Hospitality is an inherently personal industry. At its core, hospitality is driven by people who are passionate about serving others and want to give them a best-in-class travel experience.
Sometimes, though, the hospitality industry can almost get too personal. It’s not uncommon for managers to call employees at home to fill shifts or message them via their personal WhatsApp. Sure, the lines between work and personal life are blending in all industries. But when it comes to communication, hotels need to take care to manage employees in the most efficient way — while still prioritizing wage and hour laws.
Increased Technology, Increased Risk
Currently, the hospitality industry relies heavily on analog communications like bulletin boards and binders. Frontline employees don’t generally have company-provided email, so if they are receiving emails from the company, these are going to a personal address. Nonetheless, employees — usually managers and supervisors — use personal apps like WhatsApp to send messages and emails. Though employees may prefer to be texted rather than called by their managers, that avenue is generally not available inside the bounds of the technology provided by their employer. No wonder 82% of hospitality companies report that they plan to increase spending on non-desk technology.
However, gains in technology come with increased legal risk. With technology allowing managers to reach an employee anywhere, at any time, it’s less controlled. This makes wage and hour liability a major concern for hotel managers. Wage and hour violations happen when hourly employees are doing work — including receiving work-related messages via communication technology or on paper — outside of their scheduled work hours. Managers might be tempted to message an employee at 11 p.m. about an upcoming shift, but that likely wouldn’t be appropriate. Can you imagine a manager knocking on an employee’s door at 11 p.m.?
Control Is Key
With all that said, if technology is controlled, it can be an extremely valuable asset. Not only does it promote operational efficiencies, but it can also reduce turnover. When employees receive better and more frequent communication — which technology enables — they remain more engaged and stay longer.
Technology also provides a direct benefit to managers in complying with hourly employee laws. For example, a manager can automatically clock out employees over lunch breaks to ensure they take the legally required breaks. Just be sure to check both your state and federal laws concerning wages and hours, as they can vary from region to region.
Finding that fine line between leveraging technology and working within legal guidelines is an important consideration for hotel managers. Below are four strategies for maximizing the benefits of technology while minimizing the risk.
1. Have employees accept a technology policy.
“Fair play” rules are essential when it comes to integrating technology. Employees must understand that they may only use employer-provided communication technology, such as an app, during work hours. If they don’t respect these boundaries, they will still be paid — but they will also be held accountable.
In some cases, employees may just think they’re sending a casual message without understanding the labor consequences for the company. Their intentions are innocent, but the impact can be highly detrimental to their employer. That makes it imperative that this policy be renewed periodically and that employees understand and accept it.
2. Capture time worked, and compensate accordingly.
Having technology that tracks employee time can be a major benefit to employers. It provides a verified record of how much an employee actually worked. For example, if an employee claims he or she worked four hours outside of a scheduled shift, but the app shows that he or she only sent two messages during that time, then the employer may want to investigate that overtime claim before compensating the employee.
In addition to making sure that employees who work outside of hours are compensated appropriately, the insight into how much and when employees use the technology also helps managers ensure the system isn’t being abused.
3. Use multiple channels for the same information.
While a mobile device is likely to be the primary way employees get information, they shouldn’t have to rely on their phones alone. Frontline employees benefit from multiple options while they’re at work; for example, front desk employees can check on a communications app from the desktop computer they use to help guests. On breaks, employees can consult digital signage at the back of the house or, yes, check their phones.
In addition, ensure employees have a reasonable amount of time to check this information while they’re actually at work. For example, post the shift schedule a full two weeks in advance so that employees don’t have to check it at home — though they may choose to because it is more convenient. Designating the last 20 minutes of a shift as their time to check on communications will also ensure they’re receiving work-related messages at work and not during overtime.
4. Limit communication received outside of shifts.
Provide managers with training and a clear set of standard operating procedures so they know what kinds of communications to send and how to avoid sending them outside of employees’ shifts. Technology can help with this by being set to deliver messages only when the users are at work. When considering whether or not to send a message, managers should make sure the message in question is quick to read and employee-focused. In addition, there should not be negative consequences for employees who do not read such communications.
Technology can provide immense benefits even in hospitality, one of the most people-driven industries around. However, technology is only as effective as the policies that hotel managers put in place to control it, as well as the way they apply it across their companies.
Andrada Paraschiv is Head of Hospitality at Beekeeper.io, a secure, mobile-first operational communication platform for frontline teams. By providing real-time unified communications, Beekeeper keeps everyone at the company aligned across shifts, departments, languages, and locations. Prior to Beekeeper, Andrada held senior-level strategy and communications positions at AccorHotels and FRHI Hotels & Resorts.