An improving economy is welcome news for hoteliers. Meanwhile, HR professionals look to 2011 with circumspection, knowing full well that creativity, persistence and hardnosed determination will be required to tackle many challenges, in particular two familiar ones.
Challenge No. 1: Creating “sticky” employees
In the depths of the economic recession, employers’ biggest worry, aside from keeping their doors open, was juggling schedules in order to provide enough work to retain their top-performing employees. The recovering economy has revealed the other side of that coin: Employees are getting antsy. Many in fact are thinking of leaving their jobs, and their employers are worried. CareerBuilder recently reported 43% of employers feared their best employees would jump ship in 2011. The challenge: how to make the best employees “sticky.”
While some speak lovingly of “employee engagement” as a magic elixir, citing it as the key to retention, something far more fundamental keeps employees from straying: the example set by hospitality’s leadership.
Unfortunately, the example, both prior to and during the recession, in some organizations was set by those a recent article in Talent Management referred to as “destructive leaders.” Tiger Mike and the Toxic Triangle authors Jon Joyce and Natalie Tracy described how destructive leaders systematically dismantle positive employee relations, in some cases leading to the destruction of the company. Supported by an organization’s need for certainty in uncertain times and by “susceptible followers” who themselves crave power or believe employees are simply means to an end, the narcissistic, autocratic style of destructive leaders is thus enabled. These supervisors rule—they do not lead, thus unwinding employee loyalty.
So how then do you retain your top talent? To create a “sticky” working environment, destructive leaders who might have flourished during a cost-cutting, layoff-oriented recession must be identified, their power curtailed and their style rehabilitated. HR, along with its corporate and consulting allies whose missions are supported and encouraged by senior operations executives, can prepare a game plan to reform destructive management practices. Those incumbents whose styles are causing unrest and turnover will be mentored, if willing, by those who know how to put employees first; the unwilling must work elsewhere as, for its own health, a recovering organization can no longer abide destructive leaders.
Challenge No. 2: Vanquishing the litigation curse
The second big challenge for HR in 2011 is in part an outgrowth of destructive leadership. Employment claims and litigation otherwise blamed on the recession have in part been fed by those employees who allege they tried but failed to correct leadership issues. Lawroom.com reported recently that a review of selected cases shows plaintiffs prevailed in 55% of retaliation and whistleblower lawsuits and in 75% of sexual harassment cases, a not-so-difficult-to-believe statistic.
Employees who resort to litigation in a poor economic environment? Not surprising. But employees winning the majority of cases filed? That is a problem in need of a solution.
The pro-employee and, many argue, pro-union policies of the Obama administration have arguably made matters worse, if not convincing employees to sue or obstruct their employers, at least showing them how it’s accomplished. The Department of Labor, for example, citing the difficulty the average employee encounters in navigating the legal system, has said it will now provide wage/hour claimants who had filed cases with the agency but whose claims would not be heard (including those whose claims lacked merit) with a list of local attorneys who, as a DOL official announced, “may be able to help.”
The National Labor Relations Board, its regulatory and judicial reach muted during the Bush administration, is an agency reborn, replete with pro-union appointees. In mid-December 2010, the Board announced a proposed rule that would require employers to place on employee bulletin boards a poster notifying employees of their right to unionize. Employers, particularly those in the hospitality and other service industries staffed predominantly by minimum wage employees, are understandably likely to object. Meanwhile, unions won two-thirds of all conclusive elections conducted in 2009, the most recent year surveyed, according to the NLRB’s 2009 annual report.
Vanquishing the curse of litigation is no easy task. Labor and employment lawyers long have argued that the only effective way is to keep it from happening—to keep the genie in the bottle. How? The most practical prophylactic is a combination of strong, compassionate leadership (the opposite of what destructive leaders peddle) and an equally strong, dialed-in HR team who fairly administer policies that recognize an employee’s intrinsic value and reinforce the organization’s unequivocal support for fair treatment.
The truly legendary hospitality employers, whether chain or independent, have carved and carefully honed their retention strategies using strong leaders and equally potent HR practices, avoiding the worst litigation while earning kudos from “sticky” employees. In 2011, these organizations will continue to prosper while others will ponder why they can’t stop employee departures and why business still seems so bad.
Chuck Conine is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and a veteran hospitality HR executive whose consulting network, Hospitality HR Solutions, partners with hotels, resorts and foodservice operators nationwide.
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