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Healing Hospitality from Within

We have the power to change the cultural mores and attitudes associated with the hotel and service sector workplace.

With its ‘guest comes first’ philosophy, the hospitality industry has struggled to address issues of employee harassment and adopt policies that could guarantee an environment where the safety of everyone on the property is paramount, including staff. In fact, these attitudes have become so ingrained in the industry that the expectation of harassment has even become an accepted part of some hospitality jobs. Here, Parminder takes a look behind the scenes of the hospitality culture to see just how far we’ve come, and how often a cultural shift needs to come from within.   

Never one to shy away from the idea of hard work, my friend Laura worked her way through college at a local restaurant. The hours were long and could be tiring, particularly after a day of lectures and a challenging course load, but the tips were a welcome buffer for college living. She enjoyed her customers, and her fellow workers were helpful and supportive. In particular, her manager was understanding to the occasional need to switch shifts or would sometimes help bus her tables on busy nights. But that kindheartedness came with a price. Liberal with personal comments about her appearance, he contrived excuses for her to stay late in the restaurant to work alone with him and became increasingly insistent for dates. “I’m not sure I really thought about it back then,” she recalls. “It was annoying, but I really needed the money and it seemed pointless to complain.” But Laura began to dread going to work at the restaurant, and to have difficulty sleeping. She began to hand in her schoolwork late and her general health began to decline. “For a long time afterward, I just thought it was the stress of college,” she says, “but looking back, I realize now how intimidating that experience was, and how it makes it a really difficult time to relive.”

Unfortunately, Laura’s story isn’t unique, nor widely told, in an industry where the code of silence and a prevalent ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy has created the perfect cocktail for workplace abuse and harassment. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), instances of sexual inappropriateness afflict our industry significantly more than any other, with three times as many reported incidences of sexual harassment among hotel and restaurant workers than there are, for example, among manufacturing and healthcare industry employees. Wherever there is service, there seems the invitation for exploitation and it would seem that in our eagerness to provide a welcoming, hospitable environment for guests, we’ve forgotten the basic tenets of what needs to be in place to enable guests and employees alike to be entitled to the same expectation of respect, protection, and safety.

In the past, I’ve used this blog to champion the cause of hotel workers and those instances where they are exposed to the external harassment from guests, and even while that’s a prevalent and crucial issue in our industry, it’s worth remembering that as an industry we also have some internal housekeeping to do. When we first started TraknProtect, I heard over and again declarations from customers that there were no staff safety problems in their hotel, and that harassment had never been an issue—only to find in our training with employees that these occurrences were commonplace. These were not negligent, callous managers but caring professionals who perhaps didn’t realize just how prevalent that code of silence was among their own employees and that in their eagerness to keep their job and to ‘not make a fuss,’ these incidents were never reported.

In the past several years, there has been a marked change in our understanding of the employee safety dynamic. One could attribute this new awareness in part to the #MeToo movement, but in my view, it is a major step in the right direction. Along with improved safety protocols like providing TraknProtect safety buttons for all employees, the need for additional training of both employees and their supervisors and management has become key to helping shift the culture. I can’t emphasize just how important this is in helping promote environments where every team member, from the board room to busboy, understands the importance of respect, communication, and support.

In parallel to the changes I see happening in hotels and casinos across the nation, there are also plenty of examples of improving workplace conditions in related industries as they take harder looks at their culture and the employee experience. In air travel, for example, the Montreal Protocol 2014, which is new legislation ratified by 22 countries, went into effect January 1 of this year and seeks stricter penalties for unruly passengers. Everywhere from health clubs to restaurant chains, initiatives like these redefine the idea of a congenial workplace culture where safety is paramount but so too is respect, including team members and guests alike.

With these kinds of far-reaching developments, it finally feels like a new day, not just for the hotel industry, but for wherever the idea of service and hospitality has become confused with an expectation of subservience, compliance or submission. Let’s keep this momentum going and affect positive change in own organizations.


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