Homicide and Hospitality

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January 3, 2012 in Labor & Economy

“So, would you like to move into management?”

I’ve been asked this question various times during my employment with the Hyatt Andaz hotel over the past few years. The last manager who asked me this had deep bags under her eyes. She’d been working eight days in a row and was then on her 12th  hour that day. She told me she needed a cigarette, — which was odd, considering she didn’t smoke.

I laughed.  I told her I’d be a terrible candidate for management because I enjoy my family time. I like seeing my wife. I enjoy eight-hour workdays. I enjoy the fact that I occasionally get to do menial household tasks like laundry and dishes. I love the fact that once I’m off the clock, I’m truly off the clock.

She blinked twice, yawned and told me I’d be a terrible manager.

I have always gotten along with my supervisors, but lately I’ve pitied them.  They don’t have protection — the voice that unionized employees are afforded.  I’ve always worked in hotels and restaurants that have had a hard time staffing managers and I suspect it’s because the occupation’s reputation precedes itself.  Everyone seems to know about the long hours that the job entails.

A good friend of mine is on unemployment right now. He hates it. He’s depressed. He knows he could get a job as a restaurant manager but frets about it. “I don’t want to be a bum,” he told me, “but I don’t want to be a slave either.”

The truth about America when it comes to labor is that we have two sets of standards in place. One that lives by a 40-hour work week for employees, and the other, where a supervisor’s time is owned by the employer.

Lately, I’ve been having a hard time reconciling the idea that one’s professional ambition means that one also has to sacrifice family, home duties and perhaps sanity. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put 17 percent of fatal workplace shootings in the arena of Leisure and Hospitality. You don’t normally see the words homicide and hospitality in the same sentence, but here they are.

I’ve witnessed undue pressure unloaded onto management from the hierarchical construct of a corporation — impossible situations where supervisors are asked to cut hours while also under-staffing, which leads to foreseeable conflict with not only employee unions but also state laws regarding break violations.  Corporate pressure flows downward, causing the cesspool of a hostile work environment — and in the realm of the hospitality industry it’s all done with a half-cocked smile.

A 2006 International Labor Organization (ILO) study found that homicide is the third leading cause of death in the American workplace, while the Occupational Safety and Health administration (OSHA) discovered that the risk of being attacked while working is seven times higher in the U.S. than in Europe.

It does seem intriguing, and perhaps far more than a coincidence, that supervisors and managers are allowed to unionize in Europe. Could this be the mechanism that allows people to express their frustrations without bringing so much violence to work? Can it  be a healthy thing for society to be allowed to go outside and protest once in awhile — akin to letting steam escape from a kettle — rather than creating a toxic environment for employees and supervisors alike?

Maybe that’s an experiment we should try in America, perhaps it’s time to re-examine the Taft-Hartley Act, which currently forbids supervisors from unionizing. Taft-Hartley is a law that is highly suspect in its preferential protections of employers over those of employees, one that goes out of its way to sanction business interests over people interests — an imbalance that is plainly obvious.

The truth is that I like my managers, but I’d like to see them spend more time with their families. I’d like to see them have healthy outlets for their frustrations. I’d like to see them at work completely rested with a full night’s sleep.

If I saw those things, a management position might be a job I’d consider.

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Jim Lair Beard
Jim Lair Beard is a writer who worked as a server at the Hyatt Andaz for two years.
Read more articles by Jim Lair Beard

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  • http://www.facebook.com/CoasterMatt Matthew Nelson

    Excellent article. Having worked in the theme park industry for over 10 years, I saw the very same thing.

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