Why Are Your Employees Angry?

Everybody in the hotel business knows we have a people problem. High turnover, low morale, poor service, unionism and more are issues you all need to face, and probably do nearly every business day. And while construction of new hotels has been on the wane in recent years, that's about to change. When the next wave of new hotels open, the industry will need an army of housekeepers, bellmen, front desk clerks and even GMs to fill the hundreds of thousands of jobs that become available.

This is a crisis the industry needs to tackle collectively and individually. Failure to do so will jeopardize the long-term financial health of the industry.

A recent study commissioned by CareerBuilder.com, an online job site, amplifies the severe turnover problem hoteliers face. According to the report, one in four hospitality industry workers doesn't like his or her job and nearly a third of employees in the business plan to switch jobs before the end of the year. To localize it, if 75 people work at your hotel today, you'll need to replace at least 25 of them this year. That will be a tough task in a job market that's generally improving in the U.S.

A look deeper into the survey results reveals the core of the HR problem: Many of your employees think this is a terrible business. They say the pay sucks, they work too hard and they don't have the resources they need to do the job right. Don't believe me?

Only 38 percent of hotel workers in the study say they got any raise last year, and just 29 percent got an increase of more than three percent. Workload is another issue. Half of those surveyed say their work responsibilities increased in the past year (yet only four in 10 of them got more money), and a third of the workers aren't happy with the effect the increased workload has on their ability to balance work and life concerns.

The final bit of data in the survey is most damning. Thirty-six percent of those queried say they're unhappy with the amount of training opportunities available to help them grow professionally. The correlation is obvious: a third of workers are leaving and a third (undoubtedly some of the same people) say they're not getting the proper training.

Particularly with the magic of the Internet, training is the easiest and cheapest investment you can make in your hotel or hotel company. Not doing so, or leaving it to others (e.g., your company headquarters, franchisor or association) is a poor business decision that will ultimately haunt you. Every management and human resources article or book you read continually reinforces the efficiency of keeping the employees you have rather than constantly looking for new ones.

Not coincidentally, the labor unions are plugged into the indifference and anger many hotel workers feel. Unite Here, the increasingly powerful hotel workers union, has been flexing its considerable muscle in the past few years, and it plans to step up the pressure in '06. In a recent interview, union honcho John Wilhelm warned that the group might consider a simultaneous strike against 200 hotels in six major cities this year if it doesn't get its way. Such an action, especially if it is prolonged or gets ugly, would hurt the image and financial performance of the entire industry, probably for years to come.

The answer to this dilemma is leadership at all levels of management — from GMs to owners to chain presidents. You all need to recognize the severity of the people issue and then take the necessary steps — including, most importantly, spending the money — to find solutions.

In his inaugural speech last November, AH&LA Chairman Joe Kane stressed the need for leadership and planning. To Kane, who's also president of Days Inn, the issue is service and how to improve it. But quality service and contented employees are really two sides of the same coin. Joe is right: We all need to step up and make changes happen.

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