February 10, 2021

Stay or Leave? Internship Stress and Coping Strategies in the Hotel Industry

Blog Research>MS Program
Written by Shan Shan Chien — Contributor

The hospitality industry has been regarded as the most challenging and stressful working environment compared to any other industry sector. As a former waitress in the banquet hall of a five-star hotel and a Michelin starred restaurant, I deeply understand the required components of multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment, while maintaining service quality simultaneously.

Even though almost every new graduate from a hospitality-related program is highly encouraged to participate in an internship program before entering the workforce, the burden of stress can sometimes twist the interns’ intention to enter the hospitality industry. Indeed, working as an intern in the front-line is not much different from working as a full-time staffer in the hospitality industry. They share a similar workload and responsibility; that is, fulfilling the demands from both customers and supervisors.

As the interns' work intention is a critical part of sustaining sufficient new entrants to the industry while supporting the students' job satisfaction, I have always been interested in internship stress and coping strategy. Therefore, I have conducted a mini-research project on the causes of stress, and the coping behaviors of interns who work in the hotel industry.

This research includes 23 bachelor students majoring in hospitality management and have just completed a six-month internship program. An interview was carried out after informing the interviewees of the purpose of the study and their rights, along with receiving participants’ consent.

After the interview, the factors that cause work-related stress of a student intern include:

  • Workload — 26.7 percent

  • Task Characteristics — 16.1 percent

  • Management and Operational Structure — 14.8 percent

  • Capability of the Intern — 14.0 percent

  • Leadership Style — 12.7 percent

  • Relationship and Communication — 10.2 percent

Among the identified causes of stress, more than 25 percent of the interns stated that the intensive workload is the main reason for being stressed out. As one of the students mentioned, "Our property is always lacking enough employees because the turnover rate is very high. This means that we need to work extra hours to provide an adequate labor force to serve the guests. Sometimes we are required to work even during the day off.” That is, a high turnover rate can result in a heavy workload. This may impact the hotel's overall service quality and have a negative influence on the student interns.

Other factors regarded as the source of stress, from the intern's perspective, include: the complexity of service encounter (task characteristics), scheduling shifts (management and operational structure), service failure (interns’ capability) , the authoritarian leadership style of the supervisor (leadership style), and the inefficient communication within the team (relationship and communication).

However, there are quite a few students who also shared with me how they handle stress at work and become rejuvenated when getting back to work. These strategies include:

  • Avoidance Strategy — 38.0 percent

  • Internalizing Strategy — 27.0 percent

  • Externalizing Strategy — 16.0 percent

  • Direct Action Strategy — 13.0 percent

In fact, many of the interns indicated use of avoidance strategy to cope with stress by avoiding anything related to hotels or work, in order to recharge themselves. For example, one of the interns states: "When I have a day off from work, I will definitely go to somewhere that has nothing to do with hotels in order to truly leave the responsibility at work behind. I cannot get back to work without having this kind of escape time."

Another interesting technique is that interns often share their work experience with one another. When realizing that other interns have more difficult and challenging situations, they will perceive a sense of relief (internalizing strategy). Moreover, most interns agree that receiving compliments from supervisors, colleagues and customers is beneficial when reducing stress (externalizing strategy).

Finally, the participants who choose to handle stress with direct action strategy tend to be more proactive and positive minded. They will undergo self-reflection and come up with different ways to improve their work capacity so that they have enough ability to resist pressure.

Interns are like rough stones that have not been carefully polished. When they get proper training and adequate experience, they are absolutely helpful to the hotel's operation and service. When the interns are over-stressed, hotels and schools should provide appropriate support — for example, arranging outdoor activities (avoidance strategy) or workshop (internalizing strategy) to reduce the interns' pressure. Furthermore, supervisors and the associates should work together to deliver compliments and encouragement more often to the interns (externalizing strategy) while allocating sufficient on-the-job training (direct action strategy). Enabling the interns to become more familiarized at work and improve their work capability can also empower them to have a sense of dignity and become more committed to the hotel industry.

This blog post placed second in a graduate student blog competition presented by the HFTP Foundation in Fall 2020. Participants are students earning their HFTP-UH Global Masters Certificate, a program with candidates of the Master of Science in Global Hospitality Business. This program is a partnership between the CN Hilton College at the University of Houston, the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and EHL. The three blog posts that received the top scores will be published on HFTP Connect through March 2021.

The first place blog post is also available to read on HFTP Connect here.

Shan Shan Chien is a master’s student from Taiwan pursuing the Master of Science in Global Hospitality Business program, which is in partnership of three schools: EHL, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and University of Houston.

2021 CN Hilton College competition coping strategies EHL Global Masters Certificate HFTP Hong Kong Polytechnic University hospitality hotel innovation internship second place stress student University of Houston writing