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Current State of the Hospitality Workplace: Addressing Mistrust
of Senior Management, Direct Supervisors

 
By Rick Garlick, Ph.D., Senior Director of Consulting and Strategic Implementation, Maritz Research Hospitality Group, April 2010

Throughout the Great Recession, companies have laid off thousands, cut workers’ salaries, and eliminated bonuses, leaving employees to wonder – what next?    Some might speculate people still standing after workforce layoffs should be grateful and happy to simply have a job.  But for those of us who have lived through it, we know this may not always be the case.      

Maritz Research recently conducted its annual study on workplace attitudes within the hospitality industry, surveying 1,000 full-time employees on a wide variety of workplace issues.  Consistent with other published studies on employee engagement, Maritz found that employee engagement is at an all-time low in a wide variety of areas.  One major contributor to the decline in morale is the fact that one-third (31 percent) of respondents work for companies that have experienced significant workforce reductions in the past six months.  This, along with other findings, paints a dire picture of what Hospitality companies face – lack of trust, threats of unionization, and poor customer service.  So much for being grateful.   

A major casualty of the past decade has been workplace trust.  This includes mistrust of senior leaders, direct supervisors, and even co-workers.  Maritz began observing this decline of trust in the early part of the decade, following the headlined corporate scandals that plagued companies like Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco.  Employees became extremely skeptical of their leaders.   In the past year, there has been a constant flow of stories of leaders continuing to draw high salaries, with lower level employees losing their jobs, or at least taking significant pay cuts.  Currently, only 12 percent of those employed in the hospitality sector consider their company’s leaders to be completely ethical and honest.  This is consistent with other business sectors that report similar percentages.  Fewer than one-in-ten (nine percent) trust their management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty, with nearly three times as many disagreeing.  Only seven percent of hospitality employees ‘completely trust their employers to look out for their best interests’ and believe their senior leaders actions are ‘completely consistent’ with their words.  More than five times as many hospitality employees actively disagree with those statements.  

Given that jobs appear especially vulnerable, combined with the fact that the Obama administration is much more sympathetic to labor, it would seem the extremely high levels of management mistrust would make the hospitality sector especially vulnerable to unionization.  Maritz studies have shown the most significant predictor of a proclivity to unionize is indeed management mistrust.  Yet, only 16 percent of hospitality employees currently not in a labor union would support bringing a union into their workplace, compared to 59 percent of current non-union employees who would oppose bringing in a union.  To explain the tepid attitudes toward unions, one needs to look no further than to the conditions that caused unions to historically thrive.  Unions thrive when management trust is poor and worker trust (e.g., worker solidarity) is strong.  The data show that co-worker trust in the hospitality industry is no better.  Only nine percent say their co-workers ‘do all they can to uphold the dignity of all people in their workplace’ and only seven percent ‘completely trust their co-workers to look out for their best interests.’  In most cases, severe mistrust of both co-workers and leaders were both present.  In situations where management  trust was weak, but co-worker trust was strong, employees were twice as likely to support bringing in a union, compared to situations where co-worker trust was also weak or moderate.

The lack of workplace trust has the potential to negatively impact hospitality companies in other ways.  If managers want their workers to truly align themselves behind their goals and initiatives, they have to gain more than compliance.  They have to create passion and belief, as opposed to cynicism and skepticism.  However, the latter are nurtured when they see their managers say one thing and then act inconsistently.  Currently, only 11 percent see their managers acting completely consistent with their words.  Furthermore, only seven percent say they are rewarded by their managers for behavior consistent with their company’s stated values.  It is difficult for employees to act with much conviction under these circumstances.  If employers think their managers say one thing, but then do another, why should they care?

Furthermore, collaboration and cooperation are critical among hospitality employees.   Employees from strong work cultures step up and cross-train one another.  They go out of their way to provide assistance to their co-workers when needed.  If relationships with co-workers are strained, employees are much more likely to have an ‘every person for themselves’ attitude, which clearly does not serve the greater good of the company or its customers.

So, after all is said and done, what can hospitality companies do to address these issues and make it more than “be happy you have a job”?  First of all, it is critical that senior leaders and managers not say one thing and then do another.  Employees should be recognized and rewarded for displaying behavior consistent with the stated goals of leadership and management.   For example, if guest service is a stated priority, front line employees should be empowered to resolve guest concerns without having to ask permission.  If employees are told they are their company’s ‘most valuable asset,’ employee recognition programs should not be among those first cut in challenging economic times.  Maritz’ study found only seven percent of employees are completely satisfied with their company’s communication efforts.  It is understandable that sometimes companies struggle with being open and honest, particularly when the truth may be discouraging, but every effort should be made to avoid the appearance of hiding something.  

Finally, in these litigious times, employees and managers are often mistrustful of personal relationships on the jobs.  People are often encouraged to keep their work and personal lives separate.  However, human beings are not built that way.  People work more productively with people whom they like as opposed to people they dislike, or even feel indifferently toward.  Appropriate friendships should be encouraged on the job, and opportunities provided for employees to connect on a more social basis..  

Simply stated, organizations should consider what I call, a “5 Cs” approach to restoring workplace trust.  

1. Have a clear mission and vision.
2. Communicate with conviction.
3. Connect with personal values.
4. Be consistent.
5. Celebrate success.
Workplace trust in the US has been severely damaged but can be at least partially restored, given the right efforts by employees of all levels.  In the hospitality industry, which is a ‘people’ business, trust and collaboration are especially important to successfully delivering the guest experience.  Recognizing the nature and scope of the problem represent important first steps in the restoration of workplace trust.  


Rick Garlick, Ph.D. is the Senior Director of Consulting and Strategic Implementation, Maritz Research Hospitality Group. Rick currently focuses on hospitality clients, but has experience in a wide variety of industries. As a consultant for the design and execution of company research initiatives, he helps clients integrate their findings into action plans with bottom-line impact. Rick also provides guidance to research staff and develops new consumer, market and employee research products. He has been published in psychology and communication journals and has appeared on national media outlets CNNfn, CNBC, and NPR. Before joining Maritz, Rick worked at Gallup as a senior research director and managing consultant, and a professor at DePaul University.
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Contact: 

Lisa Karel
BLISSPR
Phone 212.840.1661
lisa@blisspr.com
 

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Also See: Maritz Poll: Employees’ Trust Toward their Workplace has Taken a Severe Hit; But the Hospitality Industry Was a Bright Spot / April 2010
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