Secret Concierge: All work and no pay

Published: 6 May 2020 - 5 a.m.

I’ve dreamed of working from home (WFH) since my last trip to California, where a majority of large-scale companies have already made the permanent shift towards letting their employees work from home. This actually reduces overheads for the firm as all the employer has to invest in is a laptop for its employees. For such large-scale firms, virtual team briefings and client meetings have been a norm for a few years now and the flexibility working from home gives for the staff is one of the most-valued employee benefits — especially for those with small children or elder family members who need regular care.

The common response from employers when an employee working in an administrative role at a hotel requests for flexible working hours has often been: “If he’s physically not here, there’s no work getting done,” in fear that their employees’ productivity will wane and communication will suffer. In all fairness speaking – one’s work should not be judged by the hours he’s putting in, but instead on the output, which gets reported at the end of the month, and when the results are achieved — why not grant the employee the sought-after benefit of remote working. I never thought that the moment when I could also WFH would actually arrive, especially not in the form of a government-enforced mandate.

On March 19th I received the hotelwide communication, which requested employees working in administrative departments to stay at home on unpaid leave until further notice. My first question was: “Can I put the out-of-office reply on, head to the beach, and if so — until when?”, only to get a reply: “You are expected to be available 24/7 via phone and emails since we’re in a crisis situation. And though you’re staying at home on unpaid leave, you are expected to check your mailbox on a daily basis and proactively work. And that’s in effect until further notice.”

None of us have signed a formal contract or addendum that we agree to be in limbo — on an unpaid leave until the situation normalises, with absolutely zero income, but at the same time I am blessed to get to keep my job and when the business picks up, return to doing what I love. Despite the fact that I’m spending five to six hours a day, five days a week behind my laptop working and not getting paid for it, it’s during times like these, when even an email from my department head or the hotel’s general manager, with a sincere appreciation for my pro-bono work, speaks volumes. And deep inside I know that once we’re back to 'business as usual', my proactivity will be remembered. It is only during the times of crisis, when the real face of the employee shows, and when the employer gets to see the difference between the employees for whom it is just a job versus those who actually love what they do, despite the lack of remuneration.

And now more than ever, it is important to provide value. A person working in the events field who is currently unable to organise weddings, could instead set up online workout classes, team Olympics or virtual game nights to keep the team’s morale high; whilst chefs on unpaid leave can introduce their recipes online — be it via WhatsApp group for the hotel team or with the marketing team’s support for a wider audience via Instagram Live. You might think “Why should I do it when I’m not getting paid for it?” but at the end of the day, once this is all over, only the strong will survive and rest assured that your initiatives, support and action taken when no one was asking nor expecting it, will pay off in the long run, and consequently put you in top of mind for the hotel’s senior leaders.

Whenever the negative thoughts of “this is not fair” and “I should be paid for this” come crawling in, I just take a deep breath and tell myself that who am I to complain when there are people out there dealing with situations that are much worse mine? I need look no further than my colleagues who have been loyal to the hotel for more than 10 years and, after the most recent round of redundancies, no longer have jobs.

So I just carry on with my pro-bono work, until it’s time to get back to the office, which I am certain will be sooner rather than later.

Do you have something to say? To share your opinion anonymously, contact claudia.debrito@itp.com

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