Staff only: how a hospitality team is brought together. What part a hotel HR manager plays?
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Staff only: how a hospitality team is brought together. What part a hotel HR manager plays?
Svetlana Zhukova, 31 August 2018

Each of us becomes a hotel or restaurant guest once in a while: we travel, go on business trips, gather our family and friends to celebrate memorable events, and enjoy hospitality atmosphere. How often do we pause to think about people behind luxurious service and miracles performed backstage beyond the STAFF ONLY sign? Who makes a place favourite and comfortable for guests, thanks to whom rooms are cosy, and food – excellent, who triggers our wish to choose the same hotel or restaurant again and again?

The keystone to any hotel’s success is the amazing job done by its staff. To achieve it, a hotel should become not just a decent workplace, but a dream job. The main figure here is an HR manager, who can not only coordinate the staff’s work, but also create intangible values, such as corporate culture with traditions, philosophy, and a solid motivational scheme, which will eventually make the staff fall in love with their job and the hotel! In their turn, they will do their best to make guests truly happy with the stay.

Dear readers, hoteliers, HR managers, students, and everyone passionate about hospitality industry! I am thrilled to welcome you in the new section “Staff only: how a hospitality team is brought together”. We will have a monthly coverage on issues related to building a team and pursuing a career in hotel industry. We will review difficulties young professionals encounter and figure out on which aspirations and grounds the choice of a hotel should be based. Our first release is dedicated to HR managers: What part a hotel HR manager plays?

An HR department seems to be overloaded with routine work: a search for new employees, dismissals, paperwork, reports to various authorities, etc. However, a hotel HR manager is also supposed to apply a creative and considerate approach to coordinating the staff’s work. It is the HR manager who is entrusted with establishing the hotel’s corporate culture, which helps not only to build a tight-knit team and a rewarding working environment, but also to improve the level of service and, as a result, to enhance the company’s performance.

Fruitful cooperation of the HR department and the hotel’s executives enables to assemble a capable team of employees with a common mission, philosophy, and, most importantly, with the same values. This being accomplished, the company can expect initiative and strong efficiency on the part of each member of the team. Believe me, it will become noticeable for guests, partners, and job seekers. It is the staff who actually builds up the company’s image, and however skilful the executives might be, they will never be able to bring the brand to the high level of customers’ loyalty alone.

HR department is the nexus of the hotel’s organisation structure

My office would daily welcome employees from completely different departments and with different positions from frontline employees to managers, who entrusted me with both professional and personal issues seeking a useful advice, assistance or help. We would usually find solutions to complex situations, such as compromising disparate opinions, reconciling departments and their heads, developing schemes for mitigating errors committed in work or discipline. It even happened that employees would come with a resignation letter written in the heat of the moment and simmer down after we talked, being able to put a new slant to the situation and, eventually, change their mind. Frontline employees knew that they could have a face-to-face meeting in the HR department and confidentially discuss misunderstanding between them and their managers or colleagues. I would say that I was a psychologist ready to hear out and support each and every one. Such talks remained strictly private unless I had to further inform other involved parties upon a request. It can happen that you just cannot reach out to your co-workers. In that case it is necessary to help the employee to articulate the problem, skilfully communicate it to the managers and definitely monitor the results.

Cooperation between the HR department and employees is a sophisticated task requiring various approaches and subtle communication. Each department, each unit in the hotel’s structure, notwithstanding the executives, expects the HR department to be supportive and understanding. The executives demand that you find solutions to the outlined challenges, which are not always welcomed by the employees. It specifically concerns discipline innovations and optimisation of motivational projects. It is the HR manager who is responsible for communicating new ideas to the staff in such a way that confiding relations are kept, while the standpoint of the executives is clearly and plausibly maintained. It also happens the other way round: the employees turn to the HR department to request, for example, changes to labour conditions, a pay raise, amendments to the functions, etc. If I felt that such requests were well-grounded, and the changes – necessary, I would explicitly articulate and communicate such requests and demands to the executives, thus advocating the interests of the frontlines and managers. For the record, managers were frequenters in my office, which is quite understandable: this level of the hotel’s staff structure balances at the “hot” barrier between the frontline employees and managers. It implies the involvement of by far more responsibility, more requirements, and, consequently, more tense moments at work and especially concerns service managers monitoring a considerable number of subordinate employees, each of them having individual particularities, issues, and demands defined by their age, ambitions, and experience. Managers are responsible for the work done by each and every one.

Together with managers I had to deal with various problematic situations digging into the motives and trying to sort out what the executives wanted from the performance of employees and departments or to figure out whether it was just nagging, or the department was actually a trouble maker, as well as to find a way how to “tune” the employees to achieve the required results. I recommend HR managers not to shut the colleagues out along with their problems but to find time instead and spare a minute to listen to them and find a suitable solution. The HR department is out there to bring together the team and fuel the corporate spirit, which requires constant awareness of the emerging tensions among the staff members and ability to ease them. Simple listening can help to clear negative vibes and prevent them from contaminating others. Trust me, it is really significant for securing success of the whole company!

Unique features of hotel industry

An HR manager in a hotel should also be a shrewd person skilled in hospitality art more than anyone else, since he or she is the exact person communicating this knowledge to the employees, especially to the newcomers and interns taking their first steps in hotel industry. I am adamant that a hotel or restaurant manager, regardless of the division (operational department or, say, sales department), should, first of all, be a hospitality manager obliged to know core standards of the sphere, all services offered by the hotel, the structure and specific nature of each department, and, above all, how to deal with guests and handle contingency situations. It was a crucial skill in my department required from all managers, since once a month each of us took weekend duties. In a nutshell, the manager on duty became the key figure in the hotel responsible for controlling operation of all services and ensuring the level of service. For example, he or she was supposed to know exactly how a suite should look like after the cleaning, what compliment to prepare for the arrival of a frequent guest, how to handle a preliminary meeting for organizing an event and many other niceties: one would face completely different situations. This is the essence of a hotel work in general and hotel HR management in particular.

HR manager is a hospitality guru

Apart from basic HR functions, an HR manager also assumes the mission of a guru and guide into the world of hospitality, which is an essential condition to breathe the corporate culture into each employee and keep it up. That is why it is crucial not only to organize insightful tours around the hotel for new employees, students, and interns, but also to hold regular workshops on service standards and the hotel internal regulations, team-building and leadership trainings, as well as sessions dedicated to interaction between the departments. For student audience HR managers can arrange career days devoted to hotel tours and overview of professional growth prospects in hotel industry, associated requirements, and practical tips which position to choose as the first step on the career path. Some of the students will quite probably choose your hotel as their future workplace.

To HR beginners I would also advise to challenge the boundaries of their duties. Any experience gained within the hotel’s new projects will broaden your competence and turn out helpful for forging a strong corporate culture and effective team as well as for developing a better understanding of the employees and issues they face.

About the series “Staff only: how a hospitality team is brought together”

TOHOLOGY introduces a new monthly series dedicated to building a team and pursuing a career in hotel industry. The author Svetlana Zhukova shares her personal experience and gives an insight into the nuts and bolts of working in hotels and restaurants.

Svetlana is an expert in hotel HR management with a ten-year experience in the industry, who started off as a waitress and shift leader, and gradually rose to the head of the HR department. Svetlana is the founder of the project “Start in Hospitality HR”.

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