of the guests, the front line staff is gruff and problems crop up, they ask themselves why this happened.

Investing in your workforce is one of the best investments you can make and one of the main supporting columns of your entire operation. It must not be forgotten that many if not all of the actions to support your employees come at no cost, just a collective effort.

Treating your staff fairly is not rocket science. It takes effort and investment to get the ball rolling, but it will pay off greatly. Not only will the atmosphere at work be stress free, the employees be happy and you will be able to attract the best and most qualified staff in your community. Giving your workforce the best possible environment to work in will allow them to focus on their target, namely guest satisfaction.

Consistency in the workforce program will bring long term benefits and a positive culture, lower HR costs and improve the bottom line immeasurably. I believe that restaurants and hotels that do not engage their employees in new and innovative ways will eventually not be able to engage their guests correctly and that will bring about considerable negative impact, create unnecessary stress and labour turnover.

What are you waiting for?

Stephen W.Ayers is a British and Canadian author and former hotel manager. He has worked and managed properties across Europe, Africa and America. Ayers is the CEO of Stay Ahead Hospitality, a company that helps independent hoteliers in Europe and North America to attain high standards and increase profit.
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