While short term stress can have positive productivity effects — increasing focus and heightening senses, short term stress surrounded by periods of very limited activity (boredom) can be very debilitating.
Unfortunately, that describes many hospitality jobs: hours when no guests arrive alternating with surges of people demanding attention.
The adverse reaction occurs because even during slow periods, employees can’t relax and regain strength; they must remain alert because a guest can arrive at any time. As a result, even slow times are stressful as employees deal with the psychological challenges of boredom along with the constant anticipation of a deluge. So, work is psychologically exhausting, resulting in burnout and a higher turnover rate.
So, what is a company to do?
Reduce peak stress by smoothing the workload and cross-training workers to switch jobs as needed are already done: cooks prep ingredients between peak service times and back office managers are trained to help at the front desk. Still, it is useful to review procedures periodically, particularly in light of new technologies, to see if more can be done.
Reduce Interpersonal Friction
Hospitality workers tend to be very socially aware and so, they both notice friction and are particularly troubled by it. Managers need to monitor interpersonal friction and pursue strategies for mediating that (more on that next month, in case you don’t have current systems in place.)
Allow Workers More Job Control
Americans, especially, enjoy feeling in control of situations and that reduces stress. In the name of quality standards, hospitality companies often over-specify jobs. There may be some standards that you can eliminate completely, but more commonly, there are standards that can be turned into a portfolio of options. For example, instead of one standard greeting, develop a list of five possible greetings and allow the employee to choose one for each encounter.
Condition Employees to Feel Better About the Stressor
I teach my students to create a psychological link between an unpleasant task and a positive feeling. I tell them that every time they do the unpleasant task, they should listen to a favorite song, eat a jelly bean, or put on nice hand lotion, etc. Over time, a psychological link develops between the good thing and the task, making the task less unpleasant.
Reframe Stress Itself
Typically, stressful situations in hospitality are those that make the company successful (i.e. many guests). This gives you the opportunity to link stress to positive outcomes. Celebrate the number of people served each night and the guest reviews that comment on problem resolution. You may already reward specific staff responsible, but you should also make general announcements frequently (the more entertaining, the better). Help people recognize that stress signals something positive.
Contact Jan H. Katz Phd. if you have any questions or for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org