For most people, holidays mean a time for celebrating with family, eating too much and taking a day off from work. But for hospitality staff, holidays are all too often just like any other day of the year -- workdays.
"In the hospitality industry, we are working when people are celebrating -- weekends, nights and holidays," says Peter Szende, an assistant professor at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration.
After all, somebody has to dole out the chips from casino cages on Christmas, perform the night audit in the wee hours of New Year's morning or manage the 24-hour parking facilities of a mammoth hotel -- Thanksgiving or not. And if you choose a career in hospitality, chances are that sooner or later -- and probably sooner -- that somebody will be you.
"My first couple of years as a manager in hospitality, I worked every holiday," says Sterling Lundgren, vice president of human resources at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada.
Even jobs with relatively conventional hours come with caveats. A recent posting for a front desk manager at a resort hotel described the job's hours as 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it also required the "ability to perform night audit duties if needed."
Indeed, if you're considering a career working in a restaurant, hotel or casino, you'd best assume you'll be working some tough shifts.
"When we hire people, they have to commit to working every other weekend," says Jeff Evans, general manager of the Lake Naomi Club Resort in the Pocono Mountains. Lake Naomi has about 200 employees, and more than three-quarters of them must work second or third shifts, weekends or holidays. Evans himself frequently attends weekend meetings.
Employers understand that for most employees, working holidays isn't easy. "The holidays are a very difficult situation, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve," says Evans. "It's hard on the family, hard on the spouse especially. That's why we pay a double-time bonus."
Most hotels and resorts try to come up with a system that's fair and accommodates workers' wishes the best way possible. "We do a rotation and ask people what their priorities are," says Lundgren. "If they have to work a holiday, they get another day off the same week."
And if you stick with the same employer for years, you can expect your tenure to serve you well when it's time to assign holiday shifts. "The most senior employees get the best shifts," says Lundgren. "That's a tool that keeps a lot of people around." Of Grand Sierra's 2,400 employees, about 150 have been with the company for 25 years or longer, Lundgren says.
Hospitality workers may also benefit from the increasing globalization of their industry. For example, one recent opening for an executive casino host -- the folks who pamper the high rollers -- lists as a minimum qualification the ability to speak Cantonese, Mandarin or Spanish. Workers fluent in languages other than English or those that hail from other countries may be interested in holidays apart from the ones that the bulk of Americans hold most dear. This may create opportunities for scheduling swaps that benefit all parties.
But ultimately, the need for hospitality staff to work weekends, nights and holidays will create friction that can't be eliminated completely. "Management's interest is to make employees fully flexible, but employees want to build their lives around a certain schedule," says Szende. "This is a major conflict."