Today, day 42 of the Nowhere To Be Project, was spent orchestrating the shift from winter to spring in our mountain home. It is finally time to drag out the patio furniture and begin planting the flowers that will color the summer. Vail mountain officially closed to skiers yesterday and everyone in town is feeling as if spring is finally official. Sadly, the seasonal workers who tend the mountain and care for the many guests of Vail are mostly on their way out of town. I doubt they really want to leave, but really aren’t given much of a choice.
The seasonal workers who operate ski towns are lured with the promise of a free ski pass and an epic mountain life. Needless to say, these workers are extremely under appreciated. They work long hours for meager wages. They serve a very demanding clientele (of course they are demanding, they pay $200 a day just to ski!!!). The luckiest employees may obtain housing in town, but pay astronomically high rents to bunk with three, four or even five of their counterparts. Most are forced to live on ramen noodles and peanut butter because they have very little money left after paying rent. Other than the ski pass, they receive very few (if any) benefits as seasonal employees. When the mountain closes, they’re unemployed until June when summer operations begin. This is the norm for many in the hospitality industry. Not surprisingly, turnover is very high in this field. Burn out is common.
My professional knowledge of industrial organizational psychology tells me that happy employees bring higher profits. Why doesn’t Vail Resorts see this? If employees knew that they’d have a free meal during their shift, they might be more willing to patiently deal with difficult guests. If they were guaranteed affordable housing, they might feel more invested in the community (e.g. rent should be no more than one-third of monthly wages). If they knew they could see a doctor when they are ill, they would not end up missing a week of work with an untreated cough or cold.
These problems are glaring to me as someone who lives in a resort town and travels incessantly. I try to grease the wheels somewhat by overtipping hard-working hospitality personnel when I can. The responsibility should not lie with the guests, but in many cases it does. Remember this the next time you encounter a helpful restaurant, hotel, resort or theme park worker. Some employees may not be able to accept tips, but they would most definitely benefit from a good review or positive feedback to a supervisor. Feeling appreciated is a powerful predictor of performance. Spread the love!
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