Hospitality industry puts strain on couples
With shifts around the clock, marriages and relationships can suffer
A concierge at The Elysian Hotel in Chicago on Friday, January, 13, 2012. Most of us have checked into hotels giving little thought to the lives of those who register us or make sure our stay is pleasant. But work in hotels can be demanding, hectic and rough on married life. (Zbigniew Bzdak/ Chicago Tribune)
Over at The Shelborne South Beach, Jared Galbut is meeting with his department heads and walking through the properties to talk with guests. As the managing principal of Menin Hotels, Galbut oversees daily operations of five hotels and four restaurants in Miami Beach and Chicago.
Stacey Galbut, his wife, works as style director for Menin Hotels, designing employee uniforms and running the Shelborne's Guy and Girl boutique.
The Galbuts have been married almost a year and are still working out the kinks of a complicated home and work relationship in a seasonal business that requires long work hours and staying power. They call their quest for work-life balance "a work in progress."
"We've been trying to draw the line between work and home for the last couple of months saying we are not going to bring work home," Jared Galbut said.
"I'll think it's working because we will sit at dinner in silence. But one glass of wine and it just starts pouring out."
Nationally, the hotel and resort industry consists of about 40,000 companies that employ about 2 million people. Most of us have checked into hotels giving little thought to the lives of those who register us or make sure our stay is pleasant. But work in hotels can be demanding, hectic and rough on married life.
Because hotels are open around the clock, employees often work varying shifts and managers routinely work longer hours than scheduled, especially during peak travel times or when multiple events are scheduled. Even more, most hoteliers are called in to work on short notice in the event of an emergency or to cover a position. Regardless of any disruption to their personal lives, hotel managers and workers must be ready to provide guests with gracious customer service at any hour.
Recently, I listened in as four couples employed in the industry talked freely about their work-life challenges at a panel discussion on Couples in Hospitality hosted by The Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
I heard something from these couples that rings true in many occupations: It's a lot easier to support a partner's work demands when you are in the same industry and understand the pressures.
As general manager of Miami's Betsy Hotel, Jeff Lehman often feels he lives at work — late nights, back-to-back weekend events. "It's kind of a ridiculous schedule," he said. "I can't imagine having a partner who didn't get it."
Fortunately, Lehman's longtime partner, Pedro Cruz, does get it. A former hotel manager, he now owns Roots and Roots Flower & Plants, a vendor to hotels that takes clients' calls at all hours.
"If I get a call and have to cancel plans, he understands and supports that," Lehman said of Cruz.
The discussion made me reflect on my own situation. My husband and I talk about having a business together some day, something fun that will take us through our retirement years. But in the back of my mind, I wonder if my 25-year marriage could survive so much togetherness. Would working together, even working in the same industry, lead to arguments and totally ruin any semblance of work-life balance?
The Galbuts not only work at the same hotel; they earn their living in a family business started by Jared's uncle, Russell Galbut. Even more, Jared is Stacey's boss. "You have to have a lot of confidence when your husband is your boss," Stacey said. She's gone through a transition — slowly using her married name, trying to establish her own credibility and learning when to hold back on work talk. Already, she's seen the pitfalls: "We do bring our work home with us. And, at times, what would be a small issue blows up to be a huge issue."
But with Jared's grueling schedule, the two say the big advantage to their work arrangement is seeing each other during the work day. "I always have a lunch partner," Jared said. "He's always teaching me things," Stacey added.
Working in the same industry, couples often find it tempting to give unwanted advice.
"Pedro has his own opinion how things should be done," Lehman said. "But I don't take it personally."
Lehman said as a hotel manager, everyone from customers to staff want to tell him how to run the hotel. "By time I get home, if I don't want to hear another opinion about something, I don't bring it up."
And then there's the tricky area of work secrets. Annie Borges tackles this daily. Borges works as director of HR at Miami's Clevelander and Essex House hotels; her husband is director of engineering at the Shore Club.
"We do talk about work when we come home. That's a natural course of conversation at end of day," Borges said. But because Borges is privy to personnel information, she uses caution with her husband: "Sometimes it's on a need-to-know basis. I would never want to put him in a position of compromise."
For hoteliers, work is a passion. Most say they practically live at their hotels and disconnecting can be a monumental challenge. "Striving to get to that place where we disconnect is important to us," Lehman said.
Borges and Vaskrsich have a 5-year-old son and try to focus on him on weeknights. But on weekends, the two are rigid about "date night."
"Our work dictates what we have to do, and when you're passionate about it, you just do it," Borges said. "But as a couple we feel it's important to go out and have dinner and not be interrupted."
Aimet and Josh Oberhausen own a Miami Beach public relations and marketing firm that specializes in hospitality clients. They've developed a hand signal to let the other know it's time to disconnect. "I'm a Type A, so if I start talking about something work-related at home, I get the hand, which is the signal to table it until tomorrow," Josh Oberhausen said.
Over the years, I've met couples who have made "house rules" to put some balance into their lives. But these couples say it's impossible in their business, where elevators or plumbing or guest emergencies happen at all hours. "Countless times we've tried. Countless times we've failed," Lehman said. Yet, he said, despite the demands of the business, his partner fills the No. 1 emotional need for a hotelier — support.
(Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.)
Copyright 2012 The Miami Herald; distributed by MCT Information Services