I believe we have a crisis in the hospitality industry–a dwindling pool of service-oriented individuals–which is making it difficult for HR and management to provide the level of guest service required at high-end properties. Obvious causes, such as low wage scales, could be identified at first blush, but an unlikely source has emerged recently as the real culprit: the marketing and selling of worry to well Americans who are sold psychiatric drugs to resolve that cleverly crafted worry. Half the US population is on these drugs now. The relevance being that the side effects of these drugs include woodenness and disassociation at the less dramatic end, through frustration and anger outbursts, to suicide and murder at the extreme end-none of which are particularly conducive to guest satisfaction.
The issue has been increasingly in the media, lead by British doctors who have forbidden first children and now adults from taking “antidepressants.” Court cases and media have at the same time exposed inadequate testing and altered results to hide bad outcomes. Even the FDA, long beholden to the interests of the pharmaceutical lobby, is begrudgingly following suit in the US, hence those black box warning labels appearing on many psychiatric prescriptions. Suicides are the main worry, but the many heinous crimes hitting the airwaves over the last decade (mothers butchering their children, children shooting or torturing their parents or other children, to name just a few) have added to the list of outcomes when people take these drugs. A book just released, Selling Sickness: How the World’s Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients (Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels) and the recently released movie based on John le Carre’s fictionalized book, The Constant Gardner, both point to a motivational shift by pharmaceutical companies: away from curing sickness to making vast amounts of money; the main strategy being to bring drugs to market by pathologizing life’s normal fluctuations and the creation of “lifestyle medicines.” Premenstrual tension, for instance, is now a “mental illness” called “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” requiring a psychiatric drug to “manage” (not cure) it.
Instead of relying on evidence to determine a disease and assess the risk / benefit of a medical intervention, doctors are prescribing drugs based on corporate sponsored “public awareness” campaigns that create “illness.” If this seems just fine, then might I suggest re-reading the preceding sentence? We have marketing and PR departments, and executive boards salivating over the bottom line, inventing diseases and then persuading people they have them.
As described by Vera Hassner Sharav of Alliance for Human Research Protection, “The selling of sickness and the birth of a blockbuster drug follows a familiar pattern: the marketing division of a pharmaceutical company identifies a wedge condition, and a set of symptoms or “risk factors”; the company hires a PR firm to come up with a “disease” name, either something catchy (e.g., SAD) or something connoting a serious biochemical deficiency; the company either develops a drug, or recycles an existing one for this new condition; and begins massive marketing to physicians and the public. An advisory panel of experts defines the “disease” broadly enough to include as many previously healthy people as possible, and issues guesstimates about the prevalence of the “disease”; the media pick up the story, suggesting that the ‘new’ disease is greatly “under-diagnosed and poses severe health hazards if left untreated; the stage is set for the birth of the next blockbuster.”
The roots of this travesty can be found in sentiments such as those expressed three decades ago by Merck’s chief executive, Henry Gadsden, who wanted to expand his market by making drugs for healthy people, not just sick people.
It is necessary to grasp the reality of this trend in order to understand a previously unrecognized undercurrent that HRs have been hitting up against in finding and keeping good staff.
We have been hearing the complaint “Good employees are hard to find” for a few centuries now, but now it just might be true. While running a workshop on service for a large group of employees at a four-star facility recently, I was fascinated to see a full 50% of them had no interest whatsoever in the subject, one of them even settling down to read a newspaper during the presentation. Their attitude and lack of caring was evident in the lackluster service they offered guests (hence the workshop being arranged by an anxious management), and was also a source of upset for those staff who did care to care and who did derive new insights from the workshop.
The problem is that there is no way for consultants, HR, or management to reach and inspire these people until they are taken off their drugs and the drug residues detoxed from their system (there are ways to do this). Until then, they will continue to manifest a “bio-chemical personality”, the antithesis of service.
If the US Armed Forces do not accept recruits who have taken psychiatric drugs, then there may be a lesson to be learned here in our industry. The Defense Department has learned from experience that such citizens do not make reliable and effective personnel or teammates.
Maybe the hospitality industry could benefit from examining this factor (the drugging of its personnel pool) in trying to create a team of service-minded personnel who actually do care for guests, and care to service them well. Maybe the paucity of service-oriented individuals is not just the result of genes or some such wild theory, but an artificial condition created by morally bankrupt individuals and out-of-control corporations. In other words, maybe we can do something about it.
This article also appeared in the September 2005 issue of 4Hoteliers.com and Hotelexecutive.com
About the Author (Author Profile)Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.
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