With their roles covering so many different aspects, executive housekeepers see the strengths and weaknesses of their hotels. James Clarey finds out what the main issues and challenges are for these hotel professionals — and discovers how to overcome them
There is no two ways about it - housekeeping is often seen as a poor relation in the hotel family. It is renowned for its low wages and high staff turnover. However, without its pivotal role, a hotel couldn’t function.
It is the backbone that keeps the property standing, clean and efficient — some of the most important aspects for both staff and guests.
Over the last few years, expectations on the role of the housekeeping department have grown, with a huge emphasis now put on environmental issues and staff wellbeing. Behind the entire operation is one person keeping the ball rolling on these issues and fighting for a better experience for their guests — the executive housekeeper.
As Annette Damz, executive housekeeper at Grand Millennium Al Wahda Abu Dhabi, says, a lot of issues housekeepers have are dismissed, but when others in the hotel have problems, they are always the department called upon. “We are the bones of every hotel,” she claims.
One main issue in the industry is staff poaching, propagated by low wages where even small increments are enough to tease certain staff members to rival hotels. Executive housekeepers say that the main way to counteract this is not to add clauses to contracts, but to instead make staff want to stay, to give them a sense of loyalty and make them happy in their positions.
“All it takes is being part of your team, showing interest in their day-to-day work and developing the stars among them,” says Damz. Rudy Evangelista, executive housekeeper at Al Diar Siji Hotel & Siji Hotel Apartments, concurs, adding that “there will always be a higher paying job somewhere else, but one way of keeping staff is by treating them well and providing a pleasant work environment, which is as important as higher pay”.
Akhtar Shahid, executive housekeeper at Ramada Ajman, says that poaching will never be stopped, as “the staff came here for the money and want to grow and mature themselves.”
However, at his hotel, he has seen a staggering 75% reduction in his staff turnover in the past year, simply because of the measures that he and new management have taken to make all his staff happy.
He says that practical things, such as an in-house tandoor oven in the cafeteria to make fresh bread for his predominantly-Indian staff to take home for their families has improved staff wellbeing exponentially.
Raji Kumar S. Pillai, assistant executive housekeeper at Salalah Marriott Resort, brings up a different issue — it is not keeping staff from being poached, but keeping them from leaving the “remote area” of some resorts in the region.
“It is a challenge to keep the young generation especially, as they do not perceive the countryside to be as attractive as the capital Muscat, or Dubai,” he says. “Therefore, the company is interested to provide a lot of support, so that people can bring their families, assist with visas, housing and schooling of the children if required. We also like to provide entertainment, such as staff parties, volleyball tournaments and movie nights.”
When hiring staff, Shahid says he prefers to hire from in the UAE, as he likes being able to give staff a one-hour trial, to see how they work alongside colleagues. Prabhat Shukla, executive housekeeper at Holiday Inn Downtown Kuwait agrees that hiring from overseas is sometimes a problem, but mainly because of “long legal formalities and the time consuming visa process”.
He says that Nepal has become a new market for him, as there is now a Nepalese embassy, and he no longer has to work through Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Evangelista, however, thinks that the effort of going through the overseas channels and dealing with the visa process is worth it, as these staff tend to stay longer with the hotel and are more loyal.
One thing is for certain with all employees, however — a permanent staff member is favoured over agency staff. But sometimes outsourced work is a necessary evil to keep down costs during low periods. The main problem with this is a constant rotation of different staff.
“You can’t guarantee that you will get the same person on a daily basis. It’s very painful to see that person who you had trained has left the company,” says Shukla. Damz agrees, adding that the language barrier is often a problem, too.
This obstacle can also be an issue with in-house staff. To counteract this, Joseph Thomas, executive housekeeper at Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi has set up regular language classes, meaning his staff, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, can “easily fit in” within two months.
Not only are language courses on the table, but many other training schemes for staff to improve and develop their skills in other areas. Thomas says that six team members have moved to different areas in the past year alone, after completing interdepartmental training.
The same is seen across the board, with Mamdouh Salem, executive housekeeper at Raffles Dubai, explaining that while six members transferred to other departments, seven supervisors, one assistant manager and one manager were also promoted, as well as one team member transferring internationally.
At Six Senses Zighy Bay, executive assistant manager Guillaume de Lasteyrie explains that they insist on nine hours of training a month, but “at the end of the day, a warm smile and recognition on a daily basis when goals are achieved serves as the best reward”.
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