Best Practice: Housekeeping
A look at the challenges of running a smooth housekeeping operation
One of the most diverse departments in a hotel, housekeeping plays as important a role in guest relations as it does behind the scenes. Hotelier Middle East investigates the developing role of the housekeeper and the challenges of running a smooth operation
With their roles covering several different aspects, from cleaning rooms and making beds to laundry and floristry, housekeepers are play an essential role in the efficient operation of a hotel.
“Housekeeping is one of the most difficult jobs in a hotel and one of the most important. If you don’t have clean rooms or you have issues with cleanliness, our guests are not going to come back,” stresses Daniel Kingston, director of rooms at the W Doha Hotel & Residences in Qatar.
However, as important as the housekeeping department is, it also has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the industry. To tackle issues with staff retention, executive housekeepers have to make sure their teams are constantly motivated to perform and come up with new ways to foster loyalty.
It all begins with recruiting the right people, explains Naser Mohamed, executive housekeeper at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray in Dubai. He says: “You need to be very selective during recruitment; you recruit people based not on their talent, but based on their attitude.
You can hire someone who has a lot of knowledge of housekeeping, but if the willingness is not there, nothing gets done. So the first thing is selecting the right candidate, bringing in the right people”.
According to Mohamed, most new members also don’t realise how demanding the job is.
“Sometimes people think room attending is an easier job, but it’s not. So I try to paint a real picture and ask them if they think they can handle it,” he says.
Staff empowerment also plays a big role in fostering loyalty among housekeeping staff.
Nicholas Daoud, executive housekeeper at the Chedi Muscat in Oman comments: “A team member should always feel that they have an ability to make a decision that will help to assist a guest.
“This is also a key tool in helping the team members to develop their own skill set. The only wrong decision is to not make a decision at all.”
Kingston adds: “Empowerment encourages our staff to gain new skills and knowledge and therefore helps in supporting their development, ultimately providing staff who are confident in their abilities and who can make decisions for our guests, without the old saying of “Let me check with my manager”. You need to build a culture of support for staff so that they know if they make a decision, you will back them up.”
However, according to Mohamed, the freedom to make decisions comes with a limit.
“Housekeeping is a very bureaucratic system,” he argues, “You need to have certain systems put in place for work to be done in a homogenised way. If you leave it up to the people, they will like things done their own way and at the end of the day, there won’t be any uniformity and the discipline that you're looking for.”
Douglas Matthew, executive housekeeper at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara in Abu Dhabi agrees: “I give the freedom of empowerment to the staff within their limits. Obviously they cannot abuse the empowerment; it is within their boundaries. I empower the supervisors and my assistant to make decisions if I am not around. I think empowerment is very important in the hospitality industry.”
Furthermore, staff empowerment alone is not sufficient to build a strong housekeeping team; communication and training are essential to develop skills and boost morale.
“We have many different internal Starwood and W trainings that we offer staff, as well as external trainings from some of the different suppliers and contractors that help develop staff to be better at what they do.
We also encourage cross training in other departments. This enables staff to develop new skill sets in areas that they may never have been exposed to, whilst also providing the hotel with a bigger pool of staff to utilise throughout the hotel,” says the W’s Daniel Kingston.
And although training programmes can be an added expense for the department, Mohamed believes the returns are worth the investment.
“Empowerment alone will not work if staff don’t have the knowledge. You need to invest in their future and teach them and investing in the learning and development of colleagues is not cheap, it’s very expensive. Sometimes management thinks this is a burden on the company, but it’s not a burden, it’s an investment. The rate of return is much higher than what you had allocated,” he urges.
Claudia Arnhardt, executive housekeeper at The Address Dubai Mall, believes management plays a vital role in retaining staff and combating the problem of high turnover in the housekeeping department.
“I think it depends on you and the management has a huge influence on this factor. When you are able to build a good relationship with your employees, they are working for you and not only for the property,” she says.
In Muscat, The Chedi’s Daoud adds: “Respect is key in helping to develop loyalty and commitment. The work that is carried out by a housekeeping team is often overlooked”.
In House Staff Vs. Outsourced
While training staff and fostering loyalty are one part of the equation, limited budgets also mean executive housekeepers have to hire outsourced staff when the department needs extra hands during busy months, a situation that is less than ideal for most executive housekeepers who have to deal with issues such as lack of training, communication problems, and staff rotation by the contracting company.
“The discipline is not there, the communication skills are lacking, the talent is not there, the hygiene that you are looking for is not there, you cannot train them properly. And then there are rotations – you train someone for five days at the hotel and on the sixth day, they move them to different hotels... those are some of the issues you have so it’s difficult,” laments Mohamed.
At Qasr Al Sarab, Douglas Matthew says they have introduced a trainee programme, where they bring in inexperienced staff and train them in housekeeping duties, following which, the trainees are absorbed by the department. It’s a solution that seems to be working and that Matthew is quite happy with.
“What we are actually doing now at the hotel is getting a lot of six-month trainees. So if you're looking at saving costs, casual staff will save costs, yes, but trainees are the same; you invest the money in them and you get it back in terms of their performance. The trainees we have here are superb.
Within two months, they are as good as any professional room attendants or professional housekeeping attendants. So instead of casual staff, I prefer trainees and full time staff,” he says.
According to The Chedi’s Daoud, outsourced staff provides the flexibility required to deal with the seasonal nature of the hotel industry. “Outsourced staff helps us to maintain a dynamic in the team and also helps us to ensure that we are continually developing the team. This also provides us with the flexibility to respond to the shifting nature of the business demands,” he observes.
All things considered, it all comes down to how the management deals with outsourced staff, believes Kingston: “It is important that the outsourced staff we have are treated equally and are involved in the department, such as in the morning departmental briefing.
“Ultimately, it is our responsibility, not the outsourced company’s, to ensure that the outsourced staff we have perform and do the job to the high standards that we set, and this is only done through the correct supervision from our side,” he explains.
With hotels becoming increasingly conscious about their carbon footprint, the housekeeping department plays an enormous role in supporting a property’s green initiatives.
“We have a policy whereby we leave it to the individual guest to determine when they would like to have their sheets and towels changed. We also try to ensure that we maximise the capacity and increase efficiency in our laundry facility. We also take steps to reduce the costs of the hotel such as AC and electricity as much as possible.
This is done by relocating guests to specific areas of the hotel and closing other areas of the hotel to our guests,” says Daoud at The Chedi Muscat.
The W Doha adopts similar practices through Starwood’s Make a Green Choice programme, which gives guests an option to choose how frequently they would like to have their linen and towels changed.
“The Make a Green Choice program gave us a great opportunity to re-enforce the sustainability message with our team. We also have our internal green committee that consists of staff from different departments, who meet on a monthly basis,” says Kingston.
In the current economic climate, hotels have to maintain standards while also ensuring the properties are profitable. With room amenities proving to be one of the biggest expenses for the hotel, housekeepers have to work with the purchasing department to strike a balance between costs and quality, and source suppliers who meet the criteria.
At Qasr Al Sarab, Matthew says he can choose suppliers as long as they meet Anantara’s brand standards and are cost effective.
“We have the same brand standards across all the Anantara properties, the same amenities and the same products in each category of rooms. If I want to make a change, I will get five or six suppliers in, where they can give me the best products, and I decide the quality I need for Qasr Al Sarab.
Once they give me the price, I compare every single option and I get the best price and best quality, and then I tell the purchasing department which company I want to order from.
Anantara has a standard for linens and towels. I cannot choose what the standard is; the standard has been set. I just need to find the suppliers where I can get the best price,” he explains.
In some cases, executive housekeepers are not required to be as involved. At Jumeirah, where the purchasing department is centralised, the system is less flexible. “We do not approach the suppliers directly, but they approach us and if they have a product we like, we ask them to approach our supply chain and logistics department, which looks after the purchasing,” explains Mohamed.
“The great thing is, there are more and more suppliers coming in the market, so you can find more options for the hotel for a more competitive price,” adds Kingston.
Whatever the issues may be, the fact is that the housekeeping department is the backbone of the hotel. With the role of the department constantly developing, executive housekeepers have to keep up with changing trends to run an efficient and motivated team while ensuring guest satisfaction at all times. Not an easy task by any means, but someone’s got to do it.
CASE STUDY I
Hotel: The Rosewood Abu Dhabi
Initiative: Linen and uniform management
The newly launched Rosewood Abu Dhabi aimed to reduce linen and uniform losses through a combination of technology, inventory control, and efficiency.
The hotel worked with Prologic to introduce a tagging system to manage its inventory. All uniforms and linen are tagged with RFID chips.
The system works by reading the tags or chips through radio waves in portals installed in the laundry room to keep track of new garments received from suppliers as well as those sent to and received from the cleaners and tailors.
Additionally, a hand held scanning device allows staff to keep records of linen in pantries, guest rooms and outlets. It also allows the department to access reports about linen and uniform locations throughout the property, quantities, cost and expenses.
The hand held device has made it possible to share real time information across the property, making it easier to keep track of the movement of linen and uniforms at the hotel. With a 98% success rate, the system also eliminated the long hours and manual work involved in linen inventory.
CASE STUDY 2
Hotel: Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
Initiative: Green Globe certification
In an effort to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint, Qasr Al Sarab decided to become a Green Globe certified hotel.
In order to receive the certification, the hotel had to adopt basic measures to conserve water and energy, reduce chemical usage and segregate waste, with the housekeeping and laundry departments playing a crucial role.
• The hotel installed recycling bins in each pantry to segregate waste.
• Bed linens are changed every other day, which helped save water, energy, chemicals and cleaning products.
• Air-conditioners and lights are maintained at a pre-set level.
• The laundry department coordinated with Ecolab on pre-set chemical levels for particular wash cycles including linens, towels and uniforms.
• Regular training to ensure staff follows Green Globe practices.
As a result of the Green Globe certification, the hotel’s housekeeping department has achieved:
• 10% savings in water consumption.
•11% savings in energy consumption and 15% savings in chemical use.
• More systematic waste segregation and recycling.
• The hotel saves more than 3000 pieces of linen and towel washing each month.
CASE STUDY 3
Hotel: Jumeirah Zabeel Saray
Initiative: English language training
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray introduced an English language training programme for staff to equip them with skills they believe will enhance their performance and help them communicate better with guests.
Housekeepers at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray are assessed on their English language skills when they join the hotel. Based on the results, they are placed in a programme depending on their capabilities.
Skill levels range from zero to four, followed by a separate training programme for business English. Each training module is six weeks long and can accommodate up to 18 students.
Between 30-40% of staff utilise the training programme offered by the hotel. Staff are more confident after the training, which has resulted in better retention rates as well as higher customer satisfaction scores.