Readers Sound Off

The column I wrote last month (page 2) apparently struck a chord with many readers. I've received more letters and e-mail messages about the topic (“Why Are Your Employees Angry?”) than I have for any other column in the past several years.

As you may remember, I spoke on the sorry state of human resources in the hotel business and, in particular, the widespread dissatisfaction hospitality industry workers have with their jobs, their pay, their working conditions and their training opportunities. The ultimate question, of course, is how can lodging operators expect to have happy guests who want to return if unhappy workers are serving them?

One letter came from Daniel, a full-time hotel employee who thinks our people problem is “part of a larger macro issue involving modern American values, child-rearing and public education.” He believes few people joining the workforce at entry-level jobs ever get guidance from parents, teachers or peers regarding the “spiritual or patriotic value of work, what an employer expects from him or the sociological makeup of hotel guests.”

While those comments carry a foreboding for all of society, I don't think they're issues solvable by most general managers of owners. Right or wrong, the guy or gal running a hotel just wants to know who's going to show up for work today, not whether they've been properly educated on the Zen value of the work experience.

Manny, formerly in the hotel business and now a developer, understandably brought a dollars-and-cents perspective to the debate: “Despite rhetoric to the contrary, hotels are increasingly a diversified real estate investment vehicle, in which margins must be maintained to meet a supportable NOI,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Yet Manny also believes in the theory that happy employees (at least ones not totally turned off) make for profitable hotels. He cites a Cornell University study that proves a direct correlation between customer service scores and profitability. Following that logic, he wants to know when the industry will “realize that the employee experience is equally important as the guest experience” in creating profits.

Peter, a Ramada GM and college instructor, echoed Manny's concerns: “We're doing a lousy job of keeping employees well-paid, satisfied and happy. And we're sliding down lower as the focus has become numbers, numbers, numbers.”

Two anecdotes from these letter writers sum up the issues they raise and which I articulated last month.

Manny talks about a hotel in which he became the 17th manager of the restaurant in the six-year-old property. “So desperate was the need of my employer to fill my line management position that they hired me knowing there was a considerable chance I would leave to pursue an advanced degree,” he wrote. “And I did. So number 17 began to train number 18, who incidentally only lasted three months in the position.”

Peter, the current GM, updated this dilemma: “Today, I had just one desk agent with 65 check-outs, phones ringing off the hook, guests complaining, copies to be made, faxes being received — all with one desk agent — and all in the name of comfortable profit margins for publicly traded companies.”

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I hope we can continue a dialog on this most important of industry issues. We'll be commenting on human resources, training and customer service topics — as well as many others — on a regular basis in the Lodging Hospitality blog on our website, Check it out and join the conversation.

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