By Phil Bruno

In my previous post, I discussed how the hospitality and tourism industry is still missing about 75% of its workforce—and that the management culture within the industry is where we can begin to change that.

Now before anyone gets defensive, let me say this: I didn’t want that to be the case. (Still don’t.) I love this industry, and all the positive experiences it provides to people day in and day out. But it’s because I love this industry that I want to say it directly: Managers, leaders…you need to listen. And you need to be ready to turn the battleship around.

But first things first: We urgently need to listen to employees. They are sharing their experiences, online and in person. And the picture they paint is not pretty: Long hours, abusive language, presumptuous demands, and an overall lack of basic human respect.

If these were a few disgruntled employees, I could see brushing off these kinds of stories. But there are literally hundreds of them, on social media and in forums. They are sharing stories of mistreatment that show an overall pattern.

The numbers are the real story here: We have a job open rate that is 27% higher than the national average (8.9% vs. 7%) and a quit rate that is almost double the national average (5.2% vs. 2.9%). If we want to keep the few employees who have stayed with our companies through thick and thin, we need to see what it’s like through their eyes.

Four Quick Examples of Toxic Management, Straight from Employees

Here are four quick examples of the stories I’ve seen. It was hard to sort through the dozens and dozens out there, but these four were specific about things that managers and leaders did that could have easily been handled better. We’re talking literally no cost to the company to do a better job.

Note that names and identifying information have been removed, and some of the details changed, to protect people’s privacy.

Demanding, and not true to his word. One employee was told that his place of employment was understaffed and he needed to come in during the holidays—after he had been cleared for PTO three weeks earlier. Look at the manager’s reply:

“We’ve had to set expectations for you multiple times this year. Coming in is the LEAST you can do. Your PTO request has been denied. I’m not asking you to come in, I’m telling you that you have to.”

Needless to say, that employee quit on the spot.

Overworked and ignored. Some managers expect a lot from their employees. That’s fine—but there must be a baseline of human decency. One employee’s story:

I was at one hotel, working as a dishwasher. I was [often called in] to work 60 hour weeks, even though I was in school. I was almost always by myself, because the two guys who worked there before me got fired. I was denied medical attention when I dropped a knife on my finger, which resulted in 6 stitches—even those I could not get until my shift was over, and I could go to the ER.

Leaders need as much “emotional intelligence” as their employees. Most employees want to do a good job. But they need good feedback, delivered in an emotionally intelligent way. Blowing up at them does little, as this story shows:

I work at [popular tourist destination]. The board president (of all people) swore at me over the phone because they had “complaints from visitors,” and lectured that I was not giving 100% dedication to my job. All of this came out of left field, so I asked about the specific complaints. I wanted to know what I could do better.

But as it turns out, there had been no complaints. They hadn’t “heard” from anyone. When the president mentioned complaints, it was really just a cover for their own axes to grind—most of which were really trivial, like leaving my bike in the wrong area close to the office…I told my director that they, or a manager, could have just talked to me and set expectations…not wait for things to build up over a month and then explode.

As the saying goes, “Soft skills are the hard skills.” This board president obviously lacked good communication skills, and management itself was not skilled at setting expectations properly. These have to be practiced.

Leaving the sinking ship. Complaints aren’t just from employees about front line managers. Managers themselves are under enormous pressure and feel underserved by corporate:

I survived maintaining a 108 room hotel with 8 people for a year when corporate wouldn’t let us hire anyone else…to make it worse, corporate only cares about our gss scores. They set unrealistic goals to reach all while never actually being in the trenches. [Us] employees are working 2-3 different jobs, working 14 hours a day, and they expect the highest scores…my question is this: At what point do I just jump off this ship and let it sink?

The Key Takeaway

It doesn’t cost anything for a manager to set expectations with an employee. Or better handle a request to come in for a shift. Or to cover an employee while they seek medical treatment. But there is a huge cost in not doing these things. There is a huge ROI to training managers to know how to do the right thing by their employees. That is what will get the industry out of its employment funk.


Photo credits: Photo by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels