Ethical issues and workplace problems in commercial hospitality: a New Zealand study
Poulston, Jill Mabel
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This study explores a world of pretence and glamour, uncovering and explaining the causes of workplace problems and dubious practices lying behind the cheerful facade of commercial hospitality. Such an exploration necessarily extends into unethical, unsafe and unfair practices, eight of which are selected for detailed analysis. These are: working in smoke, sexual harassment, constructive dismissal, staffing levels, training, illegal alcohol service, poor food hygiene, and theft. Some of these problems or practices are deliberately destructive (and are therefore considered as ethical issues), some can cause harm (so are health and safety issues), and some concern the way staff are managed (and are therefore labour issues). The persistent focus however, is the avoidable harm and wrongdoing that can occur where groups of people are controlled by a few. Several themes are explored, in particular the causes of poor ethical standards and management's influence on these standards. The hypotheses address the behaviour of hospitality workers generally, but managers in particular, as they are ultimately responsible for workplace conduct, and are therefore best placed to make change. Ethical standards are investigated by measuring the actual and perceived incidence, tolerance and management acceptance of problems according to individuals' demographic attributes. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data enables a thorough and scientific analysis of practices in a domain well known for persistent social problems, with the specific intention of identifying causes, and therefore solutions. The following hypotheses are examined: H1) Unethical behaviour is common in hospitality; H2) Management is aware of unethical behaviour in hospitality; H3) Management actively or passively supports unethical behaviour in hospitality, and H4) Management's support is a cause of unethical behaviour. Although unethical practices are found to be common, many managers are unaware of this, while some are significant causes of sexual harassment, constructive dismissals and poor standards of training. Observations include the influence of codes of ethics on undesirable behaviours such as sexual harassment, the influence of social consensus on workplace behaviour, and the profound unhappiness of many hospitality employees. The causes of workplace problems and unethical behaviour are found to be low pay and poor training. A principle of reciprocated loyalty is proposed, based on the relationships identified between employer commitment and employee behaviour, and informed by mechanism theory, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is the first major analysis of workplace issues in New Zealand hospitality, and offers solutions to problems such as theft, sexual harassment and understaffing, that significantly undermine the industry's credibility and potential for success.