For many hotel guests, the housekeeper is almost invisible. The attendant goes in, the attendant comes out, and, if the job is done right, the room is left spotless. It’s only when the room isn’t clean enough that these worker bees fall into the spotlight.
For hotel management, it’s a different story. The housekeeping teams — and the job they do — can determine the success of the business. One negative story, especially in this age of social media, and a hotel company’s reputation can end up as soiled as that not-so-clean room. “It’s going to impact your bottom line, no matter how great your advertising is or how great your front-of-the-house customer service is,” says Jon Kiely, VP of Product Innovation and Marketing for the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC). “That’s the kind of thing people are going to remember.”
And, last November’s CBC Marketplace report, which brought attention to cleanliness and sanitation concerns in Canadian hotels, will likely have guests on edge for months to come. Pair that with hotel staff strikes across the country, and labour shortages that have left departments short-staffed in places such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, and it’s clear that one key to success is ensuring housekeeping staff are happy and given the best tools to be as efficient as possible.
PERKS, BENEFITS AND DIAMOND JEWELRY
The role of housekeeping is evolving, and it’s getting more difficult for room attendants to do their job. Hotel rooms aren’t what they used to be: coffee makers, heavier comforters, patio spaces and other extra amenities are adding to a room attendant’s workload, and sometimes it makes it harder to keep up with room quotas, which are generally in the range of 12 to 15 rooms per full-time eight-hour shift, though they vary depending on the property and type of rooms. The challenge is hotel operators need to stay competitive, and there are limits to how much they can compensate.
On average, Kiely says, hourly rates for room attendants range from $16 to $19 in Canada’s larger cities, or from $12.55 to $14.55 in the rest of the country. So, hotel operators need something besides money to keep their housekeeping staff happy. “You need to find those other perks and benefits that are going to be appreciated by employees,” he states. “That’s where benefit programs like health and dental come in, or being really accommodating with shifts.” That’s the route that The Prince George Hotel in Halifax has taken, according to Carol Logan, director of Human Resources. Besides being flexible with scheduling, and offering monetary incentives based on a job well done, the Prince George management shows appreciation by having daily morning stretches to help staff prepare for the physicality of the job. The hotel management also hands out personalized notes and small tokens of appreciation to staff members who put in extra effort, and they ask attendants for feedback on everything from how to do their job better to what they should wear. (At the Prince George, the team sports yoga tracksuits to keep comfortable while scrubbing toilets and making beds.)
And, a favourite housekeeping initiative at the Prince George is the hotel’s “Diamond Program,” says Logan. Each month, small jewels are hidden in unique out-of-the-way or hard-to-clean places in guestrooms and other parts of the hotel. Staff who find them while they’re cleaning earn rewards at the end of each month, and the person who turns in the most by the end of the year is awarded a piece of diamond jewelry and named the overall winner. “It builds a culture where people feel recognized and appreciated for what they do,” Logan says. “The job that they do is very demanding. It’s hard work.”
It’s a similar story at The Best Western Plus Denham Inn & Suites, located close to the Edmonton International Airport. And, as the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AHLA) Employer of Choice and Housekeeping Award winner for 2013, they must be doing something right. For Perry Batke, GM of the award-winning hotel, it’s not only about maintaining high levels of cleanliness, it’s also about creating the right culture based on communication. The hotel management offers bonuses and incentives for a job well done and creates goals based on guest metrics. What’s more, the housekeeping staff also participates in morning huddles to discuss priorities of the day and guest comments.
To create a sense of ownership and pride, the best guest comments are published in the hotel’s newsletter. And, negative comments are discussed, so housekeeping staff can find out how to do their job better. “If something does happen, we’re not going to beat you up for it,” adds Batke. “You’re not going to be in trouble. It’s all feedback, all learning.”
THE TECH PIECE
Aside from company perks and employee engagement, technology is another tool that could make a housekeeper’s job more efficient. Traditionally, though, many hotels haven’t been able to find the right technology tools to help them do this. “In a hotel, for a front-desk agent, for instance, you see a lot of technological advances that can help with productivity and efficiency,” the CTHRC’s Kiely says. “There’s nothing really akin to that when it comes to housekeeping.” But, the management team at Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel hopes they’ve found something. The hotel’s executives have been testing a new program — still in the pilot stage — that will see room attendants equipped with iPads. Each tablet will be loaded with Room Expeditor (REX), a touch-technology program by Florida-based MTech, which is designed to replace paper assignment sheets.
Special requests, VIP guests and other room demands are highlighted and prioritized automatically in the system, giving housekeepers a road map to help them approach each shift. It also notifies housekeeping staff when a room has a “Do-Not-Disturb” request in place. “Rather than having a sheet of paper with 11 or 12 room numbers on it, where it’s left to the good graces of the room attendant and the housekeeping coordinator to talk back and forth and waste time on negotiations, this system does that automatically,” explains Rudi Gimmi, hotel manager at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. “It works very nicely from an operational point of view.”
But, in the end, it comes down to the housekeeper. To make it easy, the CTHRC has developed a series of Housekeeping Room Attendant Skills checklists, which were posted in early June at emerit.ca, a site dedicated to CTHRC’s training resources. “If you always have [it] in your mind that these are the same skills I need to be doing every day, and they will be followed up, that will be helpful,” Kiely says. “If the rooms end up a little cleaner, it certainly couldn’t hurt.