I was tempted to call this blog “Managing People: Why Wine & Whiskey Exist.” I don’t think I’d be the first person to say that managing the operations of a hostel is far easier than managing the people who help run it. A lot easier. Like, “I’d rather have the sink leaking and fridge not working than figure out why the kitchen is still dirty 2 hours after I asked for it to be cleaned” easier. That may sound drastic, but at least the first two have clearer steps to fixing it and getting it right. And if you can’t do it, you can call for backup (i.e. pay someone else to deal with it).
Managing people and getting them to do what needs to be done is a whole other ballgame. One that can make you want to rip your hair out and develop a really strong relationship with Pinor Noir, Jameson, or even raw cookie dough (#guilty). Just like babies don’t come with an instruction manual, neither do employees. And that's the reason I tell people I don't want kids: I already have several.
Meeting my nephew, who also lacked an info guide. We didn't really get each other just yet.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them all, and with the odd exception, the comparison to children is not with their attitude. Rather it’s figuring them out- what makes them motivated, their communication style, learning their strengths and what areas they need more support. That can be a full time job in itself. And unlike the emergency plumber you can call when water is spraying everywhere, you’re the end of the line when proverbial shit hits the fan. So best to get learning, and quick.
There are as many reasons why managing people is difficult as there are stamps in a well traveled passport. I also believe that understanding the ‘why’ is just as important to finding a solution, which is why in this post I’ll be discussing 4 of those many reasons.
I also discovered while brainstorming about the difficulties of managing people that the solutions often fall into two different categories. Those that make things better or easier for you as the manager, and those which make things better for your staff. Part 2 of this blog will outline a few solutions for you; Part 3 will deal with some for your staff. So stay tuned for my next posts!
And without further ado, here are 4 of my ‘lessons learned’:
Difficulty #1: High Expectations
For me personally, one of the biggest reasons I struggle with staff management is having very high expectations. I would say often too high. This happens for a couple reasons. For one, I wrongly assume that everyone who is working at the hostel has the same motivation and constant watchful eye as me. I am always seeing things around the hostel that can be fixed, improved, or changed, and it frustrates me that not everyone is in that same headspace. It elicits a reaction in me of assuming people don’t care or are lazy, which just isn’t true.
Someone hired to work at the front desk should be expected to perform those tasks to the best of their ability, not have an overarching view of the entire hostel. If they don’t go above and beyond, it shouldn’t be a sign of a problem. If the job actually requires more, that should be outlined, but expecting a manager’s eye or attitude out of most general employees is just setting people up for failure.
Which brings me to the second reason why my expectations are too high for staff: because they are too high for myself. I always expect to be better than I am, more efficient than I am, more productive, etc. I then project this onto others, even when it’s impossible for anyone. And it usually only takes me a shift or two working reception to be brought back down to reality of just how much can get done on an average shift. If I can’t live up to these expectations, how can they?
Difficulty 2: Managing Internal Relationships
Another reason that can be hard for some people is that you aren’t just managing your relationship with your employees, but also their relationships between each other. How many of you have had staff choose not to perform jobs or certain tasks due to disagreements with other colleagues? Unfortunately their negligence ends up falling onto management, rather than the person with whom they are upset.
I’m fortunate that we’ve had very little of this deliberate lack of action, but we’ve had our fair share of disgruntled employees who were tired of picking up the slack from a lackadaisical team member. Between managing that situation, and keeping your guests from gaining wind of internal drama, I’ve heard some managers say they feel like they’re running a kindergarten in the middle of a hostel. This tension can increase further if your staff live on site, or with each other.
Ok, this pic was from me telling the lazy people of the US to vote, but it reminds me of constantly hearing growing up, "I don't care who started it, knock it off." Thanks mom.
Difficulty 3: Consistent Stress
Even if technology has made most of the population feel like their jobs are 24/7, few truly are in the way of a hostel operator. Especially those who literally live at their job. We all know about burnout, but when does this become a serious problem?
When we are faced with a stressful situation, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This was great when it evolved to protect us from predators and immediate threats. However, it was not designed to deal with the constant low-level stress of modern life, and we are left with long term increases in stress hormones.
What does this mean? Well, if you are in a relatively high stressed state, consistently, then there’s no actual way for you to respond calmly when a situation arises. Your body won’t automatically jump to fight or flight mode- it will pretty much be there already, just waiting to react.
So even though you may have the best of intentions to take a deep breath and not react poorly when something goes awry, it may literally be near impossible. This is bad enough on its own, but project that stress and negative energy into employee situations, and you may not be making very many friends. When this happens with me I unfortunately err of the side of the ‘fight’ response, rather than avoiding confrontation, but neither are productive to a cohesive, loyal team.
To sum up: Consistent stress = Constant fight or flight mode = Impossible to calmly react.
Difficulty 4: Adrenal Fatigue
“Adrenal Fatigue” is a term for a group of symptoms that occur when the adrenal glands do not function at a correct level, usually associated with long term stress. More simply put, AF is what happens when the problem in #3, consistent stress, builds up over time.
Eventually these glands cannot properly produce stress hormones – what we use for our ‘fight-or-flight’ responses – and you are left in a state of continued exhaustion. This can happen regardless of the amount of rest you get, with the common exception of a burst of energy late at night, as a result of a disrupted cortisol cycle. I think I can safely say that many of us still function like toddlers, and when we are overly tired, everything is 900x more difficult. Including dealing with the nuances of multiple staff members and the issues that arise.
You may have never heard of Adrenal Fatigue, as it’s usually only recognized once it’s become life-threatening in the form of Addison’s disease. However, just because you don’t require a trip to the ER doesn’t mean long term stress isn't having serious effects on your body and your life. Regardless of your views on AF, there are plenty of legitimate reasons of why constant stress (or more specifically, not managing it well) can be detrimental.
As I said, those are just four of many factors that can contribute to the stress of managing people. So how do we deal with it? Stay tuned for my next two posts, each highlighting a few solutions that can help both managers and staff. In the meantime, hopefully the ‘why’ helped get your brain going on some solutions that will work for you. Good luck!
What are your biggest challenges with managing people? How do you deal with them? Sign in and comment below!
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