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A Case Study of Human Resource


Practices in Small Hotels in Sweden
ARTICLE in JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCES IN HOSPITALITY & TOURISM OCTOBER 2012
DOI: 10.1080/15332845.2012.690683

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A Case Study of Human Resource


Practices in Small Hotels in Sweden
a

Lorna Young-Thelin & Karla Boluk


a

Consultant, Ludvika, Sweden

Department of Human Geography, Dalarna University, Borlnge,


Sweden
Version of record first published: 10 Aug 2012.

To cite this article: Lorna Young-Thelin & Karla Boluk (2012): A Case Study of Human Resource
Practices in Small Hotels in Sweden, Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism, 11:4,
327-353
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ISSN: 1533-2845 print / 1533-2853 online
DOI: 10.1080/15332845.2012.690683

A Case Study of Human Resource Practices in


Small Hotels in Sweden
LORNA YOUNG-THELIN
Consultant, Ludvika, Sweden

KARLA BOLUK
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Department of Human Geography, Dalarna University, Borlange,


Sweden

The competitive advantage of organizations in the hotel industry


is their human resources. The aim of the authors in this article
is to investigate the human resources practices in small hotels in
Sweden. They examine the practices of hotels in three main areas
of human resource management, namely: hiring, training, and
performance evaluation. Although the hotels find their human resources important there has been a lack of attention devoted to the
development of human resources systems and processes. Accordingly, the implementation and development of human resources
systems and procedures depends on the background of the hotel
manager or operator and available financial resources.
KEYWORDS Human resource management, recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management and
appraisal, hotel industry, Sweden

INTRODUCTION
Hiring, training, and performance evaluation systems all play major roles
in almost all formal organizations. They have been strategically designed
to meet corporate objectives and ensure business continuity. This does not
however, imply that the other areas are less important. In fact, organizational
development and competency profiling are two of those areas that are highly
complex in nature and have constantly been developed and studied in recent
years.
Address correspondence to Karla Boluk, PhD, Department of Human Geography,
School of Technology and Business Studies, Dalarna University, SE-791, Borlange, Sweden.
E-mail: kbl@du.se; Lorna Young-Thelin, Droverksvagen 21, 771 92 Ludvika, Sweden. E-mail:
la.thelin@yahoo.com
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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

In the hotel industry, it is the employees who provide the competitive


advantage to the organization since they are the intermediary delivering the
products and services. Unfortunately, the hotel industry has neglected its
human resources (HR). Accordingly the hospitality industry has a reputation
for being demanding, requiring frontline staff to work long, irregular, and
unsociable hours while paying low wages (Janes & Wisnom, 2010). As a
consequence of such poor working conditions hotels seemingly spend more
on administrative costs; which affect their revenues (such as separation pay,
hiring and training, low productivity) and ultimately the profitability of the
organization. Hence, Baum (2007, p. 1386) urges the hotel industry to adopt
good human resource management practices since in this industry, the
human resources are their most important resource. Furthermore, Baum
(2007) purports that in most service industries it is the HR that creates the
competitive advantage to the organization. The aim of the authors in this
article is to investigate the HR practices in six small hotels in Sweden; specifically examining the practices in three areas of human resource management
(HRM) including hiring, training, and performance evaluation. Three objectives support this aim:
1. To explore the processes in recruiting and selecting new employees.
2. To examine the ways and purposes of training and development in the
hotel industry.
3. To investigate how hotel managers monitor and evaluate the performance
of their employees.
The following research questions guide us in this study: what are the current
methods in recruitment and selection? Are these aligned with an established
job description? What are the purposes of training and development? Is
training based on individual needs? How often are employees performances
evaluated and carried out? Are these based on pre-set agreed objectives?

LITERATURE REVIEW
Concepts of HRM
HRM is comprised of practices and processes that shape the behaviors and
experiences of employees to encourage higher performance levels (Cabrera & Bonache, 1999). Such practices are expected to positively influence
the quality of service (Consten & Salazar, 2011; Heskett, Jones, Loveman,
Sasser, & Schlesinger, 1994). YoungThelin (2011) suggests that HR has the
potential to directly affect an organizations business operations enhancing performance and ultimately increasing profitability. Although HRM has
evolved from a traditional/integrative approach to a more strategic approach,
Hughes (2002) and Nankervis (2000) still encourage the need for systems and

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329

processes to make HRM sustainable. Strategic HRM focuses on the leaders


value management, strategic partnering, human resource process and emphasis on talent, knowledge, and human capital management (Nankervis,
2011; Davidson, McPhail, & Barry, 2011). Strategic HRM is also considered to
apply the best-fit or external-fit approach whereby the companys HRM
policies and procedures addresses the companys strategy (Hughes, 2002).
HRM as defined by Armstrong (2008, p. 5) is a strategic and coherent
approach to the management of an organizations most valued assetsthe
people working there, who individually and collectively contribute to the
achievement of its objectives. Nakervis (2011) and Townsend and Lee (2010)
describe HRM to include the functions of planning, hiring, training, and
optimizing talents based on the needs of the market place. Torrington,
Hall, and Taylor (2008) states that HRM should be carried out effectively to
maintain, if not gain, its competitive advantage. The competitive advantage
of an organization should be reflected in the positive results of its finances
and how it responds to corporate social responsibility. Hence, HRM should
be designed in such a way that it addresses the needs of the organization
in terms of facing the business environments. The basic HRM philosophy
Torrington et al. (2008) describes is two-pronged. Firstly, employees use their
skills to meet the objectives of the organization. Secondly, the organization
ensures that employees skills are well-developed through proper training
and development programs.
HRM models have developed through the years although Devanna,
Fombrun, and Tichy (1984) is most often cited as best illustrating the fundamental functions of HRM. Lundy and Cowling (1996) explain that the
essential HRM functions of: selection, appraisal, rewards and development develop in different stages of the organizational development cycle
(pp. 6971). Most of the time, these systems are installed in the organization on a gradual basis, whenever the needs arise or when the organization
is ready. As such, whenever managerial tasks are performed, Lundy and
Cowling (1996) suggest that the fundamental HRM functions are always considered. The formalization of these functions into established systems in the
organization depends on the readiness and the needs of the organization.

Functions of HRM
Huang (2001) suggests that high-performing organizations pursue innovative
HR practices by placing emphasis on recruitment, broad and updated job
descriptions, extensive employee interaction, training and development, and
the use of performance appraisals. The quality of these practices directly affect the motivation level of the organization and its workforce (Hughes, 2002)
especially when employees perceive the HR practices as distinctive, relevant,
legitimate, and internally consistent (Sanders, Dorenbosch, & Reuver, 2008).
Harrison (1993) best illustrated the role and methods of HRM (see below in

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

FIGURE 1 HRM roles and methods (Harrison, 1993, p. 259).

Figure 1). He (1993) concurs with Harrisons (1993) model purporting that
regardless of the size of the organization, the type of environment it operates
in and the nature of business it has, the organization needs to perform these
three HRM functions in order to survive, become competitive, and adopt the
best practices.
The best practice concept started in the early models of HRM. Accordingly, organizations are challenged to analyze and identify the best HR
practices that might suit the organization. While there is no hard and fast
rule on HRM, the principle of best practices is to implement processes that
will yield high performance while ensuring that these processes are aligned
and consistent with the organizations strategy (Cho, Woods, Jang, & Erdem, 2006; Baum & Odgers, 2001; Bamberger & Meshoulam, 2000). The
term high-performance is usually interchanged with terms like high commitment and high involvement (GouldWilliams, 2004). Studies in highperformance challenge the organizations to identify a set of best practices in
the industry through the process of benchmarking (Farndale, HopeHailey,
& Kelliher, 2011; Whitener, 2001; Yasin, 2002). Boxal and Purcells (2000)
study provides a best practice model stressing the importance of improving
employee capability through good recruitment, training, and understanding
the role of rewards through performance management. Alleyne, Doherty,
and Greenidge (2006) and Pfeffer (1998) both support the notion that selective hiring, extensive training, and performance related pay should be part
of the best HR practices.
High-performance HRM requires a long-term employee relationship. It
enhances employees skills and their motivation improving productivity (Sun,
Aryee, & Law, 2007). This however does not discount the need to change
or adjust HR practices depending on the current development stage of the
organization of formation, growth, maturity, or decline (Hughes, 2002).

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Recruitment and Selection


Recruitment and selection (R&S) is the process that an organization undertakes to ensure that the right person or persons are available and that
activities that need to be performed by the person or group of persons are
carried out. Chanda, Bansal, and Chanda (2010) and Gold (2007) describe
R&S as a process of attracting a pool of candidates applying to the organization for employment in a timely manner. While the recruitment function
engages in sourcing for people and attracting the right candidates, the selection process is focused on choosing the most qualified candidate from the
number of job seekers. In general terms, these activities are considered as
the staffing function of a manager (Bogardus, 2004), which includes various
processes needed to attract, hire, and retain qualified employees. The use
of appropriate techniques in the R&S of the candidate significantly affects
the career development of the individual. Therefore, R&S is considered to
be a significant HRM function as it covers all organizational practices and
decisions (Chanda et al., 2010).
The objective of R&S is to attract the right number of people with the
right skills and competencies for the right job in the most cost-effective manner (Anderson, Lievens, van Dam, & Ryan, 2004; Breaugh & Starke, 2000).
A common problem in R&S is poor planning which could be a reflection of
how the HRM policies and procedures are designed. Effective R&S policies
include R&S procedures, the assessment and identification of an organizations criteria, determination of a candidates talents, and understanding upto-date information on the current labor market. Following such procedures
allow the deployment of appropriate employees at the right time (Breaugh
& Starke, 2000).
Two indicators of an effective implementation of the R&S procedure
are having an effective job analysis and updated job descriptions (Chanda
et al., 2010). The job description identifies the duties and responsibilities of
a position and the characteristics, skills, and competencies required by the
job from the future employee. It also provides the necessary information
that would guide the recruiting manager in choosing the right person by
matching this information with the applicants existing skills, competencies,
abilities, and previous experience. Figure 2 describes how the job description
makes the R&S process more systematic, whereby the manager has a greater
potential to choose the right person by consulting all relevant information.

Training and Development


Training and development (T&D) is a key responsibility for human resource managers. T&D is a process that provides experiential learning and
growth opportunities which positively affect employees behavior. Such
positive behavior has the potential to increase employee competency and
productivity (Consten & Salazar, 2011). T&D involves providing

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

FIGURE 2 Matching the job description with the job applicant (YoungThelin, 2011, p. 7).

employees with the skills and competencies in handling the current job
functions. It is also an avenue to prepare an employee for duties and responsibilities expected at a higher position. T&D also ensures that the absence
of required skills is acquired through learning programs which demonstrates
the organizations commitment to its workforce of self improvement and
career development. Employees who are given the opportunity to acquire
new skills as part of their job often perceive this as organizational support.
Hence, they have stronger attachment, commitment, and loyalty to their
organizations (Kyriakidou & Maroudas, 2010; Spector, 1997).What differentiates training from development is training focuses on the short-term needs
and is administered to solve existing problems, while development has a
longer-term focus such as increasing the knowledge and skills or building
new competencies to prepare an employee for duties and responsibilities
of a higher position (Bogardus, 2004; Lundy & Cowling, 1996). T&D fosters
communication, leadership, actions, and behaviors in an organization. All of
which are essential in developing human assets. T&D often takes place in
a supportive environment where there is a clear link between T&D and the
organizations strategy (Kyriakidou & Maroudas, 2010).
Bogardus (2004) claims that in order for T&D programs to be effective
they should be able to address the needs of the employee through a training
needs assessment (TNA). Iqbal and Khan (2011) describe this as an initiative
in analysing and diagnosing the organization, task, and person to determine
the best intervention and produce the desired results. TNA encompasses
the areas of training plans, goal setting, employee development, managing change, career development, knowledge, skills, and attitude, learning
motivation, cost effectiveness, and performance appraisal (Iqbal & Khan,

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HRM in Small Swedish Hotels

333

FIGURE 3 Training and development process (YoungThelin, 2011, p. 9).

2011, p. 460). The value of TNA is that it provides a systematic process on


identifying problems in the organization through data-gathering (such as interviews, surveys, observations, etc.) which allows the organization to use
the data and come up with an appropriate training solution (Iqbal & Khan,
2011; Leatherman, 2007). Rossett (2009) and Tracey (2004) however emphasize that best practices in TNA indicate the need for performance analysis
to make the training more appropriate since it is designed to determine
performance gaps that can be addressed by training. Unfortunately, most
organizations do not consider this process as this is considered to be time
consuming and is perceived to derive little value. The typical T&D process
is summarized in Figure 3 starting with the review of the employee in terms
of his performance in the current position.

Performance Management and Appraisal


While performance appraisal is the review of past performance, performance management, is the alignment of an employees performance with
the organizations objectives. As such, managers will discuss their expectations, measures, results, and rewards with their staff which has the objective of increasing employee and organization performances (Farndale et al.,
2011). Both performance appraisal and management processes strengthen
employeremployee relations. It is through these processes that the managers are able to guide their employees on how to use their skills for the
benefit of both the employees and the organization which create the notions of high-performance (Guest et al., 2003). Through open communication there is an opportunity for employees to give feedback. Farndale et al.s
(2011) study reveals that performance management and appraisal (PM&A)
creates a perception of organizational justice if: (1) policies and practices
are implemented at an organizational level, (2) the employee is the ultimate
recipient of the system, and (3) the employee understands the effects on their

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

FIGURE 4 Performance management and appraisal process (YoungThelin, 2011, p. 11).

performance. These three characteristics reflect an effective PM&A. Similar to


the T&D process, the PM&A process is also considered to be time consuming
because it should be done individually. However, unlike T&D, the PM&A is
a process that hotels cannot afford to skip as it is extremely important for
employees performances to be in tune with the business objectives.
Figure 4 below illustrates that managers should be able to decide what
performances to measure and communicate this to employees. However,
managers should involve their employees in deciding the action plans for
their personal development. An effective PM&A is designed in such a way
that it allows regular appraisal feedback, involvement in objective setting,
compensation options, and appraisals leading to the development of opportunities and higher objectives (Farndale et al., 2011). Objective setting
is believed to create effective performance management as this clarifies the
expectations in relation to the employees performance and contribution. It
ensures that individual objectives are aligned with the organizational objectives and eliminate unnecessary work (Young-Thelin, 2011). Bogardus (2004)
claims that a job description which describes the duties and responsibilities
of the job is essential in performance appraisal.
Reviewing performance becomes more important when poor performance is elicited from the employee. This process becomes an opportunity
for identifying the training needs of the employee and for the organization to fulfil its promise of ensuring self-development. Furthermore, reviewing performance is also an opportunity for employees to fulfil their
promise to the organization by giving their best to meet the organizational
objectives.

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HRM in the Hotel Industry

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Hotels play a major role in the tourism industry. The very nature of the
industry is to provide hospitality which involves the provision of food, drink,
and accommodation. It requires the use of HR in delivering these goods and
services (Page, 2007). It is said that the competitiveness of the hotel is often
based on the quality of its employees (Locker & Scholarios, 2004). Hence,
the development of effective HRM becomes a major concern. According to
Hoque (1999), in order for the hotel to maintain its competitive advantage,
the quality of service is crucial, which requires skilled employees that can
meet the expectations of the customers.
The story of successful tourism enterprises is one that is largely about
peoplehow they are recruited, how they are managed, how they are
trained and educated, how they are valued and rewarded, and how
they are supported through a process of continuous learning and career
development (Failte Ireland, 2005, p. 10).

The irony is, Human Resource Management systems are not fully developed in the hotel industry and very little effort is put into ensuring their
development. In spite of the numerous studies on tourism development,
the presence of systematic HRM processes, policies, and procedures are not
common in most hotel organizations (Baum, 2007; Liu & Wall, 2006; Goldsmith, Nickson, Sloan, & Wood, 1997; Locker & Scholarios, 2004; Schneider
& Bowen, 1995). A lack of attention is apparent in the absence of HR procedures (Powell, 2009).
This perspective is justified by Redman and Wilkinson (2009) through
a description of the economic and social pressures that the hotel industry is
faced with. The hotel industry operates in a labor market whereby there are
shortages of qualified candidates coupled with strong competition. Hence,
especially for smaller hotels, they will have difficulty competing with bigger
hotels which have more resources. The limited number of quality applicants
due to the generally perceived poor image as an employer, forces smaller
hotels to use more informal methods in recruiting people. Thus, smaller
hotels usually end up with employees who are less qualified. The poor
image emanates from the general practice of low salary, low job/position
status, poor prospects in terms of career development, unstable, seasonal
employment, anti-social working hours, hard word and isolated locations
(Redman & Wilkinson, 2009, p. 103). This stigma is one of the contributing
factors for high turnover rates in the context of hotels (Wildes, 2007). Failte
Ireland (2005, p. 66) believes that good HR practices will be adopted because they deliver bottom line profitability. These practices include, among
others, performance management, recognition and learning and development. Thus, the question is, does this premise hold true to smaller hotels? A

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

study by Enz and Siguaw (2000a; 2000b) noted the best practices in the hotel industry. It was revealed that regardless of the size and market segment,
there are commonalities in HR practices. Among others, selection, training,
and performance appraisal are included (Hughes, 2002).

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Current HR Practices in Hotels


The R&S of employees has remained a problem in the hotel industry, especially for smaller hotels. A particular challenge faced by the industry, due
to its poor image, is recruiting quality applicants. As such the hotel industry has to manage its public image as a way to source and recruit quality
employees. The more common R&S practices used in the hotel industry are
outlined below.
1. R&S in smaller hotels depends on the attitude of the owner or manager
(Nolan, 2002).
2. There is an absence in the use of relevant selection tools like preemployment testing. Testing and other selection tools are considered useful in hiring the right candidate (Cho, Woods, Jang, & Erdem, 2006).
3. Retention of good, trained employees becomes difficult since competition
is fierce. In most cases, smaller hotels do not have enough interested
applicants and are forced to hire unqualified candidates just to address
current needs (Page, 2007).
4. The use of casual, part-time, and contractual employees to lower administration costs has become a common practice in the hotel industry due
to the difficulty in predicting the volume in the industry and the wide variety of guests with different needs and expectations (Hoque, 1999). This
also allows hotels to address the irregularity in the volume and eliminate
surplus in staffing (Lai and Baum, 2005). This type of strategy is believed
to compromise the quality of service the organization delivers (Baum,
2007).
5. Small hotels engage in non-instrumental aspects in their hiring such as
norms, values, and beliefs of the organization and match this to the norms,
values, and beliefs of the candidate. Hotel managers feel that it is more
important that the candidate fits in with the organization and is liked by
the others, more so, because of limited financial resources (Cetinel et al.,
2008).
R&S practices can be an indication of the dilemma the industry is facing.
The lack of understanding and professional skills makes it difficult for managers to implement a systematized R&S system. When this is coupled with
the hotels difficult financial situation and unpredictable volume, it becomes
more difficult to justify the need to invest in its employees.

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Shortages of qualified applicants are believed to be caused by the hotel


industry itself. The industry has not been keen on investing in developing its
employees through T&D programs (Baum, Amoah, & Spivack, 1997). Below
are the more common T&D practices in the hotel industry.
1. While hotel managers consider T&D to be important, only 50% implement
non-managerial training. This is attributed to the fact that employees who
get trained and become better might transfer to a bigger hotel which pays
more (Powell, 2009).
2. T&D is not seen as an intervention or a strategy in achieving organizational objectives. There are no training plans on how to develop employees and link their skills to the organizational objectives. The lack of skilled
managers within the industry is largely because of the remiss in training
(Nolan, 2002). Hence, training is conducted on an informal, reactive basis
(Ram, Marlow, & Patton, 2001).
3. T&D has become purely a motherhood statement to managers, despite
their strong belief in it. Managers consider training as an operational expense rather than investment (Nolan, 2002).
4. Hotel managers or owners who lack professional skills have difficulty identifying the training needs of their employees. Training programs that are
implemented are mostly informal and on-the-job. However, professionally
trained owners and managers tend to value formal training and actively
encourage the employees to engage in further development (Nolan, 2002).
5. Bosworth (1989) claims that smaller organizations have a lesser ability to
carry out and implement internal training programs due to the high cost
of training.
6. In India, hotel managers are not willing to invest substantially in training,
hence, they often hire high school educated candidates who have little or
no interest in learning (Bagri, Babu, & Kukreti, 2010).
T&D processes are clearly a neglected HRM area which results in the
lack of quality employees. Although managers understand the need for their
employees to acquire new skills, there is an inability to implement T&D for
three primary reasons Firstly, the limited financial resources do not allow
the organization to invest in its employees. Secondly, the benefits of T&D
can be felt in the longer-term. Accordingly, with the heavy use of temporary
employees, it does not make sense to invest in people who will not stay in
the organization (Baum, 2007) and finally, there is an absence of professional
skills in implementing training.
The PM&A process falls in line with the current thinking of open communication and allowing employees to give feedback. This process is used
not only to improve the relationship between management and employees
but it also helps to increase the level of performance of both the employees

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and the organization. Below are some of the more common PM&A practices
in the hotel industry.
1. Employees do not see the link between their performance and the salary
they receive (Alleyne et al., 2006).
2. There is failure or an obvious neglect of even the basic steps of performance appraisal and reward systems which have an impact on the
motivation and retention of employees. This type of management does
not allow employees to understand their role and contributions to the
organization which causes job dissatisfaction (Olsen, CrawfordWelch, &
Tse, 1990). This creates the impression among employees that the industry
is practicing poor employment tactics since salaries and benefits are not
based on performance appraisals (Powell, 2009).
3. Smaller hotels always face high risk situations or failures due to high operational costs. Hence, there is a strong tendency to engage in fire-fighting
activities such as the termination of poor or below average performing
employees without the benefit of performance appraisal (Nolan, 2002).
In the absence of the performance appraisal, the hotel industry does
not provide employees the motivation to perform better and the ability to
design their career. At saturation point, employees seek bigger hotels that
could provide new challenges (Baum, 2007). Small hotels are often faced
with financial difficulties. Performance reviews have a close association with
salary and rewards which are deterrents for managers and as such they often
avoid this process as this might put them in an uncompromising position.
Smaller hotels do not have room for sub-standard or poor performances as
these significantly affect their business operations. However, small hotels
do not choose to hire permanent employees and spend time on reviewing
performances but rather rely on the use of temporary employees who can
be easily replaced or terminated; especially during peak seasons. Thus, the
PM&A is seen to be insignificant to the business.

Best HR Practices in Hotels


It is believed that the adoption of best practices can improve the attitudes and
behaviors of employees, lower the levels of absenteeism and turnover, and
increase the skill levels of employees which can lead to enhanced quality
and efficiency and improved productivity (McKeena & Beech, 2008, p. 36).
Although there are no hard and fast rules in HRM, the main challenge is for
organizations to determine which among the best practices is best suited to
the organizations internal and external environments. The following are the
findings of recent studies on best HR practices which are implemented in
the hotel industry:

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339

1. Ritz-Carlton recruits the best employee by putting more focus on the


behavioral skills of the candidate. They also brand themselves as a good
organization to attract candidates. T&D processes are in place and 80% of
training is conducted in-house to have direct control over the appropriate
training method. Performance is reviewed twice a year and this is linked to
pay and aligned with organizational objectives (Lynch & Worden, 2010).
2. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants carefully select employees and self leaders. They provide extensive training and coaching for employees to help
them fully use their skills. Job transfers and internal promotions are commonly used (Jones, 2006).
3. Collins and Han (2004) reported in their study that hotels publicize the
awards they receive to make the organization appealing to candidates and
attract more qualified applicants.
4. Hinkin and Tracey (2010) studied three hotels that have best HR practices,
namely, Four Seasons, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, and Marriott Hotel. Four Seasons developed an online job preview that gives prospective
candidates a realistic picture about the working environment in the hotel. All hotels have a high standard for selection whereby managers are
required to follow the hiring procedures such as formal testing. Hotels
provide extensive training programs that are mostly facilitated by the senior managers. Performance reviews are comprehensive, continuous, and
open-book (p. 166) assessment.
The key research questions that we address in this article are: What are the
current recruitment and selection processes in the Swedish hotel industry?
What is the purpose of T&D? Are these aligned with the individual needs
of the employees? How often are employees performances evaluated and
how are these evaluations carried out? Are these based on pre-set agreed
objectives?

METHODOLOGY
We decided that a qualitative method would be best to address our aim of
this study of investigating the HR practices in six small hotels in Sweden.
Veal (2006) suggests that qualitative research provides an opportunity for a
more in-depth understanding of the themes being studied. The selection of
hotels took into consideration time and cost constraints as such convenience
sampling was employed. The researchers contacted a total of 13 hotels in
a 50 km radius covering the areas of Borlange, Fagersta, Grangarde, Ludvika, Smedjebacken, and Soderbacke in south central Sweden. Initially, hotel
managers were contacted by email which was followed by telephone calls.
Of the 13 hotels which were contacted six agreed to participate in this study.
The research sample is contained to small hotels and is specifically interested

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

in those involved in the process of HRM. Although there are several categories of small hotels, this research is using United Kingdoms Department
of Employments category review (Harrison, 1993) stating that small firms
are those with less than 20 people.
An interview guide was prepared to ensure the effectiveness of the
data collected. All interviews were recorded and transcribed. The interview
guide covered the three themes including R&S, T&D, and PM&A. Specifically, the researchers asked about the hotels recruitment methods, formal recruitment policies, training systems, employee training, and questions
about performance appraisals. A purposeful sampling technique was used
in determining the respondents by interviewing persons who are responsible for the HR functions. All of the interviews were carried out on each
of the participating hotel sites in the managers/owners offices providing a
familiar and comfortable environment for each of the participants. Each indepth interview lasted approximately 45 minutes. To guarantee anonymity
letters AF were used to denote the 6 hotels. The letters assigned to a
particular hotel were done at random and do not follow any particular
chronology.

RESULTS
Table 1 provides some information regarding the demographic characteristics
of the participating hotels in terms of the formal role of the respondents in
the organization, the number of rooms and employees, average occupancy
level during a 1-year period, and employee to room ratio.

HR Practices of the Participating Hotels


R&S PRACTICES
Most hotels confirmed that they did not prescribe to formal policies as they
found their respective organizations to be too small. The general sentiment
was that formalized systems are only applicable to bigger organizations

TABLE 1 Demographic Characteristics of the Participating Hotels


Hotel A
Respondent/s
Number of rooms
Number of
employees
Average occupancy
level
Employee:room ratio

Hotel B

Hotel C

Hotel D

Hotel
Hotel
Hotel
Owner
manager
manager
manager
92
52
97
20
15
14
7
2

Hotel E

Hotel F

Owner and Owner


partner
27
18
4
1

47%

49%

35%

15%

30%

48%

1:6.13

1:3.71

1:13.85

1:10.00

1:6.75

1:18.00

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HRM in Small Swedish Hotels

341

which are more complex while small organizations should fill the vacancy
as quickly as possible to ensure the continuity of the operations.
The use of job descriptions as a tool in selection was also found to
be inappropriate by Hotels D, E, and F. These hotels felt that it was not
necessary and the assessment of the skills of the candidate/s could be done
during the orientation period. A subjective experience was expressed by
some of the managers who referred to relying on a good feeling regarding
a specific candidate and if they could handle the job. Only then would
a job offer be made. The basis for hiring was described differently by the
informants and involved factors such as: interest in the candidate, personality,
and individuals who could easily fit into the family.
Internal announcement of vacancies were carried out in four hotels. Although this is not a formal process, internal recruitment is always considered.
Respondents explained that because everybody knows everybody, employees openly discuss issues both in formal and informal meetings. Hence,
even without formal announcements, employees are aware of the existing
vacancies. If there were no qualified internal applicants for the vacancy, the
use of other recruitment methods may be considered. There seemed to be a
significant reliance on walk-in applicants which was the general practice in
five hotels, followed by advertising in the government employment agency.
Referrals were also considered by Hotels C, D, and E. Even with enough
candidates, hotels found it difficult to find the best candidates. Hotels A
and B use printed media such as newspaper advertisements whenever higher
level positions were required. Other hotels use the corporate website, central
recruitment file, and schools in searching for candidates.

RESPONDENTS OVERALL PHILOSOPHY

ON

R&S

Hotels managed by the owners and/or partners expressed their reliance on


their feelings or intuition in the process of recruiting the right person. The
orientation day seemed to play a pivotal role in confirming whether the candidate chosen demonstrated the necessary skills required by the job. Hotels
which are part of the chain, have more formalized systems. All hotels believe
that they should select only the best person for the job to be competitive.
A significant consideration was gauging whether the candidate would be
liked by the rest of the employees and could be considered as part of the
family. Respondents described their philosophies on certain issues on R&S
in a variety of ways. For example, on internal hiring Hotel A said: If they
[employees] have the right skills, they should be given priority. However in
selecting an external candidate, the methods and criteria used by the participating hotels differ from each other. Hotel B placed value in hiring team
players as expressed in this statement:

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

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I try to get good people [. . .] its very hard [. . .] we look for the best man
for the job. The personal behavior is more difficult to change or develop.
Before they [applicants] are employed, they have to be liked by my staff
as well. He should be able to work for the entire team.

The use of feelings and intuitions was used as a selection method as


described by Hotel E: We [Owner and partner] go with feelings. We are
experts [at] seeing what people are like. We look closely like on a personal
level. Its like a family, he [the applicant] must be liked. Similarly Hotel D
said this: I just want to have one day, going [around the hotel] and look
and see when they [applicant] are good. In terms of the ownership of the
process Hotel B said this: I make the final decision because its mine. Im
responsible for the business.
The research findings reveal that the R&S process in the participating
hotels is not fully developed as shown in Table 2. Although three hotels use
the job description in their selection process, only one hotel has an established recruitment policy. The methods in attracting the candidates are not
deliberate in relation to the current need or vacancy. Despite the difficulty in
finding the best candidate, there seems to be a preference for using methods that do not require additional financing such as walk-ins, referrals, and
employment agency. Smaller hotels managed by the owner and/or partners
rely on their feelings and intuition in selecting the best candidate. In terms
of staffing, especially during peak seasons, the use of casual and contractual
employees is common in the industry.

TABLE 2 Informants Practices of Recruitment and Selection


Criteria
Recruitment policy is in
place
Use of job description in
recruitment
Internal announcement of
vacancies
Recruitment methods:
Newspaper
Walk-ins
Referrals
Employment agencies
Special invitations
Others
Use of casual and
contractual employees.

Hotel A

Hotel B

Hotel C

1
1

Hotel D

Hotel E

Hotel F

1
1

website File, website


1
1

Note. 1 = Complies with description.


Blank = Non-compliance or not applicable with description.

1
1
1
school
1

1
1
1
1
1

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T&D PRACTICES
Four hotels admitted to regularly training their employees. Hotel D revealed
that they were unable to offer regular employment thus they could not justify
training. Hotel F, managed single-handedly by the owner, did not find this
issue applicable in his organization.
Although training programs were offered to employees and the objectives for training were clear, only two hotels followed a systematic method
of determining the needs of its employees. Hotel A and B carry out an individual development plan for its employees to ensure that the employees
attend training programs that would address their poor performance or prepare them for higher responsibilities. Hotels D and E administer training
programs based on how they feel and how they perceive employees interests. These hotels feel that training should be given to employees who
show interest in their jobs and are willing to be trained.
RESPONDENTS OVERALL PHILOSOPHY

ON

T&D

Participating hotels understand the importance of T&D. Hotels that are part
of the chain ensure that employees go through training during the year. Hotel B has training targets in terms of the number of training days, while Hotel
As employees undergo safety training once a year which is an indication of
regularity in training employees. Hotel A exerts effort in ensuring that everybody is trained when she said: When we train, we train them [employees]
all. If we pick out one person, its for a special reason. Otherwise, we train
everybody. This is aligned with Hotel Bs philosophy when he said: We
try to be as fair as possible [. . .] we try not to send the same persons [employees] on the same type of education. Unfortunately, this does not hold
true for hotels managed by the owners and/or partners. Reasons for training
seem to depend on how the hotel owners feel which can be described when
Hotel D said: I train him [employee] because I want him to be better and
I like his personality very much. Decisions on training depend on how the
hotel assesses the interest and the personality of the individual employee
as reflected in Hotel Es comment: The person [employee] must have the
heart . . . you [employee] must have that feeling of joy. If you want to grow,
you have to show interest. Hence, training becomes more of an employee
responsibility rather than a management role.
The use of coaching or informal methods in training was found to
be common among participating hotels specifically in Hotel C when the
informant said: We use written instructions and [the employees] learn by
walking beside. All employees are required to understand and be able to
work in all areas of the business. This is justified by the fact that business
operation should not be suspended because of a shortage in employees.
There is however a tendency to forget the formal TNA process and focus
training on employees that do not perform well when Hotel B said: I think

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

its very common to forget those who are good enough because they are
doing their best already. Its a lot easier to find those who dont fit the
profile.
Hotels A, B, and C demonstrated an established T&D policy, however,
Hotels A and B preferred the individual development plan that ensures
a systematic process so that training programs address the needs of each
employee. Hotels managed by owners and/or partners base their training
decisions on the interest elicited by the employee (Hotel E) or his personality (Hotel D). Hotels A, B, C, and E expressed an interest in training
their employees but only Hotel B demonstrated a commitment to training
through an established training objective and had a number of training days
per employee. Most hotels rely on informal training such as coaching and
orientation. Almost all hotels believe in T&D and understand the impact it
has on the performance of the organization.

Performance Management and Appraisal Practices


Among the three HRM themes covered in this study, the PM&A is the least
developed or most neglected. Table 4 reveals that only Hotels A and B have a
formal system in place that ensures regularity in performance review. These
hotels align the performance with the job description and organizational
objectives. They understand how PM&A can be used as a tool in improving
the organizations performance.
Hotels A and B have a formal performance policy in place that is based
on the job descriptions and individual objectives which ensures that the employees perform the duties and responsibilities required by the job. Both
hotels ask the employees to sign the job descriptions which become a
contract between the management and the employees. The communication and setting of performance objectives is also performed by Hotels A
and B.
Hotels A, B, D, and E extend rewards and incentives to their employees
for good performances. While there is no reward system in place, Hotels A
and B ensure that rewards and incentives are accorded to deserving employees for exemplary performances. Hotel D and E also provide rewards to their
employees. However, the basis of reward is not on individual performance
but on the overall performance of the organization. Hence, all employees
enjoy the same benefits of the rewards regardless if there are differences in
the levels of performance and contribution.
RESPONDENTS OVERALL PHILOSOPHY

ON

PM&A

Participating hotels which are part of the chain see the value of the PM&A
system. Performance reviews are based on the job description and followed
by the performance objectives. This type of goal-setting is described by Hotel

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B when he stated: The owners give our objectives for the year [. . .] economic goals and our values. Everything [performance] is based on the job
description. The formality is indicated with the signing of the job description
by every employee. Although there are no indications of automatic salary
increases for good performers, the respondents indicated their belief in rewarding good performers. Most of the respondents provide rewards that are
simple but appreciated as described by Hotel B when he said: They [good
performers] could have a weekend in one of our hotels or something small
but often very appreciated. Another way of acknowledging and inspiring
employees was described by Hotel A when she said: Its inspiring for our
staff to see that when they do something special we notice. People tend to
put an extra effort into the work. For hotels with fewer employees, rewards
were given on the basis of organizational performance.
Hotel E, however, described rewards as a form of de-motivation to
employees who do not perform well and justified this by saying that it is
likely that people who do not perform well have unsettled personal issues
and should be supported by creating an environment of equality specifically
when he said: Rewarding good performance would never encourage the
person [employee] struggling to be better [. . .] like those with personal problems at home. Hotel E felt that this process is purely bureaucracy and a
waste of time and is only applicable to bigger organizations.
Some hotels did not have formal PM&A systems and review of performance was neglected. This process was not found useful or applicable by
hotel managers running small hotels although performance was informally
reviewed. For example, Hotel E said: We [Owner, partner, and employees] eat together. This sentiment was also reiterated by Hotel D when she
stated: We are so small [. . .] we do it over a coffee. But we dont have people
[employees] who are staying here very long. Hence, the formal review of
performance is found unnecessary when owners could remind employees of
their poor performance or confirm their good efforts in casual settings. Only
one, Hotel C linked performance to continuous employment when he said:
One need(s) to improve to achieve happy visitors then they recommend to
others and new visitors provide jobs.
Overall, the PM&A process is widely neglected in the participating hotels. Only Hotels A and B consider this as part of their management role.
Those hotels which understood the importance of PM&A have an established
systematic process. Table 4reveals that those hotels with performance policy
in place, regularly review the performance of its employees which are based
on the job descriptions and set objectives. Rewarding good performance differed among hotels. Hotels which are part of the chain rewarded individual
employees for exemplary performance, while hotels managed by owners or
partners extended rewards to all employees based on organizational performance. While rewards were generally seen as a positive reinforcement,
Hotel E found it to be de-motivating.

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DISCUSSION
HR systems in hotels covered in this study depend heavily on the background
of the hotel manager, their available resources, and finances. Although the
respondents confirmed the importance of HR systems, it is ironic that little
effort was exerted to ensure its development. Hotels justified the absence or
neglect of the HRM functions with the size of the organization. Smaller hotels
with limited financial resources claimed to be restricted in developing and
implementing HR systems comparable to bigger hotels. While hotel managers/owners and/or partners have appreciation for the need for HRM, the
lack of professional skills in HR did not allow them to implement systematic
HR processes and understand the impact it has on the organization.
The research findings reveal that leading hotels understand the importance of hiring the best employees through a more systematic R&S process
(Baum, 2007). Those hotels that do not have the ability or neglect the use of
relevant methods in hiring are forced to spend more time in recruiting and
selecting candidates (Cho et al., 2006). Hotel managers who are not willing
or cannot afford to invest in the recruitment processes hire candidates even
though they do not have the right skills and competencies to simply meet
their hiring needs (Chan & Kuok, 2011). The R&S process in smaller hotels
managed by the owners (Hotels D and E), depends on the attitudes of the
owners (Nolan, 2002). The erratic and unpredictable volume in the industry also forces the hotels to engage in a flexible (Baum, 2007) headcount
through the use of casual and contractual employees (Hoque, 1999).
The more common R&S methods demonstrated a reliance on walk-in
applicants and referrals and the use of the government employment agency
(refer to Table 2). Hotels are also up-to-date with emerging technologies and
corporate websites as an avenue to recruit applicants. Most of the methods
used are those which are considered cost effective and that do not cost
the organization substantial investments. Hotels select the best candidate
which can become part of the family. On occasions when there is an
erratic increase in demand, the use of casual and contractual employees
is considered. Hotels which have access to corporate HR systems have a
systematic recruitment and selection process.
All hotels agree that employees should be trained to improve performance or develop of the employee (Table 3). Understanding the current needs and expectations of their customers is another purpose to train
employees. Other purposes of T&D are those triggered by company-wide
initiatives such as, computerization and safety programs. Two hotels have
been systematic in identifying training needs with the use of training needs
tools. However, smaller hotels are reluctant to invest time in determining
training needs-based decisions on the interests exhibited by their employees. The hotel industry has a reputation of poorly training their employees
and most of the training programs that take place are driven by legislative

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TABLE 3 Training and Development Practices of the Participating Hotels
Criteria
Training and development policy is
in place
Regular employees are trained
Established training days per year
Purposes of training and
development
Self-development
Poor performance
Presence of individual
development plan

Hotel A Hotel B Hotel C Hotel D Hotel E Hotel F


1

1
1

1
1
1

1
1

1
1

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Note. 1 = Complies with description.


Blank = Non-compliance or not applicable with description.

requirements. This general lack of training could be due to the high training
cost, no direct return on training investment, and the formality of a training
needs assessment is seen to be burdensome (Kyriakidou & Maroudas, 2010).
The under-investment in training by small- medium-sized hotels results in
low productivity and poor performance (Ashton & Felstead, 2001).
The findings reveal that most hotels do not practice PM&A and appropriate reward scheme systems (Olsen et al., 1990). This makes it difficult for
employees to understand the meaning of good performance and how this
is linked to rewards. Employees are not motivated to perform better and
are always in constant search for other opportunities outside the organization (Alleyne et al., 2006). Hotels reward their employees in different ways
for different reasons. Rewards are mostly non-monetary but acknowledge
good performance and are generally appreciated. Accordingly such rewards
serve as an inspiration to others. However, there are hotels that use the
continuity of employment as a form of motivation. Clearly, the absence of a

TABLE 4 Performance Management and Appraisal Practices of the Participating Hotels


Criteria
Performance management and
appraisal policy is in place
Formal review of performance
review
Communication and setting of
performance objectives
Job description as basis for
performance
Rewarding high performers

Hotel A Hotel B Hotel C Hotel D Hotel E Hotel F


1

Note. 1 = Complies with description.


Blank = Non-compliance or not applicable with description.

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L. Young-Thelin and K. Boluk

performance process creates confusion to employees as to how their efforts


are recognized (Baum, 2007).
Hotels with fewer financial resources did not see the reason for PM&A
since in most cases, employees do not stay long in the organization. Hence,
the performance is informally discussed as a form of feedback to the employee, normally during coffee breaks. Most hotels do not have job descriptions which enumerate the duties and responsibilities of the job. Hence,
performance is based on what was agreed during the orientation and is builtup over time based on how the manager, owner, and/or partner perceive the
employees. Hotels which are part of the chain ensure that PM&A is based on
the agreed upon job description and communicated objectives (Table 4). In
some cases, the set objectives are aligned with the organizational objectives.
The evaluation of performance in two hotels is implemented by the manager
at least once a year.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS


Through this article we sought to explore the HR practices in six small hotels in Sweden. As such, we found evidence that although hotel operators
perceive HR practices to be important, little value is given to develop them
and as such they are often neglected. The researchers have suggested that
the participating hotels assess their organizations and implement the basic HR processes based on the size of the organization and the available
resources. Specifically, it was established that R&S is not given enough attention. Hotels generally do not have formal R&S policies that would guide
them in choosing the best candidate but rather use recruitment methods that
do not require financial resources. In comparison, larger hotels seemingly
have more flexibility and options in terms of methods. With regard to T&D,
this is not administered in a systematic method that makes training deliberate and according to the need of the employee. Hotels with formalized
training processes try to train everybody but the identification of training
needs for individual employees is not established. Furthermore, hotels managed by their owners and/or partners are guided by their feelings and/or
intuition whenever they need to make decisions regarding training. PM&A
is not generally seen as a strategic tool in improving overall organizational
performance in smaller hotels. Two hotels have integrated PM&A in their
organizations and have understood the impact it brings to the organization,
and there are indications of the desire to improve the system.
A few practical implications have emerged from this study. First, the
study found that a significant deterrent to training hotel employees were
the costs associated. As such, perhaps a viable option would be for small
hotels to plan joint training sessions focused on delivering safety programs,
the expected level of service delivery, and ways to empower staff. Such

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collaboration efforts could also provide an opportunity for joint skill development and the training of hotel employees. Another opportunity (and
cost-saving mechanism) might be for hotels to establish connections with
hospitality and tourism schools. Such strategic collaboration could be beneficial for hotels interested in capitalizing on passionate individuals, with little
experience as such representing a blank canvas with formal training and a
wider perspective of the hotel and broader tourism industry.
Further, perhaps it would be beneficial to have hospitality training programs for hotel managerial staff. This particular study demonstrated the informal nature of the hospitality industry and the lack of planning and coordination within small Swedish hotels, as well as between hotels. Thus,
similar to networks that provide support for entrepreneurs in Sweden perhaps a network that would support hotel managers in the context of the
hospitality industry is timely. The researchers argue that hotels should at the
very least address the basic requirements of each HR process to ensure that it
is systematic, functional, and effective. To do this in a smaller scale is realistic
to every organization within the industry. Accordingly, the implementation
of the basic HR systems discussed R&S, T&D, and PM&A should to some
extent create benefits for the organizations. In the context of implementing a
hospitality network perhaps it would be of some benefit to have an auditor
demonstrate the financial imperative in the systematic implementation and
monitoring of HR practices.
The study has created opportunities for further research. The researchers
call for an investigation exploring the financial impact of HR systems. This
may help justify the importance of HR processes in organizations. Another
opportunity for further research is the study of the feasibility of shared HR
services especially designed for the hotel industry. This will assist hotels
including those with limited resources to implement HR systems through
outsourced HR services. Basic HR tools, policies, and systems can easily be
re-designed according to their needs.

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