Arise. Saints of the Hotel Night

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Picture it.  It’s 3am in any city or decent-sized town in the world.  The majority of the population is sleeping, or depending on the location, enjoying a social life in their own way.

At the same time there will also be a group of individuals at work, who in general, will be serving the community.  These are the taxi drivers, the nurses, the doctors, the police and firemen and women, the street cleaners, and more of course.  And within hotels, there are people at work as well.  The Front Office Agent, the Room Service Attendant; a lone Chef; the Security Officer; a Duty Manager, an Engineer, and perhaps a Bell Attendant.  This can be a motley crew of individuals who often have little in common other than the dark hours that they share.

An interesting part of hotel life is that this small number of staff will be responsible for a far higher ratio of guests-to-employees than any other shift.  For during the day and early evening when most managers are present along with the majority of line staff, most guests will be out of the hotel either at work, taking in the sites of the location, or moving on to their next destination.  Whereas when the comparatively smaller overnight team is on duty, generally every guest will be in the hotel, enjoying the comfort, or struggling with the discomfort of their hotel bed.

The reasons for overnight employees taking on such responsibility and working these hours are as varied as they are.  Some do it as it can be viewed as necessary to advance a career in particularly Front Office; some do it as they enjoy the solitude of the night; and some do it because, well, because their managers instruct them to do it.  Many will resent the overnight shift and the personal struggles that will come with it, but there is also a small number who genuinely adore such hours of work, and will happily work the shift for years, and sometimes decades.  If you ever have such an individual in your team, do whatever it takes to keep hold of them – for they are priceless in reducing the need for ‘normal’ staff to work the overnights, and should they resign, it can be close to impossible finding a like-minded replacement.

If an overnight employee is fortunate, they will have a good team of colleagues working with them.  Team members that have a similar sense of humour, and an equal desire to get the job done effectively and efficiently.  But if luck is not on their side, then being paired up with colleagues who are quick to irritate them can be a version of hospitality torture.  Sharing duties with frustrating colleagues is tiresome at any time, but when it happens at 3 o’clock in the morning it just seems like some sort of sick joke that will make a person question what they have done to deserve such an outcome.

The habits of the night crew are humourous to be part of, or even to observe.  Walk into the back offices on the overnight shift and you will invariably find a dieticians’ nightmare – a hardcore supply of candies, chocolate, energy drinks, and coffee – basically anything to keep the eyelids open.   The consequence of such a diet is that individuals will have peaks of buzzing physical and mental energy, followed by troughs of such desperate tiredness that serious thought and internal debate will be given to getting a few minutes sleep on any possible surface – a desk, a massage table, an event room floor, even a guest room.

This tiredness can at times cross over into pure deliriousness that will produce both hilarious conversations and moments of stupidity.  One colleague revealed to me that he once stood in front of an elevator for more than a minute becoming openly furious that the doors would not open.  Physically pounding at the elevator, his brain eventually awoke to the realization that he had not actually pressed the button to open the doors.  Yes, the night hours can turn even the most professional of hotel workers into raving fools.

Outside of these humourous moments, there are the darker consequences of performing thimagee overnight shift.  If an individual is a negatively-emotional type; going through a break-up; or enduring other life difficulties; then working the midnight hours provide far too much time to think – and over-thinking at 3am rarely results in rays of positive vibes going through the brain.

Additional to this emotional stress (and most likely contributing to it) is that the body of the overnight worker is often in a state of confusion.  Sleeping patterns will be completely thrown about, and basic eating habits do not apply when working such hours.  If you wake at 20:00 to prepare for your night shift, should you have cereal before commencing your work?  Is that breakfast? Is that dinner? Who knows, just put something in my stomach!  And lunch?  That meal period is a mythical concept for a hotel’s night team.

Through food, hotels can demonstrate the sense of value they have towards their overnight team.  Some will provide leftovers from daytime meals – thank you for working such difficult hours, please enjoy food that was served to your colleagues more than half-a-day earlier.  These companies might as well put a leash on their employees and have them drink water out of a bowl.  But there are others who recognize the importance of providing their team with some form of edible incentive, and will have the Room Service Chef prepare meals from the guest menu.  Now we are talking!

As the night shift comes to an end, things can become desperate.  If the morning shift scheduled to take over has a briefing that goes for an excessive amount of time then although the night person will remain at their post, they will seethe at the injustice of their life.  Whilst if their morning replacement ever sleeps in and is late for their shift, then there will be little point trying to pacify the night person because the news that they will need to stay back longer will invariably transform them into a combustible ball of rage.

Attempts to have a ‘normal’ life away from nights means having a perpetual cycle of tiredness.  On a day off your body is still in night mode, but to stay in this realm means sitting at home until 07:00 going slightly crazy over late-night television and social media.  So instead, the night worker will stay up for as long as possible during their day off – venturing out to a café, a cinema, a beach – anywhere that will help them feel like they are part of society, even if it means sitting there in a state of complete exhaustion.

Because of their hours of work, our saints of the night can be easily forgotten.  By the time most of the HR team and managers arrive for work, the night crew has either gone, or are close to being out the door.  So for management, it is up to you to actively, and sincerely recognize your night team.  Let them know on a regular basis how appreciated they are; how valuable their role is; and choose recognition events at times that are engaging for the overnight team – not for HR or management.  For example, hosting a ‘thank you’ morning tea for overnight employees at 10:00 is punishment rather than intended recognition.

Recognise your overnight team not because you have to, but because it is the right thing to do.  Because at 3 o’clock in the morning when you are fast asleep, there is a small unit of your employees who are sacrificing part of themselves to oversee the safety, comfort, and satisfaction of every single guest you have.

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A Quiet Word To HR Managers

The relationship between HR professionals and their Learning counterparts is an intriguing one.  The two can share the same office, same hours, and even sing side-by-side at their colleague’s birthday celebrations, but despite this common ground a gap often exists in the relationship that hinders progressive collaboration from taking place.  This gap is rarely as obvious as what sometimes exists between say Front Office and Housekeeping, but excluding the very best HR/Learning environments, it is nonetheless usually there.

When such a gap exists, the consequences are usually greater on the Learning professional as more often than not, they will be the junior person in the relationship.  These consequences will vary, but can include reduced engagement; lower productivity; and limited career growth.  With these such implications, the wider effect is that the hotel will invariably gain less value out of the Learning function.

So what then can a HR Manager do to get the most out of their Learning colleague, and maximize their output for the benefit of the enterprise?

  1. Be Genuinely Interested in Their Work

I have worked with a number of HR professionals who demonstrate the belief that the role of a Learning person is to host orientation programs; run a couple of basic customer service related sessions; and make sure compliance trainings are completed on time.  If that is all a hotel wants from the function, then well, they will retain only average Learning professionals, and drive away any ambitious individual who could have been of greater value.

To expect more from a Learning colleague, and to get more from the individual, then show an interest in what they do.  As simple as it sounds, ask them what they are working on; what challenges they have; what they are most proud of with their work; and where they need guidance.  Go and sit in, and even participate in their sessions – this doesn’t mean every single session, but for 10 minutes every now and then, go there with a view to support, encourage and give feedback.  For particularly less experienced Learning professionals, this can make a significantly positive difference to know that their boss is actually interested in their work.

If you are not knowledgeable on what the Learning function genuinely should be then fill this knowledge gap with the diligence that you would show towards any other part of the HR function – Payroll, Labor Law, Employee Engagement, etc.  Understand the difference between a trainer, presenter, and facilitator (this is important!); research how to develop learning programs; and build up an awareness of different approaches to training – essentially do whatever it takes to make sure that you expect more from a Learning colleague then orientation, basic sessions and compliance.

The added three-pronged bonus of showing more interest in the Learning function is that it will result in you being better equipped to select the right candidates for future Learning positions; allow you to  more effectively hold your Learning employee accountable; and, because you are knowledgeable, will result in you being a manager who your Learning person can approach with confidence when they need guidance.

2. Respect The Learning Function

Connected to the value of showing due interest, is the importance of demonstrating respect for the Learning function.  Sometimes when we indicate a lack of knowledge and/or interest in another person’s work, this can be perceived accurately or inaccurately as a lack of respect.

Relating this to Learning, I once had a HR Manager tell me that they only needed a junior Learning person in their hotel because they could get the F&B Manager to develop learning programs for all staff.   Disturbingly, the nomination of the F&B Manager was a random selection – not because of any specific qualities the individual possessed.

How exactly the F&B Manager was ever going to find the time to do this I never quite worked out, but the observation that essentially anyone else could design Learning programs best served to highlight the individuals’ lack of knowledge, and respect for the Learning function.

If it were suggested that the same F&B Manager look after the payroll or recruitment function for the entire hotel, then the HR Manager would most likely have passed out in horror.  A more balanced approach for this HR Manager to have would be to demonstrate equal respect to all aspects of HR because to develop great Learning programs for an entire hotel takes time; (good luck in getting a manager in operations discovering that) research; and often a good level of innovation.  It is not a function to pass onto to randomly selected individuals.

So respect the Learning function and the value of the role – if you can do this, then getting a more advanced performance out of your Learning colleague will invariably become a more likely result.

3. Challenge & Accountability

If the HRM is not challenging their Learning colleague with suitable targets, and is not holding them accountable for the quality of their work, then their Learning colleague can become overly comfortable in what they are doing, or not doing.

To prevent this, challenge the Learning professional with accountability-based questions such as what are your targets for this week? This month? This year?  What are the learning outcomes that you are working towards? What have you developed this month? Who have you developed this week and how?  How have you contributed to the business this quarter?  What will you try differently with your induction plans and Orientations?  Tell me about a learning program you are developing that doesn’t involve PowerPoint?  What best practices in developing people are you researching right now to improve what we are doing here?  What non-hospitality industries are you looking into to broaden our horizons?

Asking such questions will of course not guarantee results, but if the right person has been selected for the role it will guide them to think more deeply about what they can achieve for the hotel, and what they can do to develop employees.  Without such challenges, if the Learning person lacks sufficient self-motivation, then the likelihood is that they will develop the habit of doing the bare minimum in the Learning function.   Once this happens, then your company’s Learning function risks becoming an after-thought in the businesses’ mindset – an implication that can see many years passing by before the lost ground is regained.

4. Develop Them

For most Learning colleagues to be able to best develop the employees of their hotel, they first will need to see a positive future for themselves with the company. Helping Hand

This is an approach I find to be fundamental to getting the most out of a Learning professional.  If your Learning employee is indeed junior in status to you, then take the obvious responsibility to develop the individual, and make them feel as though they have a career worth pursuing with your company.  If you instead put the Learning person in a corner and show minimal interest in them and their work, then you can hardly be surprised when they (a) do not produce amazing work; (b) display low levels of engagement; and/or (c) move on to a competitor.

So work with them to develop their basic training skills; their presentation style; their facilitation skills; and their program development abilities.  Involve them in HR specific tasks such as interviewing and selection; budgeting; manning levels; discipline discussions – anything that will broaden their knowledge levels; their involvement with the HR team; and indeed, their future career options.

This last point is one that is particularly important, as the number of Learning professionals in hotels that genuinely desire a long-term career purely in Learning is in my experience not a high number.  For most individuals in the field, Learning is a temporary step while they pursue other options – often in HR specific.  If the individual doesn’t feel that they are being developed, then their ability to develop others (i.e. Do their job) is invariably significantly comprised.

5. Work With Them 

Not disregarding the heavy workload of HR Managers, creating the chance to work directly with your Learning colleague can have a terrific impact on the individual, and their future output.

Examples of working directly together can be through collaborating to co-facilitate a learning session; reshaping the orientation program; or even on a HR specific task such as reducing employee turnover. To do such activities once, maybe twice a year will not only allow you to directly observe their capabilities and weaknesses (or ‘development areas’ for those that don’t like the ‘W’ word); but more powerfully, provide stimulus to your Learning employee because it provides them with the opportunity to work directly with a manager who sees them as a colleague worth working with, and not as a distant subordinate placed in a small corner of the HR office.

6. Involve Them

If the set-up of your Department means that HR and Learning are part of the same team, then as basic as it sounds, make the Learning members feel that they are actually part of the entire unit.  Many times I have seen HR Managers conduct briefings and meetings with the HR specific members of the team, whilst the Learning person/people sit outside the briefing room.  Now occasionally there might be a legitimate reason for doing this, but when it happens regularly, the HR Manager is unwittingly (I hope) communicating to the Learning person that ‘you are not part of the team.’

The very best HR leader I have worked with was outstanding at creating an environment where HR and Learning were together not just in the sense of sharing in a physical space, but in having a collective mindset.  Results, forecasts, achievements, challenges, and social activities were consistently shared between the entire team, which contributed to a sense of being in this together.

If a HR manager can create this sense of involvement rather than one of separation then having a Learning employee working cohesively with their HR counterparts becomes much more likely to eventuate.

The advice I have provided here implies that it is purely the role of the HR Manager to build the gap between HR and Learning.  It is clearly not.  It is a two-way relationship that the Learning professional must contribute equally to.  But if you, as a HR Manager are the leader of the Department, it will almost always be up to you to take the lead to get the most out of the Learning function. Neglect this leadership role, and the learning function in your hotel risks becoming a token gesture only.