But this professional and courteous expertise does not happen without the unseen labor of hospitality industry workers. Their tireless dedication is necessary to elevate any hotel. Yet, this work is often unnoticed and unappreciated by management.

These employees face many challenges, including emotional stress and safety concerns that can impact the well-being and productivity of hotel workers.

Hospitality Workers and Emotional Labor

Hospitality workers have a very challenging job. In addition to the physical requirements of their job, which can entail long periods on their feet or lifting and moving heavy objects, they also have to maintain their demeanor. Hotel guests expect a cheerful, friendly face from staff, particularly front-facing employees. Managing emotions in this way is called emotional labor, and it is common in the workplace for hotel employees.

Emotional labor is mentally taxing, adding stress and exhaustion to the workload. It can manifest in two ways:

  • Surface acting, where people put on false emotions, like smiling when sad or angry. It is common when employees are dealing with a difficult customer.

  • Deep acting occurs when someone adjusts their internal feelings to match what they believe is required. An example is showing empathy for customers who are hurt or struggling.

People are not always aware that they are engaging in emotional labor. They may feel like it is part of their job to be pleasant and, thus, match their feelings to the required mood. Unfortunately, engaging in this behavior too frequently can lead to burnout.

Some other consequences of emotional labor include:

  • Feeling detached

  • Less efficient work results

  • Feeling inauthentic

  • Inner conflict

  • Decreased job satisfaction

  • Increased stress

A February 2023 study on hotel employee burnout shows that employees experiencing burnout leave their positions. When management fails to address these issues, which is more common in recent years due to worker shortages, more workers experience psychological distress leading to burnout. And that, in turn, leads to increased turnover - and staff shortages.

However, the study also found that Employee Assistance Programs did not appear to curtail the problem. That said, managers and supervisors must provide solutions to help employees better manage their workloads and deal with emotional labor.

Safety Concerns for Women and Other Hotel Workers

Hotel employees, including both front-desk workers and housekeeping staff, face many unique threats, especially pleasantness is part of the job. Women, people of different ethnicities, and differently gendered people are particularly vulnerable because being polite can actually sabotage and endanger women. Treating everyone positively at all times is problematic when a threat arises.

When people accommodate negative behaviors, this reinforces them as acceptable. That means problems can go from bad to worse very quickly. Social norms and etiquette rules often ask women to remain polite at all times, which can lead to tolerating negative behaviors. Others stay silent rather than risk conflict by speaking up about a problematic issue, colleague, manager, or customer.

If hotel employees find themselves in a difficult or unsafe situation, they must know when to be assertive. Some people confuse this with aggression, but the two are very different. Assertiveness comes from a place of confidence. It requires people to set clear boundaries and expectations. It's also a two-way street. If hotel staff must be cheerful and accommodating, customers and other employees should be respectful.

There is one other key area where hotel workers face risk.

The Risks of Working Alone

With limited staffing employed to run a hotel of any size, there will be times when hotel workers face risks because they work alone. There are several types of dangers they can encounter in these roles.

Physical Injury and/or Medical Emergency

Maintenance and housekeeping staff are at the highest risk. Injuries can occur while cleaning or maintaining areas, such as falling off a ladder or slipping on a recently mopped floor.

Maintenance teams are also vulnerable to harmful exposure to dust, gas, broken glass, chemicals, or physical strain from heavy lifting. Any worker may experience a medical issue that requires immediate attention, such as a heart attack.

Harassment, Verbal Abuse, or Violence

All workers are at risk of these challenges. Front desk staff may experience verbal abuse. Housekeeping and maintenance workers can encounter harassment, including sexual harassment. Workers are sometimes physically threatened or intimidated, and, at times, these situations can escalate into violence.

Sexual or Physical Assault

Housekeepers are generally the group most at risk of sexual assault. Front desk workers can experience physical assault as well.

With all these safety challenges, how can hotel leadership protect their employees?

Taking Steps to Protect Hospitality Workers

Supervisors have a big job on their hands to help their staff stay safe from the seen and unseen risks of the hotel industry. Take steps to ensure the safety and security of your hospitality staff.

It begins with training your staff, including safety and security training. Have policies for dealing with crises, including steps for reporting and de-escalation and a safety plan. Require your staff to become familiar with it. You may want to run mandatory training seminars for all these procedures.

Be sure to keep certain areas off-limits for the general public, especially when hosting events. Put security measures in place to restrict access. Consider installing surveillance cameras in areas that are deemed high-risk, such as stairwells and utility rooms. If an event is private, keep information about it off social media and other public channels.

Hotel panic buttons are a must-have in a post-pandemic world, giving your isolated workers a sense of security. These modern devices are connected to Wi-Fi hubs that provide location data in real-time, meaning that if the person who hits the button moves, the location will update. That allows staff members to effectively call for help, allowing coworkers to respond.

Safety plans, proper training, and panic buttons can provide a sense of security for overwhelmed hotel workers. Additionally, helping your staff learn positive ways to manage their stress will also go a long way toward reducing turnover and building employee satisfaction. That helps your hotel run smoothly as the travel industry returns.

Indiana Lee