11 Apr Some thoughts about you and your hospitality career!
As readers will know, I live and breathe hospitality and work ‘on the ground’ in a hotel, albeit at management level (90% of my time is spent on the floor doing the job of those I manage, so I am usually found checking guests in or out, lugging bags around, giving directions or working a switchboard amongst many other things).
Recently I had cause to review a job opportunity that arose and, although I was unsuccessful, I did have a few things I wanted to raise and discuss, mainly because they do apply massively to the hospitality industry, as well as other trades.
Firstly, let me address the concept of careers in hospitality. Particularly in the UK there has been a huge shift in focus from rooms division towards food and beverage in recent years, and this has nullified many careers for those who work Front Office. I started in the trade 23 years ago (I carried bags in a hotel from the age of 12 before working through a variety of departments) and the Receptionist was, to me and many others, the pinnacle of customer service – reception had the power to tell people yes or no, to sort a problem out and to make a guest feel fantastic and that still rings true today. What doesn’t ring true is that Front Office has a clear and accessible career route. Particularly here in the UK.
Let me explain. Search ANY job board out there. And I mean ANY. Search for a role that is higher than Front Office Manager or Rooms Division Manager (which is a rare role here in the UK) – now read the job description. Count how many do not have ‘F&B background Essential’ or ‘Perfect for an existing F&B Manager looking for the next step’ – even better try and count how many say you ‘Must have a front office background’. You may take this as a rant, but honestly, the industry is eliminating an entire sub culture from it’s future leaders – being rooms based I can establish a P&L account, I can coordinate people, I can understand revenue forecasts and staffing; I can even carry 5 plates at a time and am classically silver service trained; I can pull pints, set up conferences, host weddings and have even saved many a wedding dress from disaster. And not just me – my assistant manager can do this and probably my supervisor too; as will be the Sam in many hotels. However, because I have not had an F&B job title, I am ‘under qualified’ to run a hotel operation or progress? How many people have been in this situation and it has recently dawned that for every job I apply for that is rooms based for progression, I will be up against probably every front office manager in the city….. Now that is competition! My point here – Front Office is being eliminated as a career route by the elimination of importance of rooms in the eyes of people higher up – I once applied to a place (about 3 years ago) that had 180+ bedrooms across standard rooms through to full service suites, and it had no conference space but one 80-seat restaurant – it described itself not as a hotel but as a ‘restaurant with rooms’? Seems to me that the focus is wrong there! You can take his as a rant about progression, and in a sense you would be right – my point is actually that a section of the trade is overlooked purely because they have not held a specific job title… believe me when I say that this in itself closes more doors to people than it opens as it is increasingly hard to find front desk staff that believe a career in the trade is possible.
Believe it or not, this does draw me to my second point – that careers in industries are becoming far too work-focused from a management perspective, and this is a cultural thing I have experienced in many different places, even more so in hotels (and also social/health care). How many adverts do you see for companies where they say you have a ‘great work/life balance’? Let me tell all those naïve recruits out there…. It’s a load of bollocks! Honestly!
Wanting to progress in my career, and being a full time carer outside of work, I have had many people say ‘oh, but you will be expected to work more hours than you do at the moment’ or ‘it will mean less time with your husband’ or ‘well it will mean working about 50 hours plus a week’ – my question is… what the….? Why?
Why should progression of career come with a caveat that you sacrifice your personal life and family time for the sake of an employer that is very unlikely to be as loyal to you if the proverbial hits the fan? Companies are not loyal, people are and whilst you may have a loyal manager, when the cold light of day comes down to it, we are each and every one replaceable! And this is not a slur on my current employer, or previous ones in any way before you start to think that!
The truth is that in the hotel trade, the higher a title you have, the more of your home-time is expected to be sacrificed. Hell, I even know of people who have had a job offer withdrawn because they refused to opt in to working more than 48 hours a week on average (which is a legal thing in the EU by the way). The issue here is an entire industries platitude with this occurring. It is expected when you are deputy general manager or operations manager, that you are on call 24/7. I get that for emergencies and dire situations (I should expect to be able to contact my GM if the place is burning to the ground), but there is also an expectation to be on site for anywhere between 50-70 hours a week. Let’s put this in context. If you are awake for 16 hours a day, that’s 112 hours a week you are awake. To then spend 70 hours a week at work (with say a 1 hour commute a day on top), that’s 75 hours a week at work. That’s 67% – two thirds – of your waking hours at work, and only a third with your family. Is your family really only worth a third of your time?
What niggles me though is actually the way this equates on an hourly basis. So, if you are hourly paid as are most ‘floor level’ workers, then you get paid for almost every minute you work. With management you become salaried. You get no overtime payments and very few companies offer lieu time for managers. So if you are paid, for example, £30,000 for a 39-hour/week contract, that works out at roughly £14.80 an hour. Now if you work 70 hours, that drops to £8.24 an hour – are you worth £14.80 an hour or £8.24 an hour? Lets put it this way, would you apply for a £14.80/hour job or £8.24/hour job?
On this note, if a company states a role is 5 days over 7, 40 hour contract, then is it unreasonable for me to expect as an applicant that this is what my working week will be? I have known people threatened with their position because of their unwillingness to work unpaid overtime (it happens a hell of a lot more than you would think in the hospitality industry) – is this fair? Is it legal? (The answer is yes and no on this one – it depends on your contract however you cannot be dismissed unfairly and could technically argue a request to work 70 hours a week is unreasonable as it nearly doubles your working hours each week…. It’s a case here of who has the better argument really!). It also begs the question, that f you are employing someone to do a job where you expect them to work 70 hours a week, why not advertise at 70 hours a week (maybe because then people wouldn’t apply or you would have some tricky legal hurdles to get through?)
Truthfully, I do not compromise with work – work is work and home is home. I have some rules I apply personally to my working life and for me they work:
- Work stays at work – walking in to work I am [insert title here], outside of work I am Matt Shiells-Jones, husband and ambitious cat lady of Manchester with a penchant for performing, watching RuPaul’s drag race and laughing and being a little bit strange!
- When I am off, I am off! I will assist with emergencies, but I will not entertain irrelevant work-centred conversations that can wait until I am back in work – my out of office goes on and that is it. I have no access to work emails from home and have no intention of getting it – quite simply, if you can email about it, then it can wait until I get back in to work. If it requires a phone call, then it is an emergency that needs dealing with there and then.
- Home life comes first. It is my priority – you cannot replace my husband or family, but I have a support network there in the event of not being able to work. It’s about priority – when I first started in hotels I did 90 hour weeks, practically living in and doing 16 hours or more, 7 days a week as that’s what I thought was expected – in reality I was making my health suffer, and my personal relationships and my own sanity – I ended up unable to switch off from work at all and sacrificed family events because work became my priority. In return I actually received very little except a pay check when you looked at the cold light of day.
- I will work extra, but not at the expense of home. I will work a few hours overtime, its to be expected with the nature of the trade – I would never walk out leaving one person with a giant queue of people just because it’s the end of my shift. I will cover other shifts too. But to put it simply – if you employ me for 40 hours a week, you expect, and I expect, to be able to do that job in those 40 hours. If I cannot do my job in those 40 hours then something is wrong, in that either I cannot do the job efficiently, the people around me acting as support in my absence are not strong enough and cannot do their roles, or the workload is too much in which case my support network at work is too weak and I am unable to delegate or I am unable to say no. Whichever way you look at it, if I cannot do the role in my contracted hours, then something is wrong wth either the role or me, or the company as a whole.
So, come one then, bring me the opposing opinions and the voices that make me reconsider my stance – I am pen to being told my expectations are too high or I am in the wrong industry and all the other stuff, but is it too much too expect a company to respect my history and offer a future based upon it, along with an actual work life balance?
Until next time, keep smiling!
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