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Is there a ‘high road’ in the hotel industry?

Lloyd, Caroline, Dutton, E. and Warhurst, C. 2009. Is there a ‘high road’ in the hotel industry? Presented at: International Labour Process Conference, Edinburgh, UK, April 2009.

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The persistence of a large number of low wage, low skilled jobs, particularly in the UK and the US, has focused attention on strategies to improve the position of the working poor. Most policy interventions are aimed at providing a minimum wage, in-work subsidies, or training to help progress individuals out of these jobs. However, a key strand of the UK government’s approach is that organisations will increasingly seek to move their business strategies upmarket in order to compete in a more globalised environment with more demanding customers (DTI 2003). The assumption is that firms who produce in ‘high value added’ areas will be competing on the basis of quality products and services produced by a skilled and well-rewarded workforce (see also Leitch 2006). As firms move up the value chain, the number of low skilled, low paid jobs will correspondingly decline. The view that high value added business strategies require a more highly skilled workforce, and that these workers will then be better paid, is a pervasive assumption within government policy documents. It is also grounded in the human resource management literature which claims that a high quality product market strategy is likely to be associated with more sophisticated forms of HRM (Schuler and Jackson 1987, Korczynski’s discussion of the new service management school 2002). Studies of workplace employment practices in services, however, indicate that this relationship might be somewhat more complex (see Lloyd 2005). This paper seeks to further develop existing analysis of the link between business strategy and employment outcomes by presenting research findings from a study of room attendants in the UK hotel industry. The hotel industry employs over 300,000 and has some of the highest incidence of low wage employment. An OECD (2001:89) study of job quality across a range of industries found that ‘jobs in hotels and restaurants generally rank poorly across a range of job quality measures.’ Key problems include: a high proportion of workers work unsocial hours, lack of security and a risk of being low paid. Hotels are particularly suited to research exploring the relationship between business strategies and employment outcomes because five star hotels often operate in the same location and labour market as two star hotels. As a result, we can better assess whether differences in ‘quality’ service provision feed through into improved employment outcomes. For example, despite the widespread recognition of poor job quality in the hotel sector across a range of countries, research in the US has shown that, under certain conditions, service quality can be associated with job improvements for hotel employees (Bernhardt et al 2003). In this paper, we contrast the position of workers in mid-quality hotels with those working in high quality hotels to identify what impact competitive positioning has on worker outcomes. If there is such a notion of a ‘high road’ in both business and employment strategy within the hotel industry, then it should have a positive effect even on those at the bottom end of the jobs ladder – the room attendant. Drawing upon qualitative research conducted in eight hotels in the UK, the paper identifies both the similarities and differences in key aspects of job quality for room attendants, and seeks to explain the patterns that are found. Seventy-six interviews were conducted at four 4-5* hotels and four budget/2-3* hotels, including 35 interviews with room attendants. The paper will discuss the implications for government policy and for those seeking to improve the position of low wage workers. References Bernhardt, A., Dresser, L. and Hatton, E. (2003) ‘The coffee pot wars: unions and firm restructuring in the hotel industry’ in E. Appelbaum et al. (eds) Low Wage America, New York: Russell Sage Foundation. DTI (2003) Prosperity for All: DTI Strategy, London: DTI. Korczynski, M. (2002) Human Resource Management in Service Work, Basingstoke: Palgrave: MacMillan. Leitch, S. (2006) Prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills, London: HM Treasury. Lloyd, C. (2005) ‘Competitive strategy and skills: working out the fit in the fitness industry’, Human Resource Management Journal, 15:2, 15-34. OECD (2001) ‘The characteristics and quality of service sector jobs’, Employment Outlook. Schuler, R. and Jackson, S. (1987) ‘Linking competitive strategies and human resource management practices’, Academy of Management Executive, 1:3, 207-219.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: ESRC Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE)
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:20

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