Work-life Balance Improves Hospitality

Continuous contact with customers and long hours make working in the hospitality industry strenuous. Employees have to be on their toes, charming and fresh, irrespective of whether the employee has just reported for duty or is continuing in the double shift. In this industry, service with a smile is the maxim, irrespective of whether she/he is overworked or tired. The problem does not end there.

Many a time due to work related fatigue, a great many of the employees in India’s hotel industry couldn’t give adequate time to family and social life. Ashok Malkani takes a look at how the hospitality industry can help in tackling the work-life balance issues. 

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” is what Confucius is believed to have said. But does this hold true when your work-life balance goes for a toss? According to the latest statistics available, about one-third of full time workers struggle to keep their professional lives from dominating their personal lives.

This is nothing new for India’s hospitality industry but it is not good news either. According to some statistics, two of the top five reasons why people quit their jobs is because of lack of work-life balance.  But if you can promote work-life balance within your team, you will have achieved a milestone. Not only will you receive more applicants for jobs, but those you have been already hired will stay in their positions longer.

One of the reasons for the employees not being able to maintain work-life balance in the hotel industry is because the industry has 24/7 operations. The work force thus has to be on its toes 24 hours. Many workers in the hospitality industry work not just through the night, but on the weekends and holidays as well.

It is rightly said that the hotel industry never sleeps. In such a scenario it is imperative that the employees work in varied shifts. Work shifts may change on daily or weekly basis. Often the employee is never sure of his/her shift for the following day, and thus he/she cannot plan for any personal commitments.

Moreover, sometimes the shifts are abnormal like the evening, break and graveyard shifts when the employees are expected to travel back home at odd hours. Although, hotels in India provide home drops for ladies working in late shifts, such service is generally not available for men, in India’s hospitality industry. Therefore sometimes employees staying far prefer to wait back in the hotel till early morning which further reduces their break timings.

Tackling Work-life Problems

All these are responsible for an unbalanced work-life in India’s hotel industry. The hospitality properties have to tackle these issues in their respective ways. 

Vikram Sharma, the Director of Human Resources, The Westin Pune Koregaon Park asserted, “While being operational 24/7, the hotel operations are divided in shifts like some other service industries — aviation and health care to mention a few. With us, the shifts are well-planned in advance. The associates are assigned different shifts at regular intervals. This helps our associates to plan their work and personal life better.”

“I would not deny that at times the working hours go beyond the stipulated 9 hours of work shift because of the nature of business that we work in. We have a six day off in a month policy against the norm of 4 day off. This helps our associates to spend more time with their family,” he added. 

“The company has a beautifully curated program called ‘Take Care’ program, which focuses on the overall well-being of our associates including physical well-being, career well-being, financial well-being, emotional well-being. Under each of the well-being pillar, regular engagement activities like fun games, mediation classes, health camps are organised to keep our young workforce focused and energised,” pointed out Vikram.

“Working long hours do affect the family life of individuals and this is specifically true when one speaks of festivals. The employees would definitely like to celebrate the festivals with family and friends. However, our hotel is aware of these problems and we provide special lunch and dinner menus pertaining to the type of festival or occasion. This creates festive vibes among the employees, bringing cheer into their lives. Also, when it comes to working long hours, we provide breaks between shifts to the employees, which provide them with rest and relaxation, thereby energising them to execute their duties efficiently,” elaborated Glen D’Souza, HR Executive of The Mirador Hotel Mumbai.

“I feel the hospitality sector in India has matured over the last decade. Work-life balance is being talked about like never before. There is a lot more focused approach on engaging the associates to have increased productivity rather than rewarding associates who spend more time at work,” Vikram observed.

“The simple strategy to prevent working staff from overworking is to keep a tight check on the working hours. This helps us, at The Westin Pune Koregaon Park to maintain the work-life balance,” he pointed out.

“Whenever we feel stressed out or in a confusion, we prefer speaking to someone, which makes us feel better. At  The Mirador Hotel Mumbai, we encourage this practice. We encourage our staff to speak up about situations and challenges faced in the form of debate competition or in interdepartmental meets, which enables us all to express ourselves with each other and work on areas of improvement. We also encourage our staff to bring their families to workplace during our annual day function or when we have low occupancies, which motivates employees and helps in maintaining a work-life balance,” averred Glen.

 “The nature of work within hotels typically includes hard deadlines, unexpected interactions with guests, long working hours, working in shifts, problems with coordination of work between different departments. Owing to these, associates do find it a bit difficult to maintain a perfect work-life balance and it affects their life at home as they can’t give quality time to their family due to their work commitments,” disclosed Sameer Norohna, Training Manager, Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel.

“At our hotel we provide a holistic development approach while training our associates, which facilitates them to multi-task and work with SMART (Specific-Measurable-Achievable-Realistic-Time Bound) goals in mind. This enables them to give their best and focus on what is expected from them rather than dealing with ambiguity,” he observed. 

“At Sheraton Grand Pune, we have tried to increase our gender diversity and women workforce by not having night shifts for our female associates, thereby facilitating them to maintain a work & domestic life balance. Also we ensure that the departmental rosters provide adequate rest & rotational shifts for all associates without any bias,” informed Sameer.

Cause of Attrition

This imbalance in work-life is believed to be one of the causes of high attrition rate in India’s hospitality industry. Work-life balance is expected to play a crucial role in controlling the attrition rate in hospitality properties in the country, especially among the women employees.

Employees in the hospitality industry are at times asked to work for more than 12-14 hours per shift due to business operations. Due to this the stress levels of most of the associates in the hotel industry is high. Jaded and frustrated employees then look for prospects in other industries which offer better work-life balance.

Due to the long working hours in the hospitality industry; most of the employees prefer to rest after their long shift so that they could be fresh for their next day’s assignment. However, due to the round the clock nature of the industry; sometimes employees have to even work on certain national holidays and even on days of festivities. All these give little room for family life.

However, Glen rebuts this as far as his hotel is concerned. “At The Mirador Hotel Mumbai, we ensure that employees are shown flexibility in shifts and working hours, and every staff gets an equal opportunity to be in each shift. Every month end we have certification of the month for employees based on long working hours and attendance, which actually helps in recognition of an employee’s effort,” he affirmed. 

“I would suggest that hotels should make it mandatory to have at least 6 days off in a month, instead of 4 days, as in other industries,” Glen pointed out.

Vikram disagrees with the view that night shifts encourage attrition. “I seldom remember a discussion with an associate wherein one mentions changing shifts as a reason for leaving the hospitality industry,” he asserted. 

Team Work

One way to test whether work-life issues are affecting your staff or not is by conducting an engagement survey. Flexible working and job-sharing are two ways which can help in work-life balance. Team work is another way of easing the problems of the employees and facilitating work-life balance. 

Vikram says that team work is not only essential for the hospitality industry but for all industries. “As far as the hospitality industry is concerned, to create an everlasting impact on our guests, it is imperative that we create exceptional guest experience at each interaction. This is only possible with team work,” he conveyed.

“As is the practice at all Marriott hotels, we, at The Westin Pune Koregaon Park focus a lot on creating an environment to support each other. It all starts with believing in each other and moving together towards the same objective,” he maintained. 

“Our associates have an opportunity to cross train in any other department of their choice. This helps the associates in developing their skills and also creates a workforce that supports each other at the time of need,” Vikram pointed out.

“In fact, our hotel associates are divided into houses. Each house has associates from different departments and across levels. The houses compete amongst themselves through competitions organised throughout the year within the hotel. This helps in creating a bond amongst associates regardless of their department and nature of work,” Vikram disclosed.   

Glen too concurs that team work is essential for the hotel industry. “Measures taken by The Mirador Hotel Mumbai in this direction are conducting team building /group activities like cricket matches and cooking contests, employee birthday celebrations each month  and team lunch/dinner,” he asserted.

“Team work is essential as it not only eases the work of the employees but also facilitates guest satisfaction.  Training for core functions of job, and catering for individual differences encourages team work. Team work is very crucial in eliminating or reducing work related stress,” averred Sameer.

Promoting positive working relationships to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviours such as bullying and harassments at work are the relationship part of team building. We, at Sheraton Grand Pune, have a strict grievance redressal system and also an internal complaints committee which deals with unfair or unethical treatment at our work place,” Sameer elaborated.

Company-employee Relationship

There is a greater diversity of employee relations practice within India’s hospitality industry than it was say about two decades before. There is evidence of development of more formal, soft HRM-style practices, particularly amongst larger establishments.

“The dynamics of the hotel industry with extended working hours, changing shifts, dealing with different types of guests, takes a toll on the associates. Our associates being our internal guests, need to be satisfied and motivated too to come to work and provide exceptional service to our external guests,” affirmed Sameer.

Motivation through employee engagement activities help in strengthening work-life balance as then work tends to become much more enjoyable than a mundane job. Training is also helpful in this regard.

“Sheraton Grand Pune has a number of employee engagement activities, monthly associate birthday luncheons and an open door policy, which encourage our associates to feel free to voice their opinion. Through training, we ensure their development and address their job specific needs by providing them the necessary learning opportunities. This enables our associates to give their best and feel motivated to come to work,” he conveyed.

“Loyalty is important and how you take those first steps towards building long lasting loyal relationships with each other and also with the hotel guests is of vital significance. We believe the loyalty building effort starts with our associates.  If they feel the same emotional connection that we want our external guests to feel, then we believe they will find it easier to create the same positive experiences that our guests are seeking when they come and stay with us,” Sameer iterated. 

“Guests seek an emotional bond; a Go Beyond the basic foundational & memorable service components that lead to delight during their stay. We encourage our associates to build loyalty with our guests and help deliver exceptional service,” he aired.

“We influence our employees by firstly inculcating our hotel’s vision, mission, and values. The hotel also creates a better rapport between the employees, the management and the guests by conducting training programs, creating a friendly and healthy work environment and sharing feedback and suggestions for areas for improvement,” Glen proffered.

“Every employee at our hotel is looked after on a departmental and individual level with inputs on grooming, personal well-being, the right values and also on the rewards towards guest focused work. We create a friendly environment so we know what are the needs and requirements of our employees. In return, our employees are self-motivated towards achieving organisation goals. We are a family,” Glen explained.

“At The Westin Pune Koregaon Park, as at all Marriott Hotels, the core value of ‘Putting people first’ has helped us to drive the company’s success. The focus at Marriott has always been to develop and nurture talent from within,” Vikram asserted.

“The first three months of a new team member are very critical for us. This is the time when the new recruits are assigned a buddy to familiarise them with the culture of the company. A structured induction and orientation program gives sufficient time for a new hire to settle in the new environment,” he explained further.

“Especially, the first week for the new employees is very critical, as in this period one observes and creates impressions about the workplace which last for a long duration of time. At Marriott hotels, we have dedicated induction programme for three days on joining, followed by discipline specific orientation program for all the new joiners. The program educates the associates about the history, core values and beliefs of the company. The policies are shared in a transparent manner to avoid any confusion or doubt among the mind of associates. Session on career development is accepted with great interest. Needless to say, it involves a lot of interaction and fun activities with the new joiners. It is the perfect time to create a sense of belonging with the team,” Vikram disclosed.

“We believe creating positive moments of truth for our guests start with our associates. We adhere to the maxim:  Take care of your associates and they will take care of your guests. It is very important to have a constant dialogue with the associates to understand their expectations and make genuine efforts to meet those expectations. In addition to this our well-structured training programmes help our associates to add value and develop them into future leaders,” Vikram maintained.

“Building trust is the key to build loyalty amongst associates. This is only possible by clearly defining the vision of the company and the expectations out of them. Clarity on defining the job role, future growth prospects, are crucial to an associate. The easiest way is to be open, fair and honest while discussing a problem with the associates. Respect and trust your team and you will get the same in return.  If you make a mistake, apologise and admit you were wrong.  This will allow associates to relate better, and they will appreciate your honesty,” he elaborated further.

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