Updated: Sep 29
“Give them bread and circuses, and they will never revolt.” - Juvenal
In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction, or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a population, by offering something that relieves the symptoms without dealing with the cause of the condition: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).
And that is what employee engagement is all about. It is all about generating public approval not through policies or employee service but by diversion and distraction. Organisations don't want to deal with the cause of employee dissatisfaction, so they organise games (entertainment) and food (pizza and doughnuts for everyone; it's on the house!). Or, by saying, "Nobody wants to work".
I watched International Housekeeping Week (hotel industry) activities last week and could only think of Juvenal's quote.
I saw dancing, a banana-eating competition, lots of food, of course, towel-folding, sack race, singing and all you can ever imagine that would relieve the pain of the hard work these guys are doing.
Senior leaders, including CHROs, were very quick to showcase their "appreciation" for their workforce on social media by posting videos and pictures of the circus.
You would ask, what is wrong with that? Why am I against that, it is great fun and makes people feel good. I am not against this. I am against that this is the only thing we do, nothing else. Before the food and entertainment, I would like to see business leaders and HR:
To prepare a strategy and budget for bed lifting systems so our guys don't have to break their backs and continuously suffer from back pain.
Have a plan and invest in technology that makes housekeeping operations easier, like robots delivering supplies, cleaning and vacuuming the floor, cleaning the escalator, or trolleys that are easy to move around.
To reduce the number of rooms cleaned per person per day. Depending on hotel classification and size, these guys clean around 14 to 25 rooms daily. I'll tell you something after the 5th room of the day, physically, you are done. Now, it doesn't mean the max is 5 rooms. It means that technology would make this much easier, and you would be done after 12 rooms.
Stick to working hours. Housekeeping's overtime is through the roof, especially here in the GCC. Instead of 192 hours a month (4 weeks), I have seen colleagues clocking in 350 hours. It is not only illegal, it is also inhumane. When I raised it to HR, they ignored it and brought them doughnuts for their morning briefing. HR VP didn't even respond. So yes, next time you are in a hotel and want to complain about HK, just don't.
Raise their salary. These guys earn anything between $300-500 a month. If you divide that by the number of working hours... Well, you do the math. But I have never seen a plan that would focus on doubling up the salary of these guys. You would say yes, but they are provided accommodation and food. Let me remind you of your P&L structure and that the hotel owner often owns accommodation buildings, so we are putting money from one pocket to another. Also, cruise ships provide accommodation, food, and multiple times our salary. So your argument is kind of off.
So no, I cannot go around and do the happy clapping for the charade organised by hoteliers in the name of appreciation because it is not. It is providing palliative care so they can keep going without us solving the cause of their pain.
I found it embarrassing for senior leaders to post their circus on social media and package it as care & appreciation. It is none of that.
I would not say a word if they were honest about it and say, "Guys, this is the only thing we can give you. We cannot do anything to make your daily work easier or adjust your salaries. This is the best we can give you."
But they don't say that. They ignore the problem and choose to give doughnuts. First, let's do the above bullet points and then the circus and food. I will be the first to dance, have a cheeky doughnut and participate in silly games.
Employee experience is everything; it starts with honesty and care.
PS: Most of the time, HK employees arrange these events on top of their working hours. They spend hours practising the dance, singing, designing games, and arranging the event. After the event, they have the privilege of cleaning up the venue after themselves. Why don't we see this??????????
If you want to read more on these types of treatment of employees: