JJ Abuelhawa is assistant director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Dulles in Herndon, Virginia, and a member of HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council. Her hotel has remained opened and she has been on the job throughout the coronavirus pandemic. She offers tips for hospitality professionals who will be returning to work after COVID-19.
1. Embracing the new big picture: You may have heard the terms “stay safe,” “new world meetings,” “social distancing,” and “required PPE.” Upon your return, you will be thrust into fully understanding, planning, executing, and legally adhering to all these new standards. In the hotel, you are part of a small team who are the enforcers of these new standards of practice. These are also extremely important topics to your guests and clients, so the faster you become an expert in these new fields, the softer your landing will be when returning to work.
2. The sequential return: Most states have rolled out phases of reopening; likewise, hotels will gradually be able to bring back team members as cash flow returns. If you are one of the first few to return, you most likely will be covering more than you did in your previous role. Set this expectation in your head now and you will relieve a lot of stress for yourself down the line.
Hotels no longer operate according to business as usual. As a hotelier, no matter the title, those who have worked through COVID-19 have covered everything from bathroom attendants and front desk agents to housekeeping — on top of covering their entire associated department, such as one person covering the responsibilities of a previous sales team of 12. This fluidity between job functions is now essential and is the best way for you to show your ability to be a team player.
3. Taking a break: It will be a hard transition from the stressors of being quarantined, furloughed, working from home, etc. to returning to work under these conditions. Start adhering now to some sort of 9 a.m.–5 p.m. schedule — or whatever hours you kept prior to COVID-19 — in which you wake up and hold yourself accountable to a routine that mirrors work, in whatever capacity you may be able to duplicate it. You may have relaxed during your current circumstances, but now you are returning to a professional environment. Being mindful of the way you dress, communicate, and carry yourself while returning to work in the new world may be a difficult adjustment, but just being mindful of this fact can give you a leg up.
That said, working through COVID-19, it has become essential to take a break — or, as I say, “take a lap” — should you find yourself overwhelmed. Not everyone has this choice at all given times, but if you need to grab a coworker to relieve you for even five minutes, do it! You are not doing anyone any favors by internalizing stress. When you have the opportunity to do so, take a break when you feel overwhelmed and disconnected.
4. Patience is a virtue: Patience, kindness, and empathy are needed now more than ever, not only for guests and clients but also for teammates who have held down the fort in your absence. Nothing has been easy during this pandemic. Guests, clients, and colleagues have strong opinions about the pandemic and its butterfly effect, and it is important to be sensitive and professional in your comments and behavior.
I think I can safely assume that your colleagues who worked through COVID-19 operated with the assumption that furlough or permanent closure/layoff could happen at any moment. Compound that pressure with everything else stated in this article and you have quite a cocktail of stressors. No human is perfect; I feel equally safe assuming that most hospitality professionals who have worked through this pandemic have done so to the best of their ability. Should something have fallen through the cracks, be kind, be patient, and let your empathy shine through.
5. Pivot: I implore you to view this point in your career as a pivot point. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
What is to come will not be easy, no matter the career within hospitality that you pursue. You have the choice now to set expectations, perspectives, and actions that will follow suit. This pandemic and the resulting economic distress will pass, but what you gain from the experience will define you for better or worse. The decision is yours.
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Resources page.