Chapter 6 - There's something about Mary....
No two days are ever the same in Hospitality HR. Working with teams of people in very different disciplines often from very different cultures is fascinating. Communication skills are critical and a one size fits all definitely does not work. If you spoke to a Chef in the same way as a beauty therapist, you would definitely not build the best relationship.
Having empathy is crucial. When your working day starts at 6am for breakfast, followed by lunch and then dinner service in a hot, small, busy kitchen, you don’t often engage in lengthy small talk. A warm smile and a friendly “Hiya Rich, how’s it going?” as you pass in the corridor lets them know you see them and you care.
Likewise, doing a full eight hour shift of back to back massage because the Liverpool football team is staying and two therapists are on holiday is hard work for a beauty therapist who has a range of other skills. Massage is physical and tiring and therapists generally like performing a range of treatments, a facial, a manicure as well as a massage or two. Taking the time out to chat to Emma, to ask about her day and to talk about something that’s important to her will give her a little lift.
Meeting the ever changing demands in a hotel is part of the excitement of the job. However it’s important that the management team show empathy and understanding to all the challenges that our team working long hours, in physically demanding jobs with regularly changing goal posts and typically on not much more than minimum wage face each day.
Back to Mary. Marco had mentioned that she hadn’t been particularly welcoming to him as a new member of the team. Mary has been with us for a year now, she works in housekeeping and is great at what she does. She was born and raised in Nigeria and has an amazing work ethic and is usually friendly and welcoming as she remembers all to well how it feels to be the new kid on the block.
I know that Mary normally cleans the rooms in the west wing of the hotel, so at about 11am, just before her break, I head over there. I see the open door and her cleaning trolley outside, so know she must be cleaning room 208. I am greeted by the longest face and saddest eyes I’ve seen in a long time. “Hey Mary” I start “I’ve not seen you for a while, how are things with you?” and she sits down and bursts into tears.
It turns out, Mary was going to come and see me later today. Through the sobs, I find out that her mother back home in Nigeria is unwell and the Acting Head Housekeeper (Hayley) has refused her holiday request, so she is unable to go home and see her mother. Hayley said that as Mary is the best in the team and the hotel is full for the next month, she can’t do without her right now. Although the team is fully staffed, 5 of them are new and not as fast as Mary and Hayley is feeling the pressure as she is stepping up until the new Head Housekeeper is appointed.
I sit next to Mary and listen to her, showing compassion and understanding, gently probing just enough that she knows I care whilst getting the information I need to help in this situation.
I tell her to go on her break, have a cup of tea and that I will speak to Hayley and come back to her by the end of the day at the latest.
Dealing with team members when things go wrong, or when problems occur is one of the things managers struggle with the most. Good leadership is a difficult balance of being compassionate and understanding, but not overly friendly so that the lines are blurred.
Learning how to lead and manage former peers is also one of the biggest challenges for a newly promoted manager. So many fail because they are unable to make the distinction between a peer and a leader. Being too friendly with the team can make it hard when difficult decisions needs to be made and communicated to the team. The focus is no longer on being popular, more about being respected as a leader. Conversely, being too “bossy” in an attempt to step up as a new leader will result in the team resenting you.
Next time……. Overwhelm - Helping Hayley
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