Challenge of providing good service while social distancing

Social distancing can be difficult in service settings.

If you’re dining out this Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for the people putting your food on the table.

Hospitality has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, and new research from the University of South Australia shows that even with an end to lockdowns, social distancing requirements are adding to the stress and difficulty faced by many people working in service roles.

The new study, published in The Journal of Service Theory and Practice, shows the challenges of adhering to social distancing requirements – and concerns about potential consequences of not doing so – are taking a heavy mental toll on many hospitality workers, eroding job satisfaction and increasing intention to leave the industry.

Lead author, Dr Frank Huo, from UniSA’s Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX), says many hospitality workers face great difficulty in balancing “COVID-safe” with “good service”, leading to disillusionment and dissatisfaction with their roles.

“The high physical-proximity nature of service industry jobs makes it difficult to practice social distancing at work, which jeopardises employees’ work engagement and career-related attitudes,” Dr Huo says.

“Work engagement – including taking pride and pleasure in your job and seeing future career prospects in the role – is a key factor in employee wellbeing, so situations that reduce work engagement can lead to negative vocational experiences, including career regret and turnover intention.”

While recognising the importance of social distancing measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19, Dr Huo says there is a need for greater understanding of their impact on service employees, and greater recognition of the ways in which employers and customers can help reduce that impact.

“In order to maintain service employees’ engagement and their positive career attitudes, managers may endeavour to reduce work demands incurred by social distancing difficulties,” Dr Huo says.

“Example strategies include limiting the number of patrons, implementing contactless payment and delivery systems, and providing employees with personal protective equipment.

“Furthermore, it is helpful to encourage customers’ co-production behaviours in service delivery so that they can help restaurant workers to practice social distancing during service.

“Emphasising the necessity and benefits of social distancing rules helps enhance employees’ acceptance of regulations, thereby reducing their perceived threat of social distancing difficulty.”

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