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You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours

Improving the wellbeing of your staff will improve your customer and/or guest experience in so many ways, says Daniel Fryer.

Reciprocity is the act of responding to a positive action with another positive action and it is a way of rewarding an act of kindness with an act of kindness. It is a much-studied phenomenon in social psychology. As a social construct, reciprocity predicts that people will respond warmly to friendly actions and, in the face of them, become nicer, more friendly, and more co-operative in return. Conversely, stress and negativity beget bad feelings and poor experiences.

I hope you can see where I am going with this.

Staff wellbeing is essential. So essential in fact that, at this year’s HOSPACE conference, where I was moderating a panel on Wellness: What Guests Want and What Guests Need, HOSPA president Harry Murray was the first to take the mike at the Q&A section. He quite rightly stood up, not just for guest wellness, but also for staff wellbeing. He said that the one was as important as the other. And he was right.

In fact, according to a recent Deloitte report, 80 percent of organisations consider employee wellbeing a crucial part of their business strategy, whilst 61 percent plan to increase their investments in staff wellbeing programmes in the coming years.

In any sector, when you increase staff wellness, you increase productivity, decrease the costs associated with time taken off sick with stress, decrease the likelihood of costly mistakes being made and, also, improve staff retention levels.

Now consider the hospitality sector. All the above is still true. Plus, due to the art of reciprocity, improving the mental health and wellbeing of your staff will have a positive effect, not only on the mental health and wellbeing of your guests and customers, but also on their experience of your service, your venue and your offering.

Happy staff are happy to go the extra mile; they are more resilient in the face of challenging environments and/or people. These little touches do not go unnoticed by the guests and customers who, in turn, reciprocate in lots of little healthy and happy ways.

For instance, one study found that food servers earned higher tips when they boxed a customer’s food for them as opposed to having them box their leftovers themselves. Another study found that when management gave more agency to frontline staff in hotel catering departments, acts of kindness were not only passed on to customers, but also important information (such as individual food preferences) was fed back up the chain, allowing hotels to further personalise the guest experience.

In fact, initiating acts of kindness within your organisation quite naturally leads to mutual acts of reciprocity. One study involved staff at the Spanish headquarters of a well-known soft drinks company.

The staff were told that the experiment involved researchers monitoring staff wellbeing over the course of a few weeks, with participants expected to rate their wellbeing levels every other day or so. But that was just a ruse.

The experiment proper secretly recruited several staff members who were told to initiate random acts of kindness across the course of the study. Acts were chosen for their ease and affordability: buying someone a coffee or a token, cutting out a magazine article, paying a compliment and so on. The effects were so overwhelmingly positive that, soon, staff members who were not in on the secret also joined in with the random acts of kindness. The experiments not only lifted mood and improved productivity, but it also improved staff cohesion.

Just think how the above could have played out if undertaken in a hotel or restaurant.

Other studies are also clear: stressed staff pass on their stresses to the guests and customers, creating a more negative experience of their stay or visit. Happy staff really do create happy guests and vice versa.

In fact, a 2019 study on the link between employee and customer satisfaction among 13 different industries, including restaurants, bars, and food services, found a ‘sweet spot’ where employee satisfaction ratings of four or five stars garnered customer ACSI ratings of 80 percent or more.

When you allow your staff to flourish, you allow your guests to flourish, which means your business flourishes too. If that’s not a very good reason to make staff wellbeing your priority, then I don’t know what is.

Image: l-r, Daniel Sprung (Peloton), Daniel Fryer, Emlyn Brown (Accor)


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