Entitlement . . .

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

I have, from time-to-time, been dragged into a conversation around a corporation’s responsibility toward employees with respect to reductions in force. The implication is that corporations fire people too easily. I don’t think so.

The playing field is not even in the sense that employees believe they need only give the employer two weeks notice if they want to leave. It seems though, that they expect the employer must let them work there as long as they want to do so.

I was listening to the discussion around the Hyatt fiasco. I don’t know all the facts around this except as I’ve heard them in the discussions and in reading about them in the news – certainly a suspect way of getting the “real facts.” Based on my experience, however, I would be willing to bet that the folks at Hyatt screwed up and the housekeepers have unrealistic expectations.

From what I can see, Hyatt was pretty calloused in the way they effected the reduction in force and were a bit underhanded in how they went about training new employees. They deserve the condemnation they are receiving for those actions. Still, they do have to respond to the present economic reality. Employees are often one of if not THE biggest expense that businesses have. Any significant reduction in costs will almost certainly include sacrifices on the part of the employees. Businesses will do well to use forethought and compassion in these difficult decisions. Hyatt seems not to have done some basics the right way, at least as far as communications and PR is concerned.

One woman who was very distressed at losing her housekeeping job complained that she has a son who needs medication and now she has no benefits. She has found no jobs available for her, especially at the $16.00 per hour she was making at the Hyatt. She is distressed that Hyatt outsourced the work to a Georgia company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions, where the workers will be paid around $8.00 per hour. She clearly felt that because she had a son with medical needs and needs to earn $16/Hr to provide for her family, she should not have been let go.

Yet I am very confident that if she was given the opportunity to leave Hyatt to go to work for a neighboring hotel for $17/Hr with comparable benefits, she would have given her two weeks notice and not thought much about it. All the training she was given by Hyatt and the disruption to them would not have dissuaded her. So let’s call this what it is – at will employment, and within reason, that should apply to both parties. Hyatt has no special obligation to this woman simply because she has a son with medical needs or a need for a certain level of income. Rather, the company has an obligation to make sure that the entity survives. If they can also be compassionate and take care of this woman and the other employees, then that of course would be best.

On the other hand, Hyatt cannot expect to enjoy wonderful Public Relations when they pull bone-headed stunts like they did with the way they handled the move to outsourcing their housekeeping staff. They may have seriously damaged their standing with the community. There are enough people who are out of work who will relate to these housekeepers and enough people employed who know they could soon be in the same position that Hyatt may well have a huge negative result from these actions.

I would also be interested in knowing how many of Hyatt’s executive staff have lost their jobs or had their pay reduced in order to share the pain. Was this all done on the backs of the housekeeping staff? If so, then there is definitely a chance for a well deserved backlash over management’s handling of the outsourcing. Heads should roll at the top.

How do you handle the necessary reductions in force? Are you sharing the pain in an equitable fashion? What do you do to communicate the facts, sense of urgency and logic behind what you choose to do? Are you needlessly making a PR blunder or are you being open, transparent and compassionate?