- The Introduction
According to Adecco (as cited in Chia, 2016), millennials (born between the 1980s to the 2000s) are currently the largest generation in the workforce and will make up an estimation of 75 percent of the Singapore workforce by the next decade. However, as millennials continue to take over the workforce, hospitality industries face high turnover rate and manpower shortages. (Faldetta, Fasone, & Provenzano, 2013) The negative characteristics such as “long working hours, poor working environment, salary and lack of pay and benefits” turn them away from this industry (Tan et al., 2016), especially in labour-intensive industries such as housekeeping.
Many hotels have to rely on foreign talents to make up the numbers of headcounts in that department. According to Faruk & Nedim (2015), in the hotel sector surrounded by people, communication is seen as an important issue for sustainability and efficiency of the organization. John Lagazo (as cited in O’Fallon and Rutherford, 2007) mentioned that housekeeping staff is usually the most ethnically diverse, with an accompanying challenge being the level of English competency and overall education. Thus, this causes them to face difficulties in meeting manager’s and guest’s expectations.
- Problem Identification
This report will highlight the interpersonal communication problem such as language barriers between housekeeping managers and room attendants in Singapore. Based on an interview with a housekeeping manager from a four-star hotel located in Orchard Road, housekeeping department generally consists up to 70% of foreigners; with 40% from Mainland China, 15% from Malaysia, 10% from Myanmar and the remaining 5% from India. As hotels rely on a lot of non-english speaking staff notably in housekeeping, it is not easy for room attendants to understand instructions conveyed by the housekeeping managers (HM Staff, 2009).
Language barrier causes role ambiguity and role conflict. A survey cited in Madera, J. M., Dawson, M., & Neal, J. A. (2014) completed by 130 hotels and lodging managers showed that satisfaction, with the quality of communication with limited English speaking employees reduced role ambiguity and role conflicts, which led to increased guests’ experience. This can be an impediment to communication if they have a poor command of English in interpreting guest requirements, and thus unable to prepare the rooms up to the brand’s standards due to confusion and conflicting misunderstanding.
- Objective of Study
The purpose of the study is to understand how language barriers can cause a variety of problems in the hospitality industry, which can hamper the communication between room attendants and managers. It will highlight the possible consequences if language barrier problem is not addressed well. Most importantly, this study alleviated this language barrier issue so as to reduce unnecessary issues for hotels.
Some potential issues would include guests having an impression that the room attendants are rude when they do not reply to the guest’s questions, but in fact this is due to room attendants not understanding and their inability to answer back in English. Room attendants may sometimes disappoint guests for not servicing the rooms to guest’s expectations after misunderstanding the manager’s instructions. Sometimes, this can even occur after excessive repeating of instructions and usage of sign language to convey simple instructions to the room attendants, which reduces productivity and efficiency. Most importantly, the hotel reputation can be affected if this problem is not handled well since the guests, managers, and room attendants are unhappy. This leads to fewer returning customers and reduced profits eventually when rooms are not made to the brand’s standards.
- Potential Solutions / Implementation for Problem Resolution
Based on the personal experience of a the team member who previously worked in Fairmont Hotel, English lessons are conducted for several room attendants on a rotating basis for half an hour. In the training, basic conversational phrases are taught and it has improved the language barrier issue. It was observed that room attendants did improve their command of English after the training course. Thus, pertaining to this issue, the team intends to implement an English language training program to improve the speaking standards of housekeeping staff. The housekeepers will be rotated to attend this course of 15 lessons to prevent manpower shortage issues and successfully educate all housekeepers. The program will be compulsory for all housekeeping staff with problems speaking the language.
- Data Collection/Research Method
Academic papers were cross-referenced from multiple sources to further strengthen the findings, and provide alternative viewpoints on the topic of language barrier in the hospitality industry, specifically housekeeping department. For instance, hospitality managers are often challenged with communication barriers due to an inability of their employees to communicate in English. This created an environment of frustration, stress, and dissatisfaction (Madera, Dawson & Neal, 2014).
In order to better understand the language and communication barrier between housekeeping staff and guest, a series of in-depth interviews had been conducted with employees who have similar experiences in their workplaces. Primary data was collected through interviews with current or previous housekeeping staff to understand more about their day-to-day operational issues. According to one of the team member’s observation during her internship stint at Fairmont Hotel, some common interpersonal problems faced due to language barriers include managers getting impatient for repeating simple instructions, thus affecting the team’s morale.
The benefits of having training would be the understanding of the English language for housekeeping staff who otherwise would not be able to communicate with guests in basic English. This would allow ease of communication between guests in the hotel and housekeeping staff, and prevent the occurrence of a communication breakdown due to the language barrier. This would reduce operational issues, and thus, reflect well on the hotel’s brand reputation.
- Concluding Thoughts
After proper training procedures have been implemented, the housekeeping department would improve in interpersonal communication where staff; for instance, the executive housekeeper, housekeeping manager, floor supervisor, room attendant are able to communicate effectively with one another. Additionally, housekeeping staff would be able to communicate fluently in English with guests to increase effectiveness and efficiency of the service procedure. This would then improve the guest experience and satisfaction, which ultimately increase profit for the hotel.
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Faruk, S., & Nedim, Y. (2015). Organizational Communication in Five Star Hotels and Experienced Problems. International Journal Of Science Culture And Sport, Vol 3, Iss 4, Pp 126-139 (2015), (4), 126.
Madera, J. M., Dawson, M., & Neal, J. A. (2014). Managing language barriers in the workplace: The roles of job demands and resources on turnover intentions. International Journal Of Hospitality Management, 42117-125. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2014.06.004
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