Walking on glass

Walking on glass

One of the biggest challenges that I was met with when entering the workforce as a manager was managing my elders. All of a sudden I was expected to be a figure of authority to people who are old enough to be my parents and even my grandparents. This can be very overwhelming, especially if you’ve never had experience managing others.  

My first experience managing my own staff was during my second college internship at the Grand Hyatt New York. This situation was unique due to the strong union that represents the employees at the hotel. I had the opportunity to work in the housekeeping department. I remember walking in the first day before the staff pre-shift and seeing a sea of room attendants. The housekeeping department at the property staffs 250-plus. I was definitely taken back a bit. This is the department where you will find most of the hotel veterans as well. It’s funny/scary when you are standing in front of the room with the rest of the managers, and you have the entire department eyeing you. I still can feel the stares burning holes through me.  Any new face in management is approached with caution.

So, there I was, a 19-year-old college punk acting as a housekeeping manager for the summer at one of the busiest hotels in New York. I knew that I could not come in with a superiority complex. I smiled so much the first day my face hurt. I also made a point to say hello to everyone EVERY TIME I saw them. This was some of the advice the floor managers gave me at the beginning of the day. I did not want to get on anyone’s bad side. 

I felt like I was walking on glass for the first month. Ask anyone in the hotel business, and they’ll tell you that the housekeeping department is the one department whose good side you want to be on. At this hotel the staff has seen literally hundreds of managers over the years come and go for a number of reasons. This can make it difficult to have the staff take you seriously. I knew I was not there to tell them HOW to do their jobs. I was there to HELP them do their jobs and do whatever was in my power to make it easier on them. I was definitely being tested on a daily basis. It was a thin line I had to walk between being stern and respectful. Luckily, It didn’t take long for workers to warm up to me and understand my management style. 

As I started working my own floors, which gave me about 15 housekeepers under my direct supervision, my main focus was building a trusting relationship with the room attendants on those floors. If the workers on my floors liked me, it would ripple through the rest of the department, and I would be in good standing. Also, this would make me look good to upper management, because shy is one thing these workers were not. If they did not like you, they had no problem going to the most senior person at the property and letting them know. Since the SVP of eastern operations worked and lived at the hotel, I obviously did not want this to happen. 

My main focus was working hard for my staff and just hoping for the same in return. Another tip I received, which helped gain the respect of my staff a great deal, was taking an interest in their personal lives. Simply asking how their kids were doing or remembering a special occasion went a long way.  

When I returned to the Grand Hyatt New York as a corporate management trainee this past June (two years later) I was surprised to see how many of my former staffers remembered me and were happy to see me. It was a great feeling, which really helped me transition back into that management role.  

How did the rest of you out there handle your first management roles?