The age-old adage in hospitality, "the customer is always right" is so ingrained a message that it often leads us professionals to believe that saying "no" is not just a failure to provide exceptional service, but moreover, a rejection of a core belief within of our working culture. However, it's crucial to understand that saying "no" is not a sign of weakness, it's an expression of healthy, self-protective boundaries that empower us with agency and authenticity, essential for our long-term health, performance and sustainability.
The hospitality industry, by its very nature, demands a high level of customer-centred service, adaptability, and often, a readiness to go above and beyond. While these qualities are commendable and essential, they can sometimes blur the lines between accommodating others and neglecting our own well-being. The adage is so deeply ingrained in the culture of service that often it gets extended to interactions with leadership and beyond into the realms of everyday life.
In coaching, I uncover this time and time again as professionals uncover their truth in a safe space. Employees struggle to establish healthy boundaries with their managers for fear of implied repercussions whilst not recognising the pressure cooker consequences of always saying yes to their ability to perform at their best.
Saying "no" can actually be a powerful tool in expressing self-protective anger. It's one direct way of setting boundaries, respecting our limits, and ultimately, preventing burnout. When we're constantly pushed to suppress our ability to say "no" because the environment demands, unwavering positivity and compliance, we're not just compromising our mental health; we're risking chronic illness.
Chronic stress, resulting from the perpetual need to accommodate others at the expense of our well-being, can lead to a myriad of health issues, both mental and physical. It's essential, then, for the hospitality industry to foster an environment where employees can express their needs and set healthy boundaries without fear of retribution. Starting with a culture of trust and an employee-first mentality.
Let's start a conversation about the importance of employees setting healthy boundaries in hospitality and that being understood as an opportunity for better outcomes for everyone. We are, of course, not going to suddenly start saying no to our guests mid-service but we can and should be able to safely express that, all too often, the behaviour of the general public or our peers isn’t right and we don’t have to just swallow that for some archaic belief system. By recognising and respecting our own limits, we can provide better service, not just to our guests, but to ourselves in order to sustain and improve upon the essential work we do for others.