The Challenge of Work-Life Balance for Hoteliers

November 20, 2019



Work-life balance is often described as a signature millennial demand. Millennials, who will comprise 75% of the Australian workforce by 2025, have made it clear that they don’t want to wear themselves out chasing a dream of retirement. They want to live, and they want to live now.


But is the push for work-life balance, including in the hospitality industry, really about millennial preferences? Or is it about developing a clearer view of operational success?


The answer, of course, is both. As the hospitality industry expands, hotel managers can’t afford to be passive in the quest for top talent. The bright stars we need won’t show up unless we strive to make hospitality careers more attractive.


Recruitment aside, the importance of work-life balance is not particular to any age group. The economic cost of burnout is a good illustration of this. A frequently referenced study by WorkSafe Australia found that workplace stress causes Australian workers to miss 92 million days, at a cost of more than AUD $10b to their employers, each year. If these figures are anywhere near accurate, work-life balance is a legitimate concern for all industries including hotel managers and the teams they manage.


The search for flexibility in a fast-paced business


Ours may be a rewarding industry, but it comes with a special set of concerns for current and potential employees. For starters, hospitality runs around the clock. When most offices shut their doors for the night, we’re getting started. There will be check-ins, bookings, special requests, orders sent down to the kitchen. There will be people ambling in from late dinners and nights on the town. Before you know it, early risers will check out and housekeeping staff will clock in. The nature of professional hospitality creates the need for shift work, weekend work, holiday work. Requirements can arise suddenly. Hours can change on short notice ... it is literally a 24/7 industry


It’s easy enough to say that flexibility is the answer to creating a work culture that values work-life balance. Offer your employees more flexibility in their work schedule, and everything will improve. They’ll be healthier and more relaxed. They’ll perform better at work. It sounds nice in theory, but for a short-staffed hotel manager with a precarious balance sheet, it can seem a little far-fetched.


It doesn’t have to be. Shift workers may never have the luxury of telecommuting, but there are always ways to promote flexibility in the industry. By posting schedules farther in advance, we can allow employees to plan better. By adopting generous policies on shift-swapping, or allowing shared roles, we can encourage employees to work together for a more balanced collective. By soliciting feedback and encouraging our people to ask for support when they need it, we can create a more caring and responsive work culture.


There may be possibilities, depending on the specifics of an operation, to increase flexibility for non-shift employees. Some organisations, are experimenting with the elimination of specific start and end times, opting for start and end “windows” instead. This allows people to plan around traffic, sleep in if need be, or start early to leave early. Whilst this wont work for straight shift-workers as such, they might be useful for other departments like administration. Apps like Shiftboard or companies like Inzenius are worth considering for the transparency they offer to hotels whose scheduling efforts are currently in a state of disarray.


It’s also important to think about what we do when a worker calls in sick. That shift may well have to be filled, but do we make a habit of calling people on their day off? How will this affect the big picture? How will it affect work culture? What if we engage transient workers in situations like this, to ensure that our regular employees get their rest? Of course, not all of these will work, but are there alternatives?


Little things add up


The hospitality business has a reputation for being “always on” and requiring personal sacrifices of the its workers. This reputation has to change, property by property, as we enter a more flexible and balanced era in hotel management.


It may not be possible for every hotel to build an on-site employee wellness centre with a gym and TVs and massage chairs, as the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza has done – but we can do little things to make our employees feel more at home, and give their personal lives equal priority to their work performance.


At the end of the day, our staff are not automatons, they don’t just walk in and walk out. They have families, they have personal stresses and they are human. And when the choice is between family and work, the family will always win out. And generally, so they should. Acknowledging our staff as real people and finding ways to work with that fact is the right thing to do, and in the bigger picture, it’s just good business.



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