Resort's too much of a good thing for some
Workers say morale at Edelweiss Lodge is 'dangerously low'
Stars and Stripes
GARMISCH, Germany — For the new Armed Forces Recreation Center resort in southern Germany, business is so good it hurts.
Fresh off an inaugural season in which its occupancy rate seldom dipped under 90 percent, the 330-room Edelweiss Lodge and Resort has proven so popular that staff and managers have scarcely had time to catch their breath since the hotel opened last September.
Reservation numbers have soared, conference bookings have been steady and visitor numbers have beat managers’ predictions every month, said Chris Forbes, Edelweiss sales and conference operations director.
But the resort’s runaway success has not been without side effects, according to some hotel workers.
Employees in several departments said in recent weeks that the heavy workload has created a kernel of disaffection among entry-level employees, mainly because parts of the hotel are understaffed and disorganized. At worst, they described an undercurrent of morale they called “bad,” “pretty low,” and “dangerously low,” particularly in the food and beverage department.
“This place is just amazing how poorly run it is,” said Morgan Hausrath, a 31-year-old cook who also described himself as a “relatively satisfied” employee.
Hausrath’s account of the situation behind the scenes at Edelweiss was one of about a dozen offered to Stars and Stripes in recent weeks, most from young part-time workers who say they were promised low hours and ample vacation time, and instead got steady, grinding hotel labor.
Workers claimed that many of the 400 employees — 271 of whom are part-time — at the resort are frustrated and disillusioned. Edelweiss managers refute that notion, saying that most of the hotel’s employees are satisfied with their jobs.
“Is this a pervasive problem ... or is this just a small faction that doesn’t like their job?” said Edward Fagan, assistant general manager of the resort.
He said the answer is the latter.
Hotel comment cards consistently laud the service Edelweiss employees provide, Fagan said. And several guests at the hotel last month told Stripes they enjoyed their experience.
“It’s excellent for an R&R soldier,” said Spc. Jason Martin, a guest at the Edelweiss. “They put it in a great place, and it’s very user-friendly.”
Fagan added that most of the nearly 30 part-time workers whose contracts came up for renewal recently decided to extend their job commitments.
“I acknowledge that there is a minority that is out there that is expressing that opinion,” Fagan said of claims of employee dissatisfaction. But that’s not the majority’s attitude, he said.
“The employees are our strength,” he said. “We are who we are because of our employees.”
The root of the problem, workers said, is that the recruiting pitch that persuaded them to sign 13- to 20-month travel agreements to work as “resort hotel attendants” barely resembles the reality of their jobs.
Edelweiss workers said they were told they would work a minimum of 25 hours a week and occasionally put in close to 40 hours in their part-time hotel jobs, with free housing and ample time off to explore Europe.
But many now claim to have worked a 40-hour week since arriving last fall, which they say has essentially made them full-time employees.
“It’s nowhere near what I was sold,” said Brad Oulette, 24, a cook.
But according to Edelweiss human resource director Anita Jordan Young, part-time employees aren’t quite putting in the hours that would require them to be made a full-time worker.
“If you look at it as an average, people are working 35 to 38 hours a week,” Young said.
And 38 or even 39 hours isn’t enough, she said to convert a part-time job into a full-time one. An employee must consistently work 40 hours a week or more to get a full-time classification, she said.
And if employees have legitimate grievances about management, she said, “People have not come to my office and complained.”
Happier employees, better service
Fagan concedes that the hotel has experienced “several peak periods since opening where many of our staff has had to work longer hours than expected.” But, he added, that’s the nature of opening an expensive new resort.
“I don’t think any organization should feel guilty about the fact that they are doing good business,” allowing employees the “opportunity” to put in 40 hours a week, Fagan said.
“We know that the staff has worked hard since our 15 September opening,” he wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes, “but overall moral (sic) is good.”
And some employees back that assessment, saying they got the dream job in Europe they wanted.
“I’ve got a really good job,” said Louisa Holmlund, a front-desk worker. “I’ve gotten to meet people from all over the world. I’ve gotten to travel all over.”
Holmlund added, however, that her situation is “a rarity” among the staff.
For others, Fagan’s appraisal of employee morale illustrates a disconnect between top-level managers and their lowest-level employees.
“I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years,” Hausrath wrote in a recent letter to Fagan. “I have never worked for a company where management was so out of touch with employees.”
A good start toward a solution, he suggested in his letter, would be an occasional employee survey, to let workers’ voices be heard.
Other employees said in interviews that additional workers should be hired to lighten the workload. Some employees merely sought recognition for efforts they see as beyond their job descriptions.
With the summer travel season on the horizon, the workload at Edelweiss isn’t destined to drop off. The resort already has passed its expected summer occupancy numbers with advance bookings, Forbes said.
Employees say the resort deserves to be popular, and they aren’t out to disparage the Edelweiss. But with the flow of guests expected to continue unabated, something has to change, they said.
“Maybe it’s a really great place to stay, but it should also be a really great place to work,” Oulette said.