By Chris Whitlow

Many people might assume working in hospitality is less stressful than other industries. While hospitality employees may work in a luxurious environment, surrounded by happy families and individuals on vacation, their jobs can still be extremely stressful. In addition to meeting their managers’ high expectations, working long and sometimes non-traditional shifts, and the never-ending needs of new customers every day, hospitality employees are also expected to be helpful, pleasant and friendly to each customer they encounter.

This work-related stress is in addition to whatever issues hospitality employees may have going on in their personal lives, including anxiety about their health, family and finances—which does not disappear when an employee walks into their workplace. Instead, these personal concerns continue to weigh on their minds, competing for attention with job-related tasks throughout the workday. As this personal stress continues to build up, it can have a huge impact on overall employee productivity, absence and turnover. Since these factors directly impact a hospitality organization’s bottom line, employers must reassess their benefits packages for ways to reduce employee stress and improve retention rates.

Considering a Holistic Approach to Your Hospitality Company Benefit Plan

To help reduce the personal stress of hospitality employees, and thus make it easier to do their jobs, hotels must look beyond traditional health wellness to adopt a more holistic approach to employee wellness. While healthcare, dental, vision and a 401K are all an important part of any employee benefits package, they may fail to get to the root of what’s causing an employee stress at home. One of the most significant examples of this is financial wellness. The hospitality industry has a large segment of hourly workers with families to support, so budgeting for next month’s rent may be much more of a priority than long-term savings.

Additionally, ever-changing shifts make it a challenge for employees to feel confident in their month-to-month budgeting efforts, so tools to help them build a reserve in the event of a slow month are essential. Long-term financial stress can also take a negative toll on an employee’s physical and mental health, causing subsequent health issues that could affect their income due to health-related absences.

To relieve employee financial anxiety, hospitality organizations must better align their corporate culture overall to encompass their large percentage of employees who are at risk for financial stress. Often, there can be some level of disparity here, with lower-wage employees working at a luxury hotel chain providing guests with high-end dining, shopping and other experiences.

For these employees, trying to uphold such an opulent company culture can be a huge challenge since they themselves struggle with financial confidence. Knowing that employees may confuse their work environment with the company culture, employers must consistently reinforce their culture through the methods that best reach their employees – whether it is via email, text, flyers in break rooms, or via front-line managers. While the culture could – or rather should – vary among companies, employers should integrate acceptance and commitment to the health and financial wellness of their people in this culture.

By instilling a culture that supports financial education and goal-setting, hospitality organizations take major steps toward ensuring that employees engage with their benefits to improve their financial stress and, ultimately, their quality of life. It’s important for hotels and other hospitality organizations to identify the specific causes of stress for their unique workplace, and then look for holistic solutions to help address them before it’s too late.

Driving New Benefit Adoption in Hospitality

Once these new holistic benefits are put in place, the next hurdle is benefit program adoption and employee engagement. While these pose a major challenge to every industry, they are particularly challenging in the hospitality sector. Benefit adoption and engagement rates may be high among managers and salaried employees, but hospitality organizations often struggle to engage their much larger population of hourly maintenance, housekeeping and venue staff. Factors such as low wages, restricted access to technology and language barriers can largely impact an organization’s ability to achieve buy-in from this segment, so hospitality employers should always be thinking of engagement strategies that help bridge the gap.

One effective strategy to achieve adoption of benefits among this segment of the workforce is to host in-person benefits events. During these events, bilingual staff is on hand to meet with employees who face the challenges listed above to explain benefit offerings.

Ultimately, hospitality organizations will never see employee benefit engagement across the board unless they take the time necessary to: 1) assess which outside stressors are keeping their employees from performing their best work; 2) offer benefits that directly address those stressors; and 3) effectively train employees to adopt and maintain continued engagement within benefit programs.

Effective communication to inspire continued benefit engagement

To help hospitality employees get to the root cause of each of their stressors, it’s critical that organizations not just provide benefits, but also ensure their employees are consistently engaged in continued learning opportunities within those programs. To achieve this, hospitality organizations must find out what strategies best engage a majority of their workforce.

For instance, if most employees don’t have access to a home computer, an email campaign is likely not the best strategy. Employers can better identify what method of communication should be used to connect with employees by speaking with them directly or even distributing an online or paper survey.

In addition to the method of communication used to promote a benefit program, the communication itself is also very important. By utilizing benefit programs with the capability to track user engagement data, organizations can gain insights into what content is driving engagement. For employees that aren’t engaged, employers should use technology to gamify lessons, offer incentives for continued engagement, and create connections with the organization and their peers.

As employee stress continues to pervade the workplace, hospitality organizations must be aware of the unique stressors of their workforce and find benefit solutions to address them. But with such a diverse mix of hourly and salaried employees in the hospitality sector, benefits alone are not enough to solve employee stress. Employers must be thinking about how to weave the support of their benefits into their internal communication strategies and overall company culture. Hospitality organizations who make the commitment to create a culture of acceptance and understanding around employee stress will find this approach to be much more rewarding than simply providing benefit products on their own.