Reassessing workplace training, parity

As we say hello to summer, companies across the hospitality space are encouraged by the return of travel in the wake of COVID-19. Promising increases in hotel occupancy during the recent Memorial Day holiday suggest that two years of pent-up travel demand has officially been unleashed.

Contributed by Dana Kravetz, Michelman & Robinson, LLP, Los Angeles, California

While the uptick in travel and tourism is helping improve the economic prospects of hotels and resorts worldwide, the need of hoteliers to quickly ramp up hiring after massive pandemic-related layoffs is also revealing real vulnerabilities. More particularly, with a high influx of new and sometimes transient staff comes a greater risk for labor violations and employee misconduct.

Of course, hotels and resorts are rightfully focused on their customers. Still, it is important that hospitality management understands that the workplace environment has a direct impact not only on the guest experience, but on brand viability as well. That being said, leadership within the industry plays a critical role in ensuring that employees understand their specific roles, the expectations of the workplace, and how to appropriately engage with one another. This is especially the case given the impacts of the #MeToo movement and applicable employment laws.

Protecting staff, brand with training

Employee training at hotels is focused mainly on procedures and processes related to the guest experience (read: managing check-ins, handling customer requests, and offering 5-star service). To be sure, this level of training, including lessons on the standards of a given hotel property, is of vital importance when onboarding new hires. But training should not end there.

Given the limited talent pool available these days, some may be forced to hire staff with less experience than would have been acceptable just a couple of years ago. As such, not all employees will have the expertise necessary to identify and address potential on-the-job legal problems. For this reason, all employees in the United States, and supervisory staff in particular, should receive guidance on workplace requirements and conduct so as to prevent labor violations and episodes of misconduct going forward. This includes training related to (1) sexual harassment and the impact of H.R. 4445, the recently enacted law that permits victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment to pursue claims in court even if they had previously entered into an arbitration agreement or joint-action waiver, and (2) meal and rest break periods, overtime and off-the-clock work because failing to abide by applicable wage and hour laws (and making timely payments for meal and rest premiums) can lead to expensive and damaging litigation.

Those serious about protecting and growing their hotel brands will also invest in management development and risk-focused training, all with an eye toward helping managers grow into their roles as guardians of brand standards and mitigators of risk. To get there, hoteliers should consider lawyer-led training sessions concentrated on how to recognize areas of—and the potential for—legal exposure. Having an attorney participate in training can also help hotel leadership uncover problematic dynamics between employees, instances of bullying and harassment, and favoritism or inequality that might otherwise fall under the radar.

Gender parity in management

Hotel staff can be uniquely vulnerable to harassment by guests and management alike. No doubt, while training can go a long way toward protecting employees against abuse, driving gender parity in supervisory roles is also essential. A balance of genders within management can help leadership view the workforce more holistically and from differing points of view. Likewise, the representation of all genders within management can create a greater sense of comfort among employees.

It is no secret that the leadership ranks at many hotels are dominated by men—a recent Zippia survey indicates that just 34.3% of hotel general managers are female. This imbalance is aggravated by a tight labor market causing some within the hotel space and beyond to view gender parity as unattainable. But this is simply not true, and a commitment to cross-training can enable women already in supervisory positions to become strong managers in departments other than their own.

Looking under the hood

Employee training and development and gender parity must be treated proactively—this as a means to address lurking challenges and problems before they become real issues. And while it may seem daunting, hoteliers are urged to “look under the hood” and review each of these three items, along with operational strengths and weaknesses, compensation policies across demographics, and the mechanisms available to employees to report workplace concerns.

Such an exercise works to guard against potentially costly risks (legal and otherwise), serves to put corporate values into action, and gives employees a greater sense of connection to and trust in their hotel employers.