How to Manage Hotel Staff During Times of Crisis and Unemployment

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Leading in Time of Crisis Hotels

Strong leadership builds team engagement, which is always important, but it plays an especially big role during times of crisis.

As you navigate the COVID-19 outbreak and its effects on your property, how has your relationship with your staff changed? Which measures have you had to take to protect your business?

Unfortunately, many hotels have had to take drastic steps such as cutting back on their employees’ hours, furloughing them, or even letting them go.

When it comes to this, it may feel impossible to maintain a good relationship with your staff. But don’t worry, all is not lost.

We asked experts in the hospitality, learning and employee development fields to share some of their best tips on how to maintain employee engagement during times of crisis and support your team the best you can.

How to lead your team in times of crisis

As a leader or business owner, you have a team which follows and trusts you. Since people look to you for leadership, you must act as a role model, regardless of whether you are in a crisis or not.

To help you be the best role model you can be, Jones Liew, an experienced corporate trainer and facilitator from Singapore, suggests you follow the five steps outlined in his SPACE acronym:

  1. Stability: Create a stable environment that your team feels secure in.
  2. Positivity: Maintain a positive, solution-oriented mindset.
  3. Authenticity: Be yourself and share your struggles. Show how you are coping with them and use this as a chance to lead by example.
  4. Confidence: Create a positive environment by believing in yourself, your team and that the situation can and will improve.
  5. Empathy: Understand that not everyone is like you. Your staff may have varied reactions to a crisis and face challenges different from your own.

How to manage hotel staff during times of crisis and unemployment

Especially in times of crisis and when hotels have to furlough or let go of staff, it can feel difficult to manage staff effectively and compassionately. After all, sending great team members into unemployment is the last thing any leader wants to do.

To help managers handle this situation with the care it deserves, Jones developed another acronym: PLUS.

  1. Prepare: Create a safe environment where staff can speak up about challenges they are facing.
  2. Listen: Hear what your people say.
  3. Understand: Get clarity on what your team really needs as opposed to what you think they need.
  4. Solutions & Suggestions: Provide solutions and suggestions that fit your staff’s needs.

Following the steps outlined by the PLUS acronym is a great place to start when you know you may need to prepare your team for the worst. It creates a healthy baseline and staff will trust that you understand and support them. This will motivate them and boost team engagement even in trying times.

You can do the same thing with furloughed employees, even if it’s from a distance. Connor Vanderholm, Area Director of Revenue Management most recently with Hersha, says his company has sent handwritten notes to team members who have lost their jobs which was highly appreciated.

They also use emails and texts to stay in touch with staff on temporary leave. This communication offers the hotel a chance to share updates and, more importantly, to show they care and want to stay connected.

Connor highlights that it’s crucial to show furloughed team members what a hotel is doing to bring them back as soon as possible. Without that, they will feel neglected and may start looking for other opportunities.

That could lead to high turnover for hotels resulting in increased hiring and training costs. This means hotels need to consider both the human aspect, which is most important, as well as the financial aspect when handling furlough and temporary leave.

How to announce redundancies

Announcing redundancies is probably one of the worst aspects of a manager’s or business owner’s job. When worst comes to worst, Jones suggests following the four Cs.

  1. Clarity: Outline the circumstances that led you to your decision and show that there was no other choice.
  2. Consultation: Explain your search for alternative solutions to show that you’ve given saving their jobs and the business serious thought.
  3. Conclusion: Communicate your decision clearly, show that it is definite and cannot be changed.
  4. Compassion: Offer all the support you can and express your appreciation for the work your team members have done for you and the hotel.

Support you provide to staff you have to let go can include resources for their job search, job leads, great references, interview training and information about how to apply for unemployment benefits. Do your research and share your findings about ways your team could get support to make this difficult transition easier on them.

Of course, you can also highlight that you want them to come back once the situation improves. While this shows your appreciation for them and gives hope, it will be of little help to your staff in the short term.

Brian Chesky, the founder and CEO of Airbnb, recently wrote an open letter that’s a strong example of a leader communicating redundancies and further steps. Have a read if you are looking for ideas on how to break the bad news in a compassionate way.

How to be empathetic with your team

Especially during times of crisis and uncertainty, it’s important to show empathy towards your team.

This means understanding what they are thinking and feeling. To do that, leave your own thoughts, opinions and feelings at the door and try your best to put yourself in their shoes.

When you have a better idea of what your staff is going through, you can be a pillar of support. Ask your staff how you can support or help them at this time. Listening to what they need is the best place to start.

If they ask for something you are able and willing to do, go ahead and do it. On the other hand, some might not want solutions or suggestions but simply someone to talk to. That’s ok, too. When and if they are ready to ask you for your thoughts, they will.

How to keep your team motivated

Keeping your team motivated during a crisis works the same way as during normal times, but it may be even more important.

For starters, get your staff involved in the steps you are taking to save your business. Ask them to contribute ideas, make everyone feel like they are part of the team and encourage them to take ownership. You’d be surprised by the amazing things people will do and come up with.

This could include starting initiatives to support your local community, gathering and implementing ideas on how to cut costs at your hotel and creating ways for staff to support each other in the workplace and at home during the crisis.

Apart from forging a stronger bond, this also keeps things moving. You will create small wins for your business which will keep your employees motivated and boost morale. During this time it is especially important to show your appreciation and acknowledge the work, effort and time people are contributing.

At Oaky, for example, we launched inter- and intradepartmental improvement projects. They were initiated by our leadership but driven bottom-up. This boosted engagement and morale, and led to closer relationships among team members and between departments.

How to use this downtime wisely

To land this plane on a positive note, we asked Ron Kaufman, author of the bestselling book Uplifting Service, how he thinks you could make the most of this downtime.

His own experience of being stuck on a cruise ship for three weeks and then having to undergo mandatory two-week quarantine upon his return to Singapore inspired him to the following advice:

Instead of looking at this time as something you just need ‘to get through’ both personally and in business, think about using it as a time of transformation. Use this time to evaluate what takes up your time without bringing you closer to what you want to be and do in the future. Now could be a chance to drop that.

Also, think about how you could show up better for your business, your team, your community, your family and yourself. This is the perfect opportunity to reinvent yourself and take big steps towards becoming the best new person or business you can be.

Take time to learn new skills, try new technology at your hotel or find something new to teach your team. Then, once business picks up again, you can make the most of it and come out of this crisis stronger than before.

To sum it up.

To sum it up, you can make these challenging times less confusing and overwhelming for your team by showing empathy, providing support and communicating clearly and honestly whenever there is a new development, be it good or bad.

As you continue moving through these challenging times, remember that we are all in the same boat. This is the time to focus on what counts – keeping your team close and coming through together.

Now, on to you… how are you communicating with your team during this crisis? And which new things are you giving a try?


This post originally appeared on the Oaky website and is reproduced with their permission.

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