HR & Hospitality can mix – I just wish I’d known that when I started in the pub trade!

Strangely, this approach to management doesn’t work.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, I am currently working for Carbon360, in a role which requires that I do a lot of research and reading about the world of HR; whether that be news, best practice, emerging trends or employment statistics. I also do a lot of research into company missions and goal setting in order to see what is working best for various organisations. I read an awful lot about what it means to be a leader, to manage effectively, to get the best out of, and respect from, your colleagues and peers.

What occurred to me today was just how useful this information would have been a year or so ago. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I used to manage a pub where I was responsible for around twenty or so employees, mainly men. And they weren’t an easy bunch to be responsible for.

I took the job on after having worked there as a barmaid for a few years, as a way to (partially) pay my way through university, and was suddenly landed in the position of managing around thirty staff who had previously been friends.

The trouble with the pub trade (and this I’m sure is less true in the larger chain pubs) is that there is no established process, no mention of HR (that in itself would be laughable) and a lot of sexism. And the hours are long. Any trade that regularly uses AFD (All Fucking Day, if you haven’t worked the trade before) as a regular acronym on a rota should give you an idea.

When I accepted the role, I really did work incredibly hard. I thought it would be a bonus to work with friends – after all, they liked me and would know I was trying hard and try to help me out.

Naively, I assumed I wouldn’t have to shout at them as they would want the business to work – after all, it was their job too, and we all needed the money. But that was not the case at all.

I can see now that despite good intentions, in many ways I was a terrible manager. I simply didn’t know how to go about being a leader from the start, I had never tried before, and there was no one to back me up. I also put a lot of faith in people wanting me, (and the business) to do well, but who were in fact were rooting for me to fail, and fail I did.

By the time I handed in my notice, I was exhausted, and utterly depressed after just over a year in the position. Towards the end of that year there were screaming rows with staff, and their lack of faith in me had really worn me down. Customer and cash-flow-wise the pub did fine, I was still on top of that side of the business, but behind the scenes and despite smiling throughout, I was a frazzled mess.

I tried to do everything myself – I didn’t want the staff to think I expected them to do anything I wouldn’t do. But I couldn’t do it all. Yet I tried, and ended up doing it badly. Rather than chastising people when a job wasn’t done, or wasn’t done correctly, I would simply sort it out myself in order to avoid an unpleasant altercation.

I tried to keep all the staff happy, but that meant agreeing to all their (often daft and selfish) requests, which I never should have done. I should have listened to them, decided what was best, and stuck to it, rather than trying to please everyone. I was just so worried that they would grow to dislike me.

I should have stepped back, and made clear that I was the boss. That sounds as if I am being awful, but I’m not.

What I mean is that I learned a lot about the way people work, and the way they respond to being led. Some people work creatively, and are at their best when you give them the space and freedom to use their initiative to see what needs to be done, and let them get on and do it. And some of my staff were like that, and with them, things worked brilliantly.

However, some people need to be micro-managed. And they respond best to having distance placed between them and their boss, as whoever that boss is, they will want to complain about them. They need to be told what to do in a structured way, without any room for initiative.

At the end of the day, I should have accepted that as a manager, people were obviously going to complain about me, and I should have not let it get to me. It isn’t personal, it is just part of the job.

Communication with your staff is very important, but a leader makes sure that communication is professional and that while they listen, they make clear that they are still in charge. A manager should never raise their voice, and if a member of staff treats you in an inappropriate way, you should deal with it immediately, or the situation will snowball.

Shortly after I left, the pub was sold to a chain, and new managers came in. The staff who worked best under micro-management remained, and although they obviously still moan about the long hours and the bosses, they would never dream of doing it to their face. And I’m sure the managers are aware of it, but don’t let it worry them in the way I did. Those staff, to their credit, have also apologised to me numerous times for various behaviour, but only after I left.

I ended up quitting after sister’s boyfriend found me crying in the back office with a glass of wine (although despite various male staff shouting at me, and throwing things at me a couple of times, I never did cry in front of them!) and realised I had had enough. Once I had got to that point, there was no way to go back. The thing is, it needn’t have got so bad. If I had known some of this HR best practice then, I would have done things very differently.

Obviously, having previously been friends with the staff made it difficult, but the principals are still relevant. And I genuinely believe if I were put in the same situation again, I could see the signs and handle it. The hospitality trade is notoriously bad in terms of things like political correctness, gender equality, reasonable working hours and pay – and also with things like performance management. These things simply aren’t a consideration. However, they could really make a difference, without changing the trade.

So if you are working in the trade (and especially if you’re a woman) and you take on the position of manager, here’s some advice, combining what I leaned in that role, and what I know now.  I hope it helps, because I really is a fun job if you do it properly!

  • Let them know who is boss. And quickly. I don’t mean be a bitch, but look uncertain at the start, and they wont forget it.
  • You’re not their mate. You can be friends outside of work, and friendly at work, but basically, it’s an extension of number 1. Buy them a drink as a boss, they’ll be grateful. Don’t buy them a drink as a mate and they’ll pinch one anyway, and moan about you while they’re at it.
  • You don’t owe them anything – except to be a fair boss. They should know you will assess the situation and reward them time off/ extra hours/expect you to tell them when they have worked hard and deserve any bonus. They should not have any expectations to ask for/demand it.
  • They should speak to you like a boss. Despite it being a pub, swearing at you or treating you with any less respect then they would a man/a boss in any other profession is not acceptable
  • Never let them see you sweat. Even if you are unsure, don’t let it show. They won’t help, they’ll see it as a weakness, and despite no evidence, will assume they can do the job better. Again, I think this applies especially if you are a woman.
  • Stick to warnings and keep your temper. Verbal, written then final. Then out. Do not deviate from this rule. And gross misconduct is as it sounds. No excuses.
  • Be professional. And this is a really tricky one in this trade. You will regularly work 15-hour shifts, and you will always have to be sociable. The customers will want you to sit and drink with them. Fine. Just don’t do it with your staff. Again, especially if you are a woman. A man gets really chatty after a few beers, he’s sound. A woman does it after more than 2 glasses of wine, she’s either looking for a man/has a drinking problem. Sorry girls, it’s true (in most, obviously not all, men’s minds).
  • Do not listen to gossip. Again, very difficult in the pub trade. You made a decision, you made it for a reason. Stick to it, despite what anyone says (think it through first, obviously). Punters are fickle, and staff are quick to criticise. This also applies in your favour. They’ll get used to that ‘terrible’ thing you changed, and fast. They’ll forget it was ever any other way. It’s just often they don’t like change.
  • Say little. It’s a sociable job, and everyone who has ever drunk in a pub thinks they can run one. Don’t defend what you do, or try to explain it. Just do it.
  • Most importantly, remember that you have the job because you deserve it. Men especially in this trade will assume they can do better. As will the regulars who will remind you, repeatedly, that when they first started drinking here/when John used to run it etc. etc., they did things another way. But that’s why they aren’t managers anymore, and that’s why you were hired. If the people who make sarcastic comments could do the job, they would. But it’s much easier to hang back and criticise.

So I hope that helps, and I must stress, bar (ahem, no pun intended) the last couple of months when I had really lost my enthusiasm, I really enjoyed it. So good luck, and believe in yourself. It really can be a fun job when you’ve got the hang of it. Honest!

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