By John Kearney

Productive employees are essential for the success of any hotel – a fast-paced environment attending to demanding customers, sometimes 24 hours per day. It requires outstanding customer service, which can only be provided by a dynamic staff.

To keep productivity at its best standard, you will have to consider several factors. And one with the highest impact is shift length. How it affects your staff’s performance, and what you can do to prevent it from having a negative influence, is what we will discuss in this article.

How productivity is measured in hospitality

 The hospitality industry is diverse. Your hotel might be low-budget or a resort. Have a 24h service or not. Or offer extra facilities, such as restaurant, bar, gym or swimming pool. And it means the way you measure productivity isn’t straightforward. You will have to adapt it to your own reality.

According to the hotel management specialist Oliver Harnish, you should keep it simple and measure productivity considering each department separately. Establish parameters for the reception, concierge, housekeeping, and so on.

These parameters must be informed to the staff beforehand, and as objectively as possible, e.g. all rooms must be clean by 3pm. This way you can identify potential productivity issues and decide if shift length has a negative impact.

Finding the optimal shift length for top productivity

 No matter how hard one can try, a human being can only work a limit number of hours per day and deliver quality at the same time. We aren’t machines, meaning our bodies need time to recharge through both leisure and sleep.

But researchers still debate on the optimal shift length for top productivity. While many defend the 4-hour shift, it’s believed it varies from individual, job position, and industry.

Be realistic about your expectations. A study showed office employees on 8 hours-shift only worked around 3 hours per day, spending the other 5 on breaks, surfing online, or even looking for other jobs. While this isn’t desirable, it can be hard to monitor. Everyone has a phone in their pockets these days, a constant source of distraction. But you can minimize it with clear daily targets.

In the hotel industry, start by defining the optimal shift length per department. The average number of hours will come to you, many times, from your own professional experience. Follow your gut when establishing them – you will read next how to identify if you are doing it right. But if you are new or dealing with departments where you have never worked before, observe your competitors and apply what seems adequate to your business.

What happens to productivity when shift length is below optimal

 When employees work fewer hours than what they are capable, the first consequence is an atmosphere of uncertainty. Some employees will be concerned they might lose their jobs or have their hours cut down.

Facing this situation, a group of employees will work slower to make sure you will see them busy all the time. Others will ask you to be given more tasks, to be invited to other projects. When the answer is no, they might start looking for another job – and this is how you lose talents.

But many will not complain or change behaviour, especially those capable of working faster than average. They might feel penalised if they end up receiving more tasks. Or they won’t want to put pressure on their colleagues. So, you need to be looking for signs of idleness yourself.

 What happens to productivity when shift length is above optimal

 Overtired employees aren’t good for business. Specialists believe that we make more mistakes when we haven’t rested enough. It can also provoke mood swings. And the last thing you want is customers complaining about rude or lazy staff.

You will easily spot when your employees are working more hours than they can, long before they go to HR. They will have the usual symptoms of tiredness, but they can also be visiting the doctor more often. You can also hear about depression, back problems, diabetes, and other illnesses related to the workplace.

Employees doing sedentary work, such as your receptionists, are at higher risk. According to a study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, this type of work can have an effect similar to smoking.

What you should do to maintain productivity

 It will be a challenge for you to offer quality time to your employees while maintaining your hotel at a top-level. Especially if you offer 24h service. But there are some things you can put in place.

  • Ask your employees for specific feedback about their shift length and try to accommodate individual needs when you can.
  • If you must cut hours, be clear about why you are doing it and how it will be beneficial in the long term.
  • Use an online productivity tool to share and monitor a detailed productivity plan with your staff – one with measurable and realistic targets and based on what each department requires.
  • Hire an experienced recruiting agency to help you identify employees better suited to unusual shift lengths, such as those outside 9-5 hours.
  • Ask help from a doctor or psychologist to reveal underlying stress conditions in the workplace.
  • When possible, include leisure activities to your employees’ benefits so they can relax after a busy day.
  • Consider ending some 24h services if the night shifts are the most affected by reduced productivity.
  • Promote productivity workshops, with or without external consultancy, to discuss improvement ideas.

Offer the best work conditions

 Having to deal with the impact of shift length on your employees’ productivity is something that might become part of your routine. There is no easy way out of it because it varies from individual to individual.

But there is plenty you can do to prevent it from becoming a more significant issue, and it involves offering the best work conditions you can. Even the shortest and most flexible shift won’t be enough to ensure productivity if the workplace is stressful or unrewarding.

Also, have a backup plan with instructions to be followed during high-peak seasons. Let your staff know when it’s time to speed up or to work longer hours, but make sure they understand why this is necessary. And be ready to compensate it accordingly to avoid watching talents going to work for competitors.