Human Resource Strategies during COVID-19 to Increase Well-being: A Study of the Hotel Industry

Prof. Promila Agarwal

What are the HRM practices hotels are using to manage their employees during COVID-19? How are these affecting the wellbeing of the employees? My research (see Agarwal, 2021 for details) tries to answer these questions by studying 41 employees of nine large hotels in the country. I use the job demands-resources model (JD-R) to study the wellbeing (psychological as well as subjective) of these employees (Demerouti et al., 2001). The JD-R model assumes that job characteristics can be either 'job demands' that require sustained effort and so have certain physiological and psychological costs, or 'job resources' that help achieve work goals, mitigate the job demands and augment personal development. The outcomes therefore are the result of the interplay between job demands that predict job strain and the resources that predict engagement and motivational outcomes. Wellbeing is known in human resource management as a valuable outcome in itself, as well as a precursor of desirable organizational outcomes such as productivity, cooperation and higher social capital. Wellbeing is especially important in the hospitality industry because of the stressful nature of jobs here and the importance of service quality. Though a positive relationship between HRM practices and wellbeing is not always clearly established, it is reasonable to assume that HRM practices should add to the job resources of employees and counter the effects of job demands.

The various HRM practices followed by the nine hotels were first studied. These included compensation and incentives (removal of incentives, pay cuts); training and development (increasing the number of training sessions and their diversity); HRM flexibility (increasing flexibility by design); life and family support (working from home, for example); mental health support; and a transactional approach followed by a few hotels.

The resources that contributed to wellbeing included communication; history of a positive relationship with the employing hotel; authentic leadership (where leaders were genuine and honest in their responses); corporate social responsibility of the hotels (supporting underprivileged people during COVID-19); healthy relationships at home; and household work support (when family members took over the household work).

The key demands identified were loss of trust in the hospitality sector; perceived inequality and exclusion on account of social background; work overload; less work or no work leading to a fear of loss of job; occupational hazards entailed by the threat of exposure to the Corona virus; financial distress arising out of pay cuts; job insecurity; lack of organization support (for example, for work-from-home); household work overload; the pressures of living alone and cut off from the usual social contacts; difficult relations with the family, and poor housing conditions (relative to spending long hours in the comfortable hotel environment).

Putting together the HRM strategies and the impact on wellbeing resulting from the interaction of resources and demands, the study concluded that agile and employee-centred HRM strategies are more effective than traditional systems and processes during a crisis such as the one precipitated by COVID-19. How did the HRM strategies counter the negative impact on wellbeing?

Overcoming lack of Psychological Resources: COVID-19 has had a significant impact on critical psychological resources of the collective of employees. Employees have experienced a significant increase in anxiety, isolation, job insecurity, fear of death of loved ones, fear of losing health, and extreme loneliness. However, employee-centred HRM practices provide greater control and autonomy to employees by fulfilling their unique needs rather than the needs of the organization alone. While alignment of organizational and employee needs is important, too tight an alignment during a crisis might backfire.

Overcoming lack of Physical Resources: COVID-19 has pushed all organizations, and hotels are no exception, towards changing the processes and structures they use to achieve their business objectives. However, not all hotels were mindful about providing adequate physical resources to their employees so that they could perform in the changed environment. The hotels that provided enough COVID-19 security measures to their front-line employees reported higher wellbeing. In addition, hotels that proactively created workstations in their employees' homes reported less unrest among employees.

Overcoming lack of Social Resources: Establishing social connections is a basic need of the employees. Leaders who consistently communicated with their employees managed to mitigate the adverse effects of reduced social resources during COVID-19. Transparent and authentic communication by top management and line managers reduced the fear and apprehensions among employees. Frequent meetings, formal as well as informal, prevented the loss of social connection among employees.

In summary, organizations need to extend their HRM practices to support employees in their personal lives to help them increase their job performance. HRM practices designed to meet the unique needs of the employees are more valuable during a crisis, as they add to employees' cognitive and psychological resources to cope with the depletion of resources caused by a crisis such as COVID-19. Second, hotels stand to benefit from flexible HRM practices - that is, hotels that adapt to changing situations faster by reworking and redeploying current practices counter a crisis better. They reduce the stress and anxiety experienced by the employees. Finally, an increase in training and development has benefitted the hotels.

  • Agarwal, P. (2021). Shattered but smiling: Human resource management and the wellbeing of hotel employees during COVID-19. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 93.
  • Demerouti, E., Bakker, A.B., Nachreiner, F., Schaufeli, W.B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology 86(3), 499-512.

About The Author

Prof. Promila Agarwal

Prof. Promila Agarwal

PhD, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi, New Delhi
MA, Applied Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Delhi, New Delhi
BA (Hons.), Psychology, University of Delhi, Merit Student of University of Delhi.
UGC NET Qualified