Managing human resources is a top priority of any establishment, regardless of scale, and in the hospitality industry this is even more pronounced. Especially in the Maldives with its one island one resort concept; people are in the confines of the island for most of the year, and this will doubtlessly create challenges. You’ll have to face colleagues with whom you’re not on particularly good terms with, even after work plus you’ll be working with a diverse group of people from different walks of life, from different atolls and countries.

“The Maldives is a unique destination because we’re not managing city hotels here where staff can return home at the end of the day,” says Vaibhav Garg, executive assistant manager at Accor Hotels Maldives. “So, the HR department in those places is working set hours but here at resorts we have to provide round-the-clock services. The scope of HR in resorts is vast: we’re providing housing, employment and after-work needs such as health and entertainment. There’s a huge need to keep our employees engaged at all times.”

So, let’s have a look at some of the common issues that crop up, how certain properties work around them and we’ll be taking a look at workplace ethics.

Discrimination and its discontents

“An issue that often surfaces is discrimination among team members. It can be favouritism, which results in resentment from lower ranking staff towards those being favoured by the top management.

“All staff members are equal in the eyes of management,” says an HR executive at a top resort, wishing to remain anonymous. “At least, that’s how it should be. Favouritism is a disruptive act, it lowers staff morale and this will adversely affect staff performance.”

She also notes that it’s important for staff members to distinguish between favouritism and performance recognition. “Many global organisations such as ours ensure all our procedures and processes are transparent,” she adds. “HR has a vital role in this by systematically conducting performance appraisals of each employee, informing employees of their rights and duties and benefits and making sure that there’s a conducive environment for employees to express themselves freely within the company on issues that affect their work.” 

Another form of discrimination sometimes occurs in different pay for locals and expatriates. Expatriate workers in the same position may earn a higher wage than their local counterpart.

“This is sadly still practiced at some properties,” the HR executive says. “People put up with it because they can still save quite a lot, but the resentment will be there and it will fester.”

“Wage discrimination based on race, culture, gender and disability must not exist in any organisation for it to be a transparent and ethical one,” says Vaibhav. “The senior management must ensure that there is a fair and just pay system because it’s vital that employees have confidence in the process. It’s also good business sense to have a fair, transparent reward system as it helps to control costs and improves morale and enhances staff efficiency. Senior management along with human resource leaders need to ensure the same by reviewing industry trends on wage parity, follow the local law and practice the ethical code of conduct concerning compensation and benefits.”

Gender equality

It’s true to the point of being a cliché that women are underrepresented in hospitality in the Maldives, not only at top positions but among line-staff as well. There are reasons for this. The local population is mostly conservative; there are certain traditional roles that women are expected to fulfil. Working at a resort, among tourists and people from different nationalities and cultures is still considered a man’s work, as Fathimath Shaazleen, resort manager at Soneva Jani says. She also mentions that women don’t see hospitality as a career, rather it’s something to tide them over till they find a husband and start a family. 

The conservative view is understandable when you consider that tourism has been around for just a few decades in these islands. Traditionally, a woman’s role is at home, tending to children and performing housework. But what can HR do to address these, and make hospitality more than a job to young women?

HR could use positive discrimination to address the dearth of women in high positions, although this has proved controversial in certain countries.

Another is to make resorts more women-friendly; with harsh penalties for harassment and providing childcare facilities. A lot of qualified women have to choose between having a career and a family, and it’s not a choice that someone should have to make. Both are essential for growth. Shaaz mentions that she’s been to job interviews where she’s thought she’s nailed it only to realise that her having a child becomes the deciding factor. If resorts had means to care for children of their team members, this would be a nonissue.

Celebrating diversity

Think of a typical Maldivian resort as a tiny city. As mentioned, it contains people from different ethnicities, nationalities, age groups and backgrounds. It’s a melting pot in a very real sense. Thus, recognising and celebrating diversity is an important part of managing human resources in these islands.

“Culture impacts at every stage of the HR cycle, from selection and recruitment, to feedback, evaluation, coaching, and exit interviews,” says Vaibhav. “This presents the additional challenge of communicating the value of different functions, as well as performing them.”  

“Cultural intelligence is among the key managerial competencies needed for managing people from different cultural backgrounds across sectors and industries including hospitality,” he adds. “In recognising the cultural, religious and individual diversity of guests and employees, an organisation or property needs to eliminate all possible sources of discrimination in its practices, procedures and hotel management processes.”

If there’s one takeaway from this, it’s that discrimination, in all its manifestations, is never a good idea. It’s not only unethical, it’s bad for business and there’s a crucial role that HR can play in its elimination. Future-oriented properties must also ensure career-minded women have their needs met.