Heard a story today – wonder what you all think about it. Holland America is instituting a new procedure with their cabin stewards which is beginning to roll out across the fleet this month. In the case of the Statendam, it will start on the 25th – the Volendam will have it beginning on the 26th.
This new set-up has the cabin stewards organized into teams -- one cabin steward and one lead steward. Between them they will have about 30 cabins to service on a twice daily basis. Some of the cabin stewards are not too happy about this because they think it may denigrate the level of service they are able to give to their passengers. And, that – in turn – could result in lesser tips and thus less money in their pockets at the end of the month.
Off the cuff, it would appear to me that it shouldn’t make much of a difference in service levels – you have two people doing those 30 cabins, whereas now you have one doing as many as 15. But then, what do I know?
From what I’ve been told by people in the know, a lot of large hotels work on this sort of a system, with teams handling the cleaning of rooms. “It’s the standard in the industry,” responded Cate O’Keefe, Housekeeping Manager on the Statendam. “The workloads the stewards have remain the same under the new system, it’s just that now more training can take place.”
Cate told me that sadly some cabin stewards are very shy by nature, and occasionally this innate shyness results in them not interacting with passengers as much as they should. Especially for those on their first contracts, oftentimes they are not real sure of their English and they tend to avert their eyes when passing guests in the hallways, rather than making eye contact and greeting them. They don’t intend to be rude, but sometimes it appears that way.
Under the new system, Cate said, the cabin stewards will be paired up into teams, with one person designated as the lead. New or lesser experienced stewards will be paired with a more skilled one with the idea being lots of on the job training and mentoring taking place. “In many cases,” Cate stated, “it was a close call as to who would be the lead and who the cabin steward. But in others, a relatively inexperienced steward, perhaps one on their first contract, will be paired with someone with years of experience.”
I asked Cate if the leads would simply be delegating most of the “scut” work to the lesser experienced stewards, resulting in the double the work for the less senior member of the team. “Not at all,” Cate was quick to assure me. “Under this new system, it will actually work out that cabins will get serviced much quicker. The team will service about 30 cabins. They will start with the beds. Working together they will make beds, sometimes stripping the linens and rotating the mattresses. This is very heavy work that cabin stewards must accomplish on their own now. With two, it will go much faster, in addition to being a lot easier on their backs.
“Next the stewards will split up. One will take the bathroom while the other will handle the living area and balcony. This streamlining of tasks will result in staterooms getting cleaned faster, as well as cutting down on ‘cross-contamination.’”
“Yep. When one steward cleans both the bathroom and the living area, you could have germs spread into the living areas from the bathroom, which would more likely be the source of most of the germs onboard anyway. Having any potential for cross-contamination naturally increases the risk of Noro virus being spread onboard.”
Cate told me that the last time the Statendam had a “code red” situation (major incidence of Noro virus) was before she took over as head of the housekeeping department. “I am really big on hand washing and sanitizing. I’m the one that put the Purell dispensers all over the ship. In fact, you can’t get past them no matter where you go. You’ll find them at elevator lobbies, at the entrance to all eating venues, at the gangway, and in just about all public areas around the ship. My people are instructed to politely remind passengers to use them before entering public areas, such as the Lido. And for those who say Purell does nothing to kill the Noro Virus, they need to think again. Purell has a new product, which is what we use exclusively onboard now, that is specifically concentrated to kill the germs that cause Noro Virus. All we need is for passengers to use them, and we are having great success with that as evidenced by the fact that we haven’t even gone to Code Yellow in a number of years.”
As for how this new system will affect the compensation earned by the cabin stewards, Cate was quick to point out that it will only benefit them. “Naturally the lead stewards will get more in the way of salary to compensate them for taking the time to train and mentor lesser experienced stewards. However, even the regular cabin stewards will see a monthly raise as a result of this new team approach.”
Cate told me that she held a meeting a few days ago with the housekeeping staff onboard the Statendam. “At that meeting I gave them all a hand-out that carefully describes the new system. I asked them to spend a couple of days reading it and discussing it among themselves. Grumble, groan and come up with all your arguments and questions, I told them. Then, in a couple of more days, we’ll hold some more meetings where we invite them to air those questions and concerns. Frankly, I’m willing to bet that most of them will agree that this new system is a win-win situation for all.”
Cate was frankly surprised that anyone would think the system could hurt them or the guests they serve. “I think that may have been an ‘off the cuff’ reaction by either staff or guests who don’t have all the facts yet, or haven’t had a chance to digest them,” she added. She is confident this new system will promote a sense of teamwork among her staff, as well as reduce the amount of time it will take for them to complete their daily tasks.
“As you can imagine, it takes a substantial amount of time to service each stateroom twice a day, especially in some of the larger suites. It is hoped that this new approach will actually streamline the work, while improving the quality of the cabin service our guests experience.”
Of course, it’s hard for me to judge if this new approach will really work, though based on historical performance, I would tend to think it’s goal is to, if anything, increase the amount of income these hardworking folks can earn, by increasing the level of guest satisfaction. For example, many cruise message board posters have long criticized the auto-tip program – from the day it was first implemented. I, on the other hand, have often been the lone voice saying that it probably actually had a major impact on ensuring that these hardworking crew members received a fair wage. Let’s face it -- there are loads of very cheap people out there who would have no hesitation about “stiffing” their hard working cabin steward or waiters. The auto-tip makes it a bit more uncomfortable for them to do that, and thus probably discourages the practice. Cate agreed with this summary, though she did admit that there are still some guests, especially on longer cruises, who reduce their auto-tips – believing them to be entirely too high an amount. $10 per day too high? For the service we are getting?
Hopefully this new system will allow the cabin stewards the luxury of more time to give an even greater level of attentive service to their guests. This can only benefit them financially, while making us – the passengers – even more spoiled while onboard ship.
But getting back to my original question: What do you think? CruiseMates would really like to know.