Employee Motivation and Empowerment in Hospitality, Rhetoric or Reality - Some Observations from India

By Umashankar, Venkatesh; Kulkarni, Akshay | Journal of Services Research, April-September 2002 | Go to article overview
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Employee Motivation and Empowerment in Hospitality, Rhetoric or Reality - Some Observations from India


Umashankar, Venkatesh, Kulkarni, Akshay, Journal of Services Research


In recent years, researchers, commentators, consultants and practicing managers have come out with the imperative of the empowered and hence motivated employee for sustenance of the organization in a world characterized, among other things, by the free flow of ideas, knowledge, information, skills, resources and most importantly people. The contention of this paper is that service sector employees, because of their 'high-touch' requirements, have a more immediate and pressing need to be provided with 'extra' motivational support within the modern organization. Secondly, the paper also tries to link the very high rates of employee turnover in the hospitality sector in particular, to this factor of empowerment and motivation. The paper, through the description of standard operating procedures and work conditions prevalent in the relevant industry, then tries to explain why employee motivation in the said industry is at such a low-ebb. A cultural perspective is also provided wherein the feudalistic basis of transactions evident in the industry is delineated. The paper concludes with the reasons there for and suggestions thereto, which may bring positive change.

"An individual without information cannot take responsibility; an individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility."

Jan Carlzon, CEO, Scandinavian Airlines

It is a universally known and well-documented fact that when we talk of customer satisfaction it takes effective and motivated service (encounter) personnel at the delivery end to make the difference. All the product design, operation planning and other associated efforts will come to a nothing if the delivery end personnel fail. Earning profits through delivering customer satisfaction is one of the philosophical underpinnings of service businesses (Dawn et al., 1994). Therein comes the concept of the 'service profit chain' enunciated by Heskett et al, (1994), where in the chain consisting of profits earned through customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction precedes customer satisfaction and hence profits. One needs winners at the front lines and not just warm bodies, thus a key problem for managers is how to ensure appropriate behaviors on part of front-line workers at the point of the service encounter (Bowen and Schneider, 1988; Carlzon, 1987). But most service companies perpetuate a cycle of failure by tolerating high turnover and expecting employee dissatisfaction (Schlesinger and Heskett, 1991). It is easy to expect employees to be uniformly reliable, responsible, empathetic, assured and ready to serve (Parasuraman et al., 1991) during and between service encounters. There are situations wherein a shift stretches to ten or twelve hours quite frequently. It becomes difficult for the employees to cope up with such situations on a continuous basis. In the same vein, it is also relevant to note that a number of studies have established, empowerment or employee involvement as a TQM related dimension as well (Berry, 1991; Dean and Evans, 1994; Hofstede, 1984; Lawler et al., 1995; Ross, 1993).

Due to the potential impact that employees have on the business, it is imperative that management understands the specific dimensions that help shape employees' attitudes toward their jobs. It is generally agreed that the hotel workforce has a high level of temporary workers, substantial female employment, low levels of training, low wages, high labor turnover and gender segregation (Charlesworth, 1994; Deery and Iverson, 1996; Riley, 1991). Over the past several years, considerable attention has been given to role conflict, role clarity, job tension and job satisfaction as four very important determinants of the performance of individuals and their impact on the operational effectiveness of the organization (Kelly et al., 1981; Lusch and Serpkenci, 1990).

Increasing job satisfaction among service personnel has the potential of generating higher customer satisfaction with the service, repeat purchases by current customers and positive word-of-mouth communications to potential customers.

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