Magazine article Management Review

Jobs Available: Homeless and Seniors Encouraged to Apply

Magazine article Management Review

Jobs Available: Homeless and Seniors Encouraged to Apply

Article excerpt

Jobs Available: Homeless and Seniors Encouraged to Apply

With approximately $36,000 worth of hotel reservations coming into its national reservation center each hour, Days Inns certainly counts on high employee attendance. For that reason, the hotel chain always transports its reservations center employees to and from work during inclement winter weather. And when an ice storm paralyzed Atlanta in January 1988, the company did just that. But a curious thing happened. The only employees who reported to work that day without the company's help were the seniors (those 55 and older) and the wheelchair-bound. Their attendance was 100 percent.

"What's particularly interesting about that," observes Richard Smith, vice-president for human relations, "was that younger and able-bodied employees had to be transported to work." That story aptly describes Days Inns' experience with its "special-sector" employees: seniors (which it defines as those age 55 or older), handicapped and homeless people. The Atlanta-based chain of hotels and motels began actively seeking senior and handicapped workers in 1985 when it realized that a large segment of the workforce was untapped. Furthermore, like innumerable other companies, Days Inns sought to turn around problems with attendance, performance and turnover in a workforce composed primarily of employees between 18 and 35 years of age.

For example, rates for no-shows--people who don't report to work for some reason other than sickness, emergency or similar legitimate problem--among younger employees at its reservations centers range from 30 to 40 percent during typical weekends, according to Smith. By sharp contrast, Days Inns quickly found that seniors and handicapped workers are much more dependable, highly motivated and eager to learn than their younger colleagues. And at Days Inns their no-show rate is zero. "Their enthusiasm serves as a role model for the balance of the employees," Smith says.

Additionally, senior citizens are much more familiar than their younger coworkers with United States geography, a must for clerks who handle reservations at hotels in 50 states from customers all over North America, he adds. Of those working for Days Inns, most seniors are retired businesspeople with bachelor's degrees, and a few have master's.

Today, the 5,500-employee chain has about 350 special-sector employees companywide. Most are "older," many are handicapped, and a few are homeless. About 150 work at the company's national reservations centers in Atlanta, Ga. and Knoxville, Tenn. They field phone calls on toll-free reservations lines, help customers find Days Inns where they plan to visit and book reservations.

The balance of the special-sector employees work at the 26 hotels and motels the company manages for franchisees. Days Inns does not require--but encourages--its franchisees to hire special-sector employees. Seniors work as desk clerks, in housekeeping and maintenance jobs, and as waiters and waitresses at those Days Inns with restaurants. Further, some special-sector employees are in supervisory positions. Although the company does not consider handicapped people mobile enough for most of their hotel and motel positions, the company does not discourage applications from them.

A BLIND WOMAN IN THE HOTEL LOBBY?

At first, not all Days Inns' executives believed special-sector hiring could work. For example, when the program began in 1985, Doug Patterson, vice-president for reservations, was skeptical about employee performance. "I saw a legally blind woman walking around with a white cane," recalls Patterson, "and I asked `What have we done?'" But his attitude reversed within three months when this woman and other special-sector employees soon became among the more productive on staff.

Soon after embarking on its special-sector hiring program, Days Inns found that traditional recruiting methods wouldn't work. …

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