With the holiday season approaching and a looming fourth wave, it’s safe to say that South Africans are tired, frustrated and stressed out. This is especially true for those working in the hospitality industry. The past two years have been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and the recent tighter restrictions on travel have certainly thrown a spanner in the works. With countless hospitality workers receiving pay cuts or, even worse, having lost their income due to closures in the industry, this year has been tough.
On a positive note, many hotels are reporting a definite increase in hotel bookings, with most being fully booked way in advance this year. What’s more, Cape Town Tourism, in a bid to boost domestic tourism, has once again launched its Pocket-Friendly campaign, which includes discounts on flights, accommodation and attractions for locals. While this is good news for the industry, it also means hard work for employees who are already feeling mentally and physically drained from the year that was.
As part of ANEW’s management team, it’s my job to ensure employee burnout is managed correctly and efficiently. We always keep ANEW’s key HITEC values, which are Honesty, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence and Courage, top of mind when dealing with everyone who forms part of our business, whether it’s customers, guests, stakeholders, and staff members. We’re all in this together, so creating a safe space for our employees is important to us.
As such, I’ve found team-building to be necessary. This year, I took all my general managers to a place very close to my heart - LIV Village - an orphanage for vulnerable children in South Africa. Here, we spent time at the village, played with the kids, and even got our hands dirty painting classrooms. While this wasn’t what would be considered a conventional team-building activity, I wanted to do something different and more meaningful. My GMs’ feedback included words like ‘life-changing’ and ‘memorable’, so I think my mission was accomplished.
As a 58-year-old running a business that has grown from three hotels to 13 in the last 18 months, this year couldn’t have been more hectic. What’s more, we decided to open two new hotels, the Parktonian and Roodepoort, on the same day on a South African public holiday!
After the year we’ve had, there are two things I have to bear in mind for myself and my employees – mental fatigue and physical fatigue.
As someone who has spent many years in hospitality and executive business coaching, my best advice for coping with the workload and long hours is to find time to switch off and be good to yourself. As an endurance athlete, it’s important to pace yourself and get to that finishing line. If you’ve ever seen marathon races on TV, you will notice that the minute a runner gets over the finish line, they collapse, but 10 minutes later, they get up and walk again. And this is after a 42km endurance run! It seems strange that these runners cross that magical red line, and suddenly their legs give way. But, the truth is that they’ve mentally set themselves the goal to reach the finish line, and the minute it is achieved, they’re done. So, that’s a strategy I use in my personal and business life.
This means that I always know there’s going to be a finishing line, although that line changes daily. Today, for instance, my finish line could be 18:00 – that’s when I stop working, switch off and do what I love. Whether playing football or going for a trail run, that’s my time to relax, unwind and switch off. When I run, I don’t have my phone with me because I could injure myself if I’m distracted. So, I need that time to zone out and focus on what I’m doing.
In the same way, taking my GMs to a place where they had no choice but to switch off and embrace the environment meant their brains had a chance to recharge. I’m also a firm believer in new experiences. I recently took the team at Parktonian to Soweto, visiting Vilakazi Street and other landmarks in the area. I’m a Londoner taking South Africans to Soweto for the first time in their lives! Opening your mind and embracing something completely different, whether travelling somewhere new or just switching off your mobile phone for a few hours, can certainly help you cross that finish line.
A culture of support
The thing I love about our hotel group is the family environment we’ve created. Our culture has provided a safety net of support to all employees, which I’m incredibly proud to be a part of. I feel like my life was made for this moment, and when thinking about the legacy I want to leave behind, the culture we’ve built is what’s most important to me.
In hospitality, things can go from zero and 100 in a matter of hours. One day there are 10 people in the hotel, the next there’s 100. But, in between those stressful moments are really beautiful ones, and I think that’s why we’re in this business. It’s about the people – the guests and the staff. As a leader, I’ve got to respect the people I work with, so I encourage my staff to find time for themselves and embrace new experiences.
Doing something you love and being active and away from your computer screen will contribute to improving physical and mental wellbeing. It’s about finding that space where you are at your best and setting boundaries. Have a finish line and be ok with it. Tomorrow is another day. That’s my magic formula!