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Practical steps hoteliers can take to tackle and prevent workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination?

By Sylvia Sage, programme director, Corporate Learning Solutions

Workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination are widespread across the hospitality industry, despite repeated attempts to address these problems.

The start of the year saw the launch of a new website aimed at creating a forum for sharing ideas on creating a more respectful working culture in hospitality. The website also provides a place for embattled employees to share their experiences.

There is currently an All-Party Parliamentary Group gathering evidence on how best to legislate to protect hospitality employees from unacceptable behaviour.

But legislation alone will not work unless hoteliers themselves understand how to tackle the problem.

A key starting point for any hotelier is to ensure they understand what constitutes bullying, harassment and discrimination. Something that we discussed in our last advice feature for Hotel Owner.

If any such behaviour has been identified as a problem among any of their staff, what should hotel owners do next?

1) Educate all staff on the issues

First, hotel owners need to ensure that everyone at all levels understands the definitions of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

There should be a clear delineation between robust management, which can be carried out with respect, and bullying.

Inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour should be defined as part of the hotel’s HR policy. This will include offensive jokes, slurs, physical assaults or threats, intimidation and interference with work.

Hoteliers need to set in place a code of conduct that fosters care and respect between all staff. They must set the tone from the top with their own exemplary behaviour.

2) Take action as early as possible

Hotels must have robust complaints procedures in place to enable staff to speak out immediately if they suspect or are subjected to inappropriate behaviour.

Policies should clearly set out the informal and formal steps employees can take to raise concerns as early as possible, before the situation escalates.

A true open-door policy, that makes managers available and approachable so that staff can voice their concerns when needed, is a fundamental requirement.

And the hoteliers themselves need to be prepared to intervene rapidly when necessary.

How might this work in practice?

Let’s pick up on our previous example of George, the young hotel concierge.

George is a recent addition to the team and has been having a difficult time with the hotel’s events manager, Hannah.

Staff and clients have witnessed Hannah being rude to George; at other times, she ignores him. It appears that she has said in public that he is not “concierge material”.

She has also left him out of an evening team event, to which every other concierge was invited.

In the meantime, the hotel team have been educated on inappropriate behaviour.

The hotel operations manager, Chris, has noticed the interplay between George and Hannah. Chris has noted that after many conversations between the two of them, George looks upset or uncomfortable.

The operations manager decides to ask for a one-to-one chat with George.

During the course of this conversation, it becomes clear that George feels he is always the subject of Hannah’s ridicule. He feels excluded from his team and is convinced she is deliberately targeting him. Understandably, George feels bullied and victimised.

The operations manager arranges a one-to-one chat with Hannah.

They discuss how she feels she is performing in her work, and how the team works together. Steadily Chris brings the conversation round to her own behaviour towards her colleagues.

During the discussion, Chris tactfully explains that what she might perceive as fun or unimportant, might actually be hurtful for other people. This is especially true in public and if repeated.

Chris gives examples of behaviour that might make people feel uncomfortable, ostracised or undermined. He makes it clear that such behaviour does not go unnoticed.

He praises Hannah for her great work at the hotel but warns her to be careful not to make her colleagues feel uncomfortable.

Hannah’s behaviour improves noticeably, avoiding the need for any formal complaint or further action. And over the course of a few weeks, George gradually finds his place in the team and regains his confidence, and the team dynamic is rebalanced.

Sometimes, dealing with workplace tensions is simply a case of plucking up the courage to address the concerns. It can sometime be about making the ‘bully’ aware of the damaging impact of their behaviour. If this is made clear to them, they may mend their ways.

However, hoteliers must be prepared to take more stringent disciplinary action when necessary.

If inappropriate behaviour cannot be dealt with informally, more formal steps must be taken to monitor and tackle the concerns.

This might mean keeping a written record of all incidents and reporting them to an appropriate designated senior figure who can then take appropriate action.

The complaint should be properly investigated, and all parties consulted in a sensitive, confidential manner, with appropriate support offered to the alleged victim.

If the case is serious, the bully must be given an official warning to cease the behaviour. If their behaviour continues, this could lead to their eventual dismissal, and even legal action.

Hotel owners must be perceived to be taking inappropriate behaviour seriously and to be committed to zero tolerance on bullying and harassment.

Our recommendation is always to aim to create a positive and respectful culture from the outset.

We’ll discuss how hotel owners might do this in our next article.

This article was first published in Hotel Owner