The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a growing emergence of “quarantine hotels” that provide accommodation to guests who are mandated to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry to a country to prevent the spread of virus. Why are young hotel workers willing to endure relatively poor working conditions and expose themselves to dangerous COVID-19 workplace environments? Perhaps, the opportunity to participate in meaningful work is the prime motivator for hotel workers who choose to work in quarantine hotels. This study aims to investigate the motivations that young hotel employees hold towards working in a potentially dangerous hotel workplace.
Using personal interviews, this research explored the antecedents behind Generation Z employees’ (n = 42) actual behaviour towards working in quarantine hotels through the lens of the extended theory of planned behaviour (TPB) model (attitudes, subjective norms, perceived difficulties and meaningful work).
Results revealed that meaningful work such as making the world safer and going beyond the call of duty was a key motivating factor behind a willingness to work in quarantine hotels. Hotel employees also viewed working in quarantine hotels as exciting but dangerous, and the support from their family nuclei was seen as a key underlying motivator.
The key implications are the image of the hospitality industry in terms of professional identity to be an industry that is respected by society given the high-risk work environment with increased exposure to COVID-19. Even though Generation Z still see some long-standing negatives in hotel work such as long hours and emotional challenge, it is positive to know that there are contexts in which they can have more pride and meaningfulness from their jobs.
To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first paper to examine Generation Z hotel workers’ motivations to work in quarantine hotels. A key theoretical contribution to the body of knowledge is the extension of the TPB framework with the additional meaningful work variable.
Goh, E. and Baum, T. (2021), "Job perceptions of Generation Z hotel employees towards working in Covid-19 quarantine hotels: the role of meaningful work", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 1688-1710. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-11-2020-1295
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited
Hospitality has a perennial stigma as a low remunerated (Baum et al., 2020), labour-intensive (Solnet et al., 2016), limited career progression (Goh and Okumus, 2020), emotionally demanding (Goh and Lee, 2018) and long odd working hours (Robinson et al., 2016) industry. Therefore, many young workers view hospitality work as temporary job fillers during their career transition period after graduation to finding a “real” job. Studies have reported alarming hospitality turnover figures of 10%–32% (Wu et al., 2014) and up to 75% by way of annual attrition (Ann and Blum, 2019). The reality is that precariousness and the turnover situation in hospitality have been exacerbated because of the impact of COVID-19 on global hospitality operations (Baum et al., 2020). Travel bans, restrictions, social distancing and other pandemic control measures have silenced airports, hotels, restaurants, casinos, pubs and leisure facilities. Without customers, hospitality companies have been forced to lay off workers in the hundreds of thousands and millions. For example, COVID-19-related employment casualties have seen 290,000 hospitality workers being laid off in Australia (Johnson, 2020) and 8 million in the USA (Reynolds, 2020).
Innovative strategies that hotels have adopted to increase occupancy during the pandemic include catering to new segments of customers, including those who are mandated to self-isolate for 14 days by governments such as Australia when returning from overseas (Australia Government, 2020) Such hotels are known as “quarantine hotels” which are obligated to provide accommodation support through state emergency legislation such as the Western Australia Emergency Management Act (Government of Western Australia, 2020a, 2020b). An estimated 63,000 travellers have stayed in quarantine hotels in Australia since the pandemic, which has cost the government an estimated $118m (Ayling, 2020). Other examples of such innovative responses are hotels which provided services, often complementary, to frontline health workers in cities such as New York and London (Hardingham-Gill, 2020).
These opportunities have forced hotels to alter their service delivery standards to become more contactless and to ensure increased hygiene control measures to help provide a safe environment for their employees and guests. Nevertheless, working in quarantine hotels exposes workers to risks of COVID-19 transmission from quarantine guests who share the same hotel space. This risky work environment has seen the spread of positive COVID-19 cases being transmitted to hotel workers from single isolated to multiple cases (Zimmerman and Law, 2020). In June 2020, 20 hotel employees working in a Melbourne, Victoria quarantine hotel in Australia unknowingly contracted the virus while working, which subsequently was associated with 90% of the state’s second wave of COVID-19 cases (Silva and Clure, 2020).
This new norm presents a potentially dangerous hospitality working environment for those with limited formal training in this regard and challenges the traditional meaning of work among hospitality employees. Important questions arise. Why are hotel workers willing to put their health and lives at risk in the line of duty? Do they perceive a special meaning in this new working environment? Is providing hospitality service to potential COVID-19 guests a form of meaningful work? Is the role of meaningful work an important proposition that could outweigh the dangerous working environment if hotel workers find meaningfulness in providing frontline services to quarantine guests? The meaningfulness of providing service and care to guests in a pandemic environment can be juxtaposed against meaningful work by nurses to look after the sick (Beukes and Botha, 2013) or soldiers’ display of courage during stressful events (Britt et al., 2001). Within the limited range of hospitality studies which have examined the role of meaningful work, the consensus is that meaningful work leads to job satisfaction (Raub and Blunschi, 2014) and job engagement, organisation commitment and lower staff turnover (Jung and Yoon, 2016).
Although previous hospitality studies have investigated meaningful work, these were restricted to its understanding within a single department such as food and beverage (Jung and Yoon, 2016), which may not necessarily translate across all areas of work in the hospitality sector. Second, studies (Supanti and Butcher, 2019) have attempted to understand hospitality workers’ meaningful work attributes through quantitative measurement scales borrowed from other disciplines. These may not directly measure true representations of meaningful work among hospitality workers and may restrict the elicitation of the richer and deeper attitudinal data that are much needed in this area. Third, no studies have examined the role of meaningful work in relation to Generation Z workers (15–24 years of age) in spite of this being the largest workforce cohort (43%) in the hospitality industry (Australia Department of Employment, 2014). Approximately 30% of this age group leave the industry within 10 years (Brown et al., 2014). Past studies have also reported that younger employees find hospitality work less meaningful and less attractive for them to remain within in the hotel industry as compared to older workers (Park and Gursoy, 2012). Fourth, there is a paucity of hospitality workforce-related research, where only 7.1% (458 out of 6,449) of hospitality and tourism journal publications are workforce related, and less than 1% (40 out of 6,449) focus on young workers (Baum et al., 2020). Finally, younger hospitality employees have been reported to be more economically vulnerable and, therefore, willing to take risks in going to work in COVID-19 environments for fear of losing their jobs. They are also willing to do whatever it takes to prove loyalty and dedication to their bosses (Purtill, 2020).
Therefore, the objective of this study is to explore the role of meaningful work and motivations among Generation Z hotel workers in relation towards their work in quarantine hotels. This paper is organised as follows. Following this introduction, we provide a focused review of the key literature which has informed our research, on the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry, quarantine hotels, our theoretical framework of the Theory of Planned Behaviour and meaningful work, from which our research questions have been extrapolated. This is followed by the methodology adopted in this study, the findings and subsequent discussion from which conclusions are drawn.
2. Literature review
2.1 Impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (2020) claiming the lives of more than one million casualties and infecting more than 25 million individuals. Because of the lack of customers in a lockdown-restricted economy, hospitality businesses suffered huge financial losses, with hotels shutting down operations and laying off workers. For example, during the pandemic, hotel groups such as ACCOR closed 33% (4,500) of their hotels in April 2020, and laid off 1,000 employees in August 2020 (Thiessen, 2020). Other hotel groups have also implemented pandemic-related job cuts, including Hyatt (1,300 employees; Rackl, 2020) and Hilton (2,100 employees; Prang and Karmin, 2020). This sees a staggering 100.8 million global jobs lost in the travel and tourism industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Asia Pacific losing the most with 63.4 million jobs (Lock, 2020).
2.2 Quarantine hotels and the new normal working conditions
In a bid to confine and isolate returning overseas travellers from potentially spreading COVID-19, Australian governments and health authorities introduced a compulsory 14-day self-isolation policy (Australia Government, 2020). Under state emergency legislation such as the Western Australia Emergency Management Act (Government of Western Australia, 2020a, 2020b), hotels are obligated to operate as quarantine hotels. The pandemic has challenged the traditional nature of hospitality work mainly in the delivery of high-quality service through personal and excellent service encounters with guests. Thus, the customer-centric focus can be emotionally demanding for workers to achieve a meaningful connection with their customers (Jung and Yoon, 2016) to achieve customer satisfaction. Past studies have reported the importance of customer satisfaction as an intrinsic motivator that gives hotel workers meaning in their jobs (Chen et al., 2014).
However, working in quarantine hotels has altered service delivery standards to become more contactless and removed from face-to-face customer interactions (Zhang et al., 2020). This has increased the pace of service automation and customer experience through robotics and artificial intelligence (Tussyadiah, 2020) in hotels such as Sofitel Sydney Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic (Dennis, 2020). Given the role of social distancing in areas such as high customer contact encounters during front desk check-in, the use of technology such as keyless room access and self-check in facilities are used to protect frontline employees and hotel guests. Concomitantly, increased cleanliness and hygiene are key attributes of successful hotel operations in a COVID-19-dominated work environment (Jiang and Wen, 2020). In fact, past studies have reported that customers do revisit a hotel if it is clean and are willing to pay higher room rates for a cleaner room with enhanced disinfection (Zemke et al., 2015). To further protect employees and customers, hospitality providers have used hand gloves, facial masks and plexiglass to serve as physical barriers preventing the transmission of COVID-19, which has further distanced the interactive nature of hospitality.
Notwithstanding such measures, this new risky work environment has seen the spread of positive COVID-19 cases being transmitted to hotel workers from single isolated cases to multiple cases (Zimmerman and Law, 2020). Since the emergence of quarantine hotels in early 2020, there has been reported cases of hotel workers who have contracted COVID-19 while working at quarantine hotels around the world. For example, isolated cases were reported in Australia at the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney (Thomas, 2020), and the Pan Pacific hotel in Perth (Zimmerman and Law, 2020). There were also clusters of multiple hotel workers who tested positive for COVID-19 in India (Taj Mahal Palace Hotel) with 6 positive cases (Chaturvedi, 2020), and a W Hotel in America with 50 positive cases (Grover and Davis, 2020). To highlight the severity of the problem, 20 hotel employees working in a Melbourne quarantine hotel in Australia unknowingly contracted the virus while working, which exacerbated the community transmissions and led to 90% of the Victoria Australia’s second wave of COVID-19 (Silva and Clure, 2020).
2.3 Theoretical framework: theory of planned behaviour
Bearing the focus of this study is to explore frontline employees’ impetuses to work in quarantine hotels, this study is anchored on the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991) as its underpinning theoretical structure. Under the TPB, behavioural intention/behaviour is steered by attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Attitudes are derived from behavioural beliefs (positive and negative) towards a respective behaviour. Subjective norms are a nature of peer pressure to seek approval and conform with the outlooks of vital reference groups. Perceived behavioural control reveals the perceived amount of effort in performance of a particular behaviour under volitional control. This is difficulties-hindering actual behaviour (Ajzen, 1991).
Utilisation of a reputable theoretical framework is often lacking in workforce hospitality research, which results in unnecessary limitations of omitting the identification of significant variables (Goh and Lee, 2018). First, previous studies have reported several attitudinal factors that can be linked to employment in hotels such as exciting and emotionally draining (Goh and Okumus, 2020). In association to subjective norms, family (Sakdiyakorn et al., 2021) and industry managers (Hertzman et al., 2015) are seen as important membership clusters that can impact a family member’s hotel career trajectory. Finally, perceived difficulties, such as health reasons, may impede individuals from employment in quarantine hotels. These constraints must be seen alongside possible barriers that deter people from working in hotels such as low remuneration, antisocial working hours and hard labour (Goh and Lee, 2018; Robinson et al., 2016).
2.4 Extending the theory of planned behaviour model
The TPB can be applied and has the potential to help understanding why hotel employees choose to work in quarantine hotels. Although the TPB framework has seen success in understanding different behaviours, there have been calls for future research to advance the TPB framework beyond the three independent variables to increase the model’s efficacy (Ajzen, 2005). For instance, the inclusion of additional background variables in TPB such as anticipated emotions have provided additional insights towards intentions and behaviours (Armitage and Conner, 2001). It is important to note that not all additional TPB variables add predictive power to the overall model efficacy. Hence, certain new variables simply act as background factors such as demographics and do not provide any significant predictive variance (Ajzen, 2005). Therefore, this study explores the role of meaningful work as a potential useful additional TPB variable in understanding work in quarantine hotels.
2.5 Meaningful work
The notion of meaningful work has been widely recognised in organisational workplace research and is defined as “work experienced as particularly significant and holding more meaning for individuals” (Rosso et al., 2010, p. 95) that is personally significant and worthwhile. There are various positive workplace associations of meaningful work such as work engagement, job satisfaction, career development and job commitment (Lysova et al., 2019). The power of meaningful work can influence employee behaviour to go above and beyond the realms of their normal duties (Shen and Benson, 2014), establish greater alignment of personal values to the organisation (Supanti and Butcher, 2019) and exhibit higher levels of citizenship behaviour (Maharaj and Schlechter, 2007). It is important to acknowledge that a majority of contemporary meaningful work studies stem from Steger et al.’s (2012) three dimensions of meaningful work: positive meaning in work that is purposeful and with personal significance; (2) meaning-making through work that contributes to a broader context in life; and greater good motivations that one’s work is making a positive impact to the greater good.
Given the benefits, businesses have started to cultivate meaningful work to engage and retain employees (Deloitte, 2017). Surprisingly, only a limited number of studies have investigated the role of meaningful work in hospitality. These studies can be divided into three groups. The first group looked at the influence of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) on fostering meaningful work among hotel employees. Studies such as Raub and Blunschi (2014) and Supanti and Butcher (2019) found positive relations between CSR activities in shaping employees’ outlook on meaningful work and helping behaviour. The second group of studies (Jung and Yoon, 2016) examined the antecedents of meaningful work and found positive associations between meaningful work with job engagement and organisational commitment. The third group of studies investigated meaningful work differences between generational cohorts of hospitality workers. In a study comparing attitudes of Generation X and Generation Y towards meaningful work and helping behaviour, Supanti and Butcher (2019) found meaningful work to affect CSR stronger in Generation X as compared to Generation Y hotel employees. This is similar to Park and Gursoy (2012) who indicated that younger generations of hospitality workers tend to lack the same motivation and found hospitality work less meaningful as compared to older generations.
This brings us to the question that if younger hospitality workers do not perceive hospitality work as meaningful work, they endure poor working conditions and expose themselves to dangerous COVID-19 environments, why do they still choose to work in quarantine hotels? Therefore, this research aims to explore the antecedents behind Generation Z employees’ actual behaviour towards working in quarantine hotels through the lens of the extended TPB model (attitudes, subjective norms, perceived difficulties and meaningful work) through four research questions:
What are the attitudes of Generation Z hotel workers towards working in quarantine hotels?
Who are the important reference groups that influence Generation Z hotel workers towards working in quarantine hotels?
What are the perceived difficulties Generation Z hotel workers face when working in quarantine hotels?
Why is working in quarantine hotels seen as meaningful work by Generation Z hotel workers?
3. Research method
3.1 Background of quarantine hotels
The term quarantine hotel refers to hotels that cater to guests self-isolating for 14 days when returning from overseas as mandated by governments such as Australia (Australia Government, 2020). The first group of quarantine passengers arrived in Australia on 29th March 2020 and were quarantined at the Swissotel in Sydney (Mayers et al., 2020). To date, approximately 63,000 travellers have stayed in quarantine hotels in Australia (Ayling, 2020). Quarantined guests are transported directly from the airport to the hotel by government authorities and not allowed outside of their hotel room for 14 days under the strict supervision of hotel security, operating 24/7. The hotel provides basic F&B services such as three meals per day delivered directly to the outside of each room, and reduced housekeeping cleaning frequency that may deferred until the end of quarantine period. Hotel workers operating in quarantine hotels are provided with COVID-19 compliance training (Government of Western Australia, 2020a, 2020b) and must adhere to strict guidelines as stipulated by the Australian Government (Department of Health, NSW Government, 2020).
3.2 Research design
Given the fluid context of COVID-19 and the exploratory research focus, a qualitative method was used to generate greater in-depth investigation of the research phenomenon. It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine hotel situation is a new area of hospitality research so a qualitative approach will avoid the unnecessary restriction to over-depend on limited statistical data in the initial phases of progress in a novel topic scope (Khoo-Lattimore et al., 2019). It is also important to note that past studies have highlighted the lack of qualitative studies in TPB hospitality and tourism research (12% – 32 out of 259 studies) and have called for future research to adopt qualitative methods for a deeper analysis of the TPB theory (Ulker-Demirel and Ciftci, 2020).
The present study aims to elicit Generation Z hotel employees’ attitudes, salient reference groups, perceived difficulties and meaningful work attributes in relation to their work in quarantine hotels. The decision to focus on Generation Z workers (born between 1995 and 2009) is threefold. First, Generation Z is the largest hospitality workforce cohort (43 %) in hospitality (Australia Department of Employment, 2014). Second, past studies have also reported that younger employees find hospitality work less meaningful and have less desire to stay in the hotel industry as compared to older workers (Park and Gursoy, 2012), which leads to a high turnover rate of approximately 30% leaving the industry within 10 years (Brown et al., 2014). Fourth, there is a paucity of hospitality workforce-related research, where less than 1% (40 out of 6,449) of hospitality and tourism journal publications focused on young workers (Baum et al., 2020). Specifically, only a handful of hospitality studies have examined the generation Z workforce (Goh and Okumus, 2020; Goh and Lee, 2018) in turnover studies. One of the reasons for this paucity is that early studies on generations in hospitality literature date back to the early 90s when Generation Y was entering the workforce (Pennington-Gray et al., 2003). Finally, younger hospitality employees have been reported to be more economically vulnerable and are willing to take risks by going to work in COVID-19 environments for fear of losing their jobs (Purtill, 2020).
The attitude variable was elicited through positive and negative attitudes to identify the general perceptions of employment in quarantine hotels. The subjective norms variable explored important reference groups, and perceived behavioural control elicited perceived constraints towards working in quarantine hotels. Finally, the meaningful work variable measured positive meaning, meaning-making through work and greater good motivations that respondents attributed towards working in quarantine hotels.
3.3 Research sample
Respondents consisted of Generation Z hotel workers who worked in quarantine hotels in Australia between April and August 2020. Because of a lack of information and limited accessibility to hotel workers during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, a purposeful snowballing technique (Creswell and Poth, 2018) was used to identify knowledge-rich respondents who could offer contemporary insights into working in quarantine hotels in Australia. The initial sampling approach was through the researcher’s industry contact with a quarantine hotel in Perth, Australia. This was used to approach potential participants for this study, with interviews conducted through telephone calls. With regard to snowball sampling, participants were probed to recommend other potential Generation Z respondents within the same hotel or in other quarantine hotels. A total of 42 respondents (17 males and 25 females) participated (response rate = 52%) in the semi-structured interviews (see Table 1 for sample profile), which satisfies the suggested sample size (n ≥ 25) for TPB elicitation studies (Ajzen, 1991). It is important to note that majority of respondents (56%) were working in Front Office followed by food and beverage (26%) positions. These positions will have some contact with quarantine clients at some point of the 14 day quarantine period such as checking in or delivery of meals to rooms strictly adhering to the standards imposed by Department of Health, Western Australia for hotels providing accommodation for guests in quarantine or isolation (Department of Health, Western Australia, 2020).
Individual interviews were directed by telephone with invited respondents through open-ended questions to encourage them to speak their own words and narrative structures. The opening dialogue commenced with an introduction to the research aim, instructions on the interview sequence and reassurances as to the confidentiality of the collected data. Respondents were communicated that they can end the phone interview at any point of time if they felt uncomfortable by simply hanging up. On average, each interview lasted between 35 and 60 min. The recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim within 48 h to ensure accuracy and reliability.
3.4 Data analysis
Given the exploratory lens of this study, the research adopted a manual content analysis to methodically distil the data, as recommended by Ajzen (1991). A key benefit of using manual analysis is the provision for an interpretative approach rather than a mechanical analysis when conducted through software tools and allows the researcher to be immersed in the data analysis process (Groschl, 2005). A coding structure was established to identify, code and cluster the raw data using ATT codes for attitudes towards working in quarantine hotels, SN codes for important reference groups, PBC codes for perceived difficulties and MW for meaningful work towards working in quarantine hotels. To ensure reliability of the coded data, the data-driven codes were coded by a team of researchers to ensure inter-rater reliability (Creswell and Poth, 2018). Each of the researchers coded the data underpinned by the four independent variables of the extended TPB as the theoretical structure. To ensure validity, authors verified the data analysis, corrected discrepancies and discussed methods to improve the coding process, which also provided triangulation.
A frequency analysis was conducted through manual analysis to distribute the key elicited items by counting the number of times a specific code occurred repetitively. This procedure allowed the identification of key salient extended TPB items, which has been widely used in previous TPB studies (Goh and Jie, 2019; Goh and Kong, 2018; Goh et al., 2017; Goh and Scerri, 2015). In sum, 33 key items were identified from the phone interviews: ten key attitudes, six important normative groups, eight key difficulties and nine meaningful work items towards working in quarantine hotels (see Figure 1).
4. Results and discussion
4.1 RQ1: what are the attitudes of Generation Z hotel workers towards working in quarantine hotels?
It is important to note that Generation Z hotel workers held dual attitudes (positive and negative) to working in quarantine hotels (see Table 2). In sum, positive attitudes were stated 107 times, spread across 5 different attitudinal categories, viz. it is exciting (32 counts), courageous (26), respectable (22), multitask oriented (16) and unique (11). Negative attitudinal items were mentioned 109 times, across 5 related attitudes: dangerous (38 counts), long/odd hours (29), emotionally challenging (22), limited customer/service interactions (15) and unable to meet brand standards (5). An interesting important discovery in this research revealed numerous concurrent answers stating both positive and negative attitudes to working in quarantine hotels. For instance, P9 mentioned that “I like working in this exciting environment with new things happening everyday”. Concomitantly, negative attitudes were also elicited from this respondent “Sometimes I am afraid to interact with guests and personnel at the hotel as you might contract the virus. Working in hospitality is now quite dangerous”. Some respondents also provided a more truthful perspectives of working in a quarantine hotel but were overall positive. For instance, P25 mentioned “Even though I am working more hours than before and become more emotionally stressed, I am very proud of working in hospitality. My family and friends think highly of what I am doing”. This sudden increase in hospitality professional identity is a new finding as past studies have reported the negative stigma of hospitality work as unappreciative, low status and often not perceived as a serious career (Goh and Lee, 2018).
While the traditional harsh working conditions of the hospitality industry such as long working hours remain prevalent in quarantine hotels, there are some new attitudes that have emerged from working in quarantine hotels. For example, the courageous aspects of working in hospitality where most Generation Z workers viewed their work to be in a dangerous working environment. This can be related to armed forces combating on a battlefield or nurses working in hospitals (Beukes and Botha, 2013; Britt et al., 2001). Another interesting finding is the negative view about limited customer interactions and not being able to provide traditional hospitality customer service. This is mainly because of hotels altering their service delivery standards to become more contactless and removed from face-to-face interactions with customers to minimise the spread of COVID-19 (Jiang and Wen, 2020). Some respondents felt that the safety measures have taken away the true meaning of hospitality and customer service. As mentioned by P.31 “I don’t see how we are providing service excellence when we do not even see the guests, leave the food outside their doors, and they check out on their own. Robots can do all of this”. This is consistent with past studies that have emphasised the need for technology and automation to play support roles but not to replace the human service encounter experience that is highly valued in hospitality service settings (Lemy et al., 2019).
Although Generation Z expressed negative attitudes that supported past research about working conditions in the hotel industry such as that it is emotionally challenging and demands long working hours (Robinson et al., 2016), it is important to note that these attitudes are not stable and could potentially fluctuate and transform because of the current evolving pandemic. For instance, excitement as a positive attitude in principle had negative connotations as dangerous. One probable account of positive attitudes eliciting concurrently with negative attitudes suggest that even with a moderately positive outlook, employees maintain negative associations about working in quarantine hotels. This discovery may be related to prior studies that reported Generation Z to generally find hospitality work to be interesting/exciting but also highly mentally exhausting, which may act as a barrier to pursuing a hospitality career (Goh and Lee, 2018). This element of mental stress has been well documented in hospitality workforce research, which ultimately leads to emotional exhaustion and job turnover (Xu et al., 2018). Another reason for the instability of attitudes could be emotional and physical exhaustion from working in quarantine hotels, where employees are required to operate for longer hours, helping across multiple departments, and navigating the dangerous work environment with an expectation to be flexible and help other departments who are short of staff.
4.2 RQ2: who are the important reference groups that influence Generation Z hotel workers towards working in quarantine hotels?
In relation to social groups prompting Generation Z’s insight towards working in quarantine hotels, the family reference group was informed as being most important (39 counts), colleagues (33), medical officers (28), industry associations (17), other quarantine hotel workers (11) and government officials (4) (see Table 3). This is comparable to past research which informed the importance of family support in encouraging the Generation Z cohort to study hospitality (Goh et al., 2017) and work in hospitality (Sakdiyakorn et al., 2021). This suggests that given the possibility of transmission of the virus, approval from the family nucleus to work in quarantine hotels represents the most mentioned reference group. This is understandable as frontline service employees are concerned about contracting the virus during work and bringing this home unknowingly, thus, potentially, transmitting the virus to family members. One respondent (P12) mentioned as follows:
Initially, my wife was unhappy about my new job requirements as she felt it was very dangerous. However, after reassuring her that I will take extra safety precautions and not bring the virus home, she became supportive.
The role of colleagues was the second most mentioned reference group. It is particularly important to have colleagues who are likeminded and have supervisors who recognise employees’ competitive demands from work and non-work, which helps employees to manage these competing demands (Crain and Stevens, 2018). For example, respondent (P22) mentioned:
My family doesn’t really like the idea of me working in quarantine hotels. We normally argue about this. However, I have a manager that understands my situation and listens to my problems and sometimes he will ask me to end my shift early so that I can spend more time with my family.
The present study also revealed an interesting finding that more Generation Z employees recognised the importance of medical officers than was the case with government officials. This could be because of conflicting views and internal tensions between state and federal government such as disagreement on lifting border restrictions (Laschon, 2020), and advice from government as opposed to that from medical sources, in its extreme form represented by suggestions to inject bleach into the human body as a preventive measure to kill the virus (Kelland and Satter, 2020). For example, P5 mentioned:
There are so many sources who claim to be experts out there. I rely on the medical officers as they seem to be scientifically proven such as wearing face mask, gloves and hand sanitisers to prevent the spread of virus.
Another reference group, industry associations, was perceived as important in influencing Generation Z workers to work in quarantine hotels. This elicited reference group can, in certain circumstances, be a voice representing the interests of hotel workers. Recent studies have reported the important function of hotel industry associations such as the China Hospitality Association as a monitoring agent on pandemic cases to develop pandemic preventive measures for the hotel industry in China (Hao et al., 2020). Another example is where the Australia Hotel Association was directed by the government to provide compulsory COVID-19 hygiene training to all hospitality workers in Western Australia to ensure COVID-19 workplace compliance (Government of Western Australia).
4.3 RQ3: what are the perceived difficulties Generation Z hotel workers face when working in quarantine hotels?
With regard to perceived difficulties, Generation Z workers perceived eight key constraints with respect to working in quarantine hotels (see Table 4). In relation to these, Generation Z reported virus exposure/transmission (36 counts) as the most difficult facet of working in quarantine hotels, trailed by dealing with confined guests (27), long working hours (24), lack of training (21), element of uncertainty (17), lack of job security (15), lack of communication updates (8) and lack of resources/manpower (7). Perceptions associated to Generation Z’s perceived constraints corroborate the extant studies about work in hotels such as poor career progression, low wage, odd working hours and labour demanding (Goh and Lee, 2018; Robinson et al., 2016). Our results show that having to deal with confined guests as a perceived difficulty, is a consistent reminder that the hospitality business is a people industry regardless of a pandemic. This is mentioned by respondent P8:
I think the challenge is traditionally we normally deal with happy customers in the leisure and business market who stay at their own freewill. To some extent, quarantine guests don’t want to be here especially confined to their room for 14 days.
The stress when dealing with guests is magnified in a pandemic environment where most respondents mentioned the potential exposure and transmission of virus as the most salient perceived challenge when working in a quarantine hotel. Our results suggest the likelihood of virus transmission that adds to the anxiety of having to accommodate confined quarantine guests.
Findings of the present study also propose that Generation Z are concerned with the lack of training regarding matters about working in quarantine hotels. For example, P11 mentioned “There needs to be more training especially on protocols and standard operating procedures, and how to deal with positive cases”. This can impact on their ability to perform and diminish their confidence to operate in an uncertain environment. One likely interpretation is that Generation Z are relatively young and most likely have limited work experience and have not dealt with major crises such as the SARS on a global scale. This links to previous research who described Generation Z hotel workers to be overqualified, ambitious, afraid to deal with customer complaints and lack real work experience (Goh and King, 2020; Goh and Lee, 2018).
4.4 RQ4: why is working in quarantine hotels seen as meaningful work by Generation Z hotel workers?
In relation to meaningful work, there were a total of 136 counts that mentioned Generation Z workers. A total of nine meaningful work items (see Table 5) were further clustered into the three dimensions of meaningful work as proposed by Steger et al. (2012): positive meaning – feel good about oneself (28 counts), purposeful satisfying (19), fulfilling (14) and noble (5); meaning making – hospitality passion (32), beyond the call of duty (22) and inner superhero (15); and greater good – a safer world (41) and customers as patients (26). As can be seen, the role of meaningful work is an important impetus that motivates Generation Z hotel workers to work in quarantine hotels and could outweigh the dangerous working COVID-19 environment. Respondent P33 mentioned, “This job gives me fulfilment. Seeing guests leave the property without testing positive for COVID-19 is a good satisfying feeling”. This feeling of fulfilment has also been reported in past hospitality workplace studies where researchers found Generation Z hospitality students to seek when deciding to pursue a hospitality career (Goh and Lee, 2018).
Similarly, past research has reported fulfilment at work to correlate with meaning making in meaningful work to go the extra mile (Supanti and Butcher, 2019). This was reflected in the results where majority of respondents related to their passion towards indiscriminate hospitality to provide hospitality service for all types of guests “I have come to realise my love and passion for hospitality. It feels like my calling in life is to provide people with good service no matter what the situation” (P32). This belief also motivates Generation Z workers to go above and beyond for the company to provide hospitality service to quarantine guests, which several respondents referred to their alter ego as a superhero going beyond the call of duty. For example, respondent P2 mentioned “I think this job requires going above and beyond normal hotel work and helps you grow as a person and hotelier. This has been good experience to deal with further crisis”. Another respondent, P27, mentioned that “Working in quarantine hotel reminds me of being a superhero saving the guest and public from the virus. To some extent, we are sacrificing our lives walking on landmines during our shifts”. This finding supports past literature which has reported the power of meaningful work to influence employee behaviour to go above and beyond the realms of their normal duties (Shen and Benson, 2014), establish greater alignment of personal values to the organisation (Supanti and Butcher, 2019) and exhibit higher levels of citizenship behaviour (Maharaj and Schlechter, 2007).
The present results also displayed the importance of greater good in meaningful work, where helping to create a safer world was the most mentioned meaningful work item (41 counts) by Generation Z workers. Respondent P35 mentioned, “I am only a single individual but I think my job helps to prevent the spread of virus and make the world a safer place again so that we can start travelling and get back to normal conditions”. This greater good outlook is highly important as it could serve as a beacon of hope for Generation Z workers to cling onto in a COVID-19 vulnerable state of recovery (Baum et al., 2020). Past research also indicated that the recovery of hotels from the pandemic should go beyond the organisation and sector levels but collected efforts from all stakeholders aimed at health issues for the global citizens (Jiang and Wen, 2020). This “we are in this together” mentality can be a latent driver to shape Generation Z workers’ mindset that working in quarantine hotels is particularly significant and seen as meaningful work that leads to work engagement, job satisfaction, career development and job commitment (Lysova et al., 2019). These are in line with greater good motivations that one’s work is making a positive impact to the greater good. It is important to note that the present study elicited more items for meaningful work as compared to attitudes, subjective norms and perceived difficulties. This indicates that meaningful work plays an important role among Generation Z hotel workers when deciding to work in quarantine hotels. This unique finding is different from past studies who have reported younger employees to find hospitality work less motivating and meaningful (Park and Gursoy, 2012; Supanti and Butcher, 2019).
5. Conclusions and implications
To the best of the authors’ knowledge, no previous study has examined the underlying motivations of hotel workers within the parameters of quarantine hotels. Therefore, this study addressed a significant urgent gap in our understanding of quarantine hotels as a contributor to the prevention of further transmission of COVID-19. The purpose of this exploratory research elicited ten key attitudes, six key reference groups, eight perceived difficulties and nine meaningful work items of Generation Z to working in quarantine hotels. Results propose that Generation Z hotel workers believe that working in quarantine hotels is exciting and courageous but also viewed the excitement in a virus-prone dangerous environment as an apparent barrier. The importance of the family nucleus must be acknowledged, given the significant influence they have on Generation Z’s motivations to seek employment in quarantine hotels for obvious safety reasons.
5.2 Theoretical implications
Our research advanced the limited body of knowledge investigating the role of meaningful work in hospitality research (Supanti and Butcher, 2019) and calls for future research into the underrepresentation of studies on young hospitality workers (Baum et al., 2020). This study targets one of the largest cohorts of hospitality workers – Generation Z, which is an important fabric of the hospitality workforce that only a paucity of studies have endeavoured to investigate (Goh and Okumus, 2020; Goh and Lee, 2018). This study makes a significant theoretical contribution addressing the call by Ajzen (1991) to identify potential additional TPB variables to better understand intentions and behaviours. Our paper also addressed the call for future research to the lack of qualitative studies in TPB hospitality and tourism research (Ulker-Demirel and Ciftci, 2020) by using personal in-depth interviews to gain a deeper analysis of the TPB theory.
The present study explored the role of meaningful work and has demonstrated the usefulness of meaningful work as a potential variable to understand Generation Z hotel workers’ behaviour towards working in quarantine hotels. This closer examination of meaningful work in hospitality extends beyond past studies who only focused on single departments such as food and beverage (Jung and Yoon, 2016), which may not necessarily translate across all areas of work in hotels. In addition, our study provided richer and deeper attitudinal data into meaningful work beyond quantitative measurement scales borrowed from other disciplines. The present paper suggests several approaches to address the research gaps between attracting and retaining Generation Z hotel workers in quarantine hotels and future pandemic hotel work environments.
5.3 Practical implications
First, the present study elicited several new positive attitudes towards working in quarantine hotels such as courage and respectability. This original finding suggests that the image of the hospitality sector has somewhat improved in terms of professional identity to be an industry that is respected by society given the high-risk work environment with increased exposure to COVID-19. This sees a shift from the hospitality workforce as being precarious, offering poor working conditions and low job status (Baum et al., 2020) to a profession that is respected by society. Even though Generation Z still see some long-standing negatives in hotel work such as long hours and emotional challenge, it is positive to know that there are contexts in which they can have more pride and feel appreciated and respected by society. To entice Generation Z to work in quarantine hotels, recruiters should emphasise the positive job aspects such as a career that is exciting, courageous and respectable.
In a similar vein, recruiters need to present future career prospects and long-term opportunities in a post COVID-19 environment. This is an important consideration among Generation Z when deciding on careers in hospitality (Goh and Okumus, 2020). Hotel recruiters must be mindful that the war on talent may well intensify and there will be a talent drain in hospitality because of the migration of jobs to other sectors (Baum et al., 2020) given the reduced attractiveness of hospitality jobs (Baum and Hai, 2020). Hotel companies such as ACCOR and TFE Hotel groups, which have traditionally provided established career development programs such as “Future leaders program” and “Inspire program”, could benefit from continuing to offer career acceleration opportunities for existing employees to nurture leadership skills for upward career trajectory opportunities (TFE Hotels, 2020; ACCOR, 2020). Another feature to be instilled in future and current hotel employees is the need to be flexible/agile and be able to work across multiple departments. This multi-department skillset will be an important job attribute as evident during COVID-19 where hotel employees and senior management had to work across multiple departments because of a reduced workforce (Filimonau et al., 2020).
In relation to important normative clusters who have a significant impact in supporting Generation Z, recruitment companies may consider and perhaps reassure family members of hotel employees that the quarantine hotel is COVID-19 compliant according to government guidelines. This can be done by sharing training videos and providing accommodation rooms for employees and family members to self-isolate if necessary. Hotels can also feature existing employees through testimonials to communicate tangible evidence of the reality and excitement of working in quarantine hotels. Colleagues were one of the most central normative groups that Generation Z seek support from when working in quarantine hotels. Human resources managers can strive to strengthen workplace culture and sense of unity among hotel employees to maintain a positive employee mindset in a pandemic environment. For example, ACCOR committed $70m to the “All Heartist fund” to cover the medical expenses of employees without medical insurance and offer financial assistance to those in hardship (Lennon, 2020). Given the strong reference to colleagues when working in quarantine hotels, it would be useful to introduce mentoring programs to pair Generation Z workers who have less experience with senior hotel employees. A good mentoring program can help reduce some of the emotional stress operating in COVID-19 work environments (Goh and Kim, 2020; Scerri et al., 2020). Next, hotel management needs to mirror their workplace environment in line with directives from medical officers. This includes implementing proper sanitisation stations, cleaning procedures, social distancing measures, delaying re-opening times if necessary and locking down where possible.
With regard to overcoming constraints, it is recommended that hotels be upfront about the reality of working in a dangerous environment in dealing with potential COVID-19 guests. This is the core business model of quarantine hotels at least during the pandemic period. Hotels should be more transparent and provide training for safe interactions with quarantine guests. For example, hotels in Australia are subject to strict health guidelines stipulated by the government for employees in hotel facilities hosting people in COVID-19 quarantine isolation such as room cleaning frequency, cleaning products used and dealing with proper waste management (Australia Government, 2020). This will reduce uncertainty and perceived lack of training that Generation Z see as worries when working in quarantine hotels. Hotels have been quick to address this and will need to continue implementing COVID-19-related SOPs to instil employee confidence. For example, ACCOR released their “ALLSAFE” cleanliness and prevention program (ACCOR, 2020); and Marriott established their “Marriott cleanliness council” with electrostatic spraying technology in their housekeeping (Marriott, 2020). Such measures could address the emotional stress Generation Z are worried about if hotels provided more information about future support training, crisis management plans and strategies in place to prevent the virus transmission.
The power of meaningful work must not be underestimated. The desire to find meaning in work is evident among Generation Z hotel workers. This is partly because of a more educated and demanding hospitality workforce. Given the importance of meaningful work, recruiters should consider using this as a screening mechanism for future recruitment to identify hoteliers who see hospitality work as purposefully satisfying, fulfilling and would go beyond the call of duty. This is an important instrument to select the right candidates to work in quarantine hotels as they have a genuine passion and purpose to serve and operate in a virus prone environment because they believe in the greater good of making the world a better place. Existing employees, who have a high sense of the meaning of their work, should be role models and paired as mentors to new recruits (Scerri et al., 2020). These mentors can train and show new employees the meaning that they place on working in quarantine hotels and how it helps them to align to the meaning it brings to their life. In a pandemic work environment where collegiality is extremely important, the development of positive interrelations between colleagues and managers (Shi and Gordon, 2019) must be engaged to nurture meaningfulness of work. Hotels can provide training workshops such as artistic interventions (Antal et al., 2018) to help Generation Z workers find meaning in their work and rectify problems experienced in the workplace.
5.4 Limitations and future research
The exploratory nature of this study provides several future research opportunities. First, the sample was limited to Generation Z employees in a single industry and country. Consequently, the generalisability of the results might be limited to quarantine hotels in Australia. Nonetheless, our exploratory research provides a critical nexus in academic knowledge about the primary meaningful work attributes and salient motivations Generation Z hotel workers hold towards working in quarantine hotels. Next, the results of this study could not be compared to others because no other studies have been conducted on the meaningfulness of work in relation to working in quarantine hotels. One future research agenda is to administer additional statistical analysis to quantify the motivational and meaningful work attributes from this elicitation study before adopting a generalised perspective. Future research might also compare different generations of hotel workers to test if meaningful work is perceived differently across generations of hotel workers.
|Married with children||2||6|
|Highest education qualification|
|Hotel department classification|
|Food and beverage||11||26|
|Years of hospitality working experience|
Attitudes towards working in quarantine hotels
|Attitude||#||Examples of selected interview transcript|
|Exciting||32||Every shift is unpredictable with different issues to deal with. One moment you are taking room service calls and the next moment you have a quarantine breach customer on the run (P28)|
|Courageous||26||The hotel is like a battlefield with an invisible enemy. I feel very proud of my colleagues and myself to be at the forefront attending to quarantine customers. Every room service delivery is carefully maneuvered (P14)|
|Respectable||22||I have never been prouder of my hospitality profession. It used to be seen as an unappreciated and low status profession. However, I feel more respected by society as people see the good work we are doing (P36)|
|Multitask oriented||16||I was hired as a Front Office All-rounder. However, since the pandemic, I have to be able to work across departments from housekeeping to preparing meals to security coverage (P5)|
|Unique||11||Words are hard to describe how different it is to work in a quarantine hotel. This is a rather unique setting as compared to pre-COVID19. Everything is different from hotel running on full capacity continuously such as internet , energy, etc as all the guests are confined to their rooms. It feels like we are providing services in a high-class quarantine centre. (P22)|
|Dangerous||38||There is no denying that sometimes we fear contracting the virus. Even though most of our dealings with customers are contactless, you just never know especially when there are 300 quarantine guests in your hotel (P41)|
|Long/odd hours||29||We are working more hours now due to reduced staff. Some of us even stayed in the hotel for a few days a week and worked up to 12 hours a day. We are not complaining but this is the reality (P33)|
|Emotionally challenging||22||I feel most of us put on a brave front but deep down we are worried about many related issues such as health and everyone is a potential carrier. You also have to remain professional and balance your home affai rs. I have a young baby and sometimes I am worried that I might bring home the virus (P24)|
|Limited customer/service interactions||15||I miss interacting with customers. The contactless approach is a safety measure, but it definitely creates a psychological barrier between employees and guests (P11)|
|Unable to meet brand standards||5||Sometimes I feel that the pandemic has forced hotels to lower their brand standards. For example, food served on single use plates and utensils. There was once an announcement was made through the PA syst em to the entire hotel about checkout time and procedures. It just doesn’t look professional (P2)|
Important social groups influence towards working in quarantine hotels
|Subjective norms||#||Example of data|
|Family||39||My number one priority is my family. I am thankful that my parents and wife are supportive of me accommodating quarantine guests (P37)|
|Colleagues||33||My co-workers and team are highly positive about going to work. My GM provides good support. He has been staying at the hotel for long periods to provide support to colleagues. There was once he stayed in for 2 weeks (P19)|
|Medical officers||28||I rely heavily on what the Chief Medical Officer says. I guess they should know what they are talking about. So if they deem that it is safe to work in quarantine hotels, it shouldn't be an issue (P29)|
|Industry associations||17||I am a member of the Hotel Association. They do support hospitality workers and companies to continue providing customer service but under strict measures. They have also provided training and all companies must be certified as COVID19 compliant before operations (P21)|
|Other quarantine hotel workers||11||I stay in contact with friends working at other hotels. Most have gone back to work and are confident about the strict preventive measures such as hand sanitisers and face masks (P3)|
|Government officials||4||The local government is doing a good job. While shutting down borders is not good for tourism, our health is more important. These precautionary measures give me more confidence in going back to work (P15)|
Perceived difficulties towards working in quarantine hotels
|Difficulties||#||Examples of selected interview transcript|
|Virus exposure/transmission||36||We just don’t know what we are dealing with. There is a high risk of transmission in hotels. You have seen cases in Victoria where 20 hotel employees tested positive (P22)|
|Dealing with confined guests||27||I think the challenge is traditionally we normally deal with happy customers in the leisure and business market who stay at their own freewill. To some extent, quarantine guests don’t want to be here especially confined to their room for 14 days (P8)|
|Long working hours||24||I am used to working long hours in hospitality, but the pandemic has seen longer hours. Sometimes it is hard for me as I have to be close to my family during pandemic times (P36)|
|Lack of training||21||There needs to be more training especially on protocols and standard operating procedures, and how to deal with positive cases (P11)|
|Element of uncertainty||17||I think one of the hardest things is working with so many uncertainties such as the health conditions of the quarantine guests, when the next busload of quarantine guests are scheduled. There are so many what if scenarios (P6)|
|Lack of job security||15||I am not sure if there would still be a job when all the quarantine guests leave. My friend at another hotel was stood down after the hotel was not successful in becoming a quarantine hotel. Also, most of us are on job ke eper, which runs out in early 2021 (P41)|
|Lack of communication updates||8||There are so many different government agencies from Police, Army, Medical, etc. Sometimes, we at the frontline don’t get timely updates about things such as runaway quarantine guests. Also, sometimes you get directives from government officials that contradicts from your manager (P42)|
|Lack of resources/manpower||7||I think we are overworked at times as the hotel is trying to cut cost with a reduced workforce. There are some days where I work 10–12 hour shifts from cooking to public area cleaning to preparing for check-ins (P19)|
Meaningful work towards working in quarantine hotels
|Meaningful work||#||Examples of selected interview transcript|
|Feel good about oneself||28||I feel good about my work and adds meaning to my life. I look forward to coming to work everyday knowing that I am actually helping others (P10)|
|Purposeful satisfying||19||I used to see hospitality work as demeaning and often hide away from conversations about my job. Now, I see an important purpose in my job as a Front Office Receptionist. Room allocation and accommodating to guests’ special needs have never been so meaningful (P12)|
|Fulfilling||14||This job gives me fulfilment. Seeing guests leave the property without testing positive for COVID19 is a good satisfying feeling (P33)|
|Noble||5||I see it as a noble job. Just like a nurse attending to patients, I can relate my job as a chef to cooking healthy tasty meals for my quarantine guests to help their well-being and recover from all the stress (P5)|
|Hospitality passion||32||I have come to realise my love and passion for hospitality. It feels like my calling in life is to provide people with good service no matter what the situation (P32)|
|Beyond the call of duty||22||I think this job requires going above and beyond normal hotel work and helps you grow as a person and hotelier. This has been good experience to deal with further crisis (P2)|
|Inner superhero||15||Working in quarantine hotel reminds me of being a superhero saving the guest and public from the virus. To some extent, we are sacrificing our lives walking on landmines during our shifts (P27)|
|A safer world||41||I am only a single individual but I think my job helps to prevent the spread of virus and make the world a safer place again so that we can start travelling and get back to normal conditions (P35)|
|Customers as patients||26||I believe my work is making a difference to society. Quarantine guests are like patients in a five star hospital on a 14 day recovery program. We are in this together so my job is to provide the needed care for quarantine guests in a safe and luxury environment (P1)|
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About the authors
Dr Edmund Goh is Deputy Director, Markets and Services Research Centre, School of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. Edmund sees his research as the nexus to address education and industry gaps. He has published in leading journals such as Tourism Management, International Journal of Hospitality Management, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, Journal of Vacation Marketing, Journal of Tourism and Travel Marketing, Tourism Management Perspectives and Tourism Recreation Research.
Tom Baum is Professor in the Department of Work, Employment and Organisation in the Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and a specialist in the study of employment, education and training in the context of the international tourism and hospitality industry. He has over 35 years’ experience in vocational and higher education and specialises in workforce planning, curriculum development, programme design and assessment. Tom has published 10 books and over 175 scientific papers in the context of vocational education and training. He has supervised over 35 PhD students to completion and acted as External Examiner to over 50 doctorates in 6 countries. Tom has worked with a variety of international agencies in his area of specialisation, including the World Bank, the Asia Development Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, UNWTO, COMCEC and the EU.