Michael DiStaso, M.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Wheeler H. Nakahara, M.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Angela Le, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Ignacio Azcarate, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Cynthia Mejia, Ph.D. Hospitality Administration, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida Mindy K. Shoss, Ph.D., Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Steve M. Jex, Ph.D., Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida

This study examined laid-off and furloughed hospitality workers’ worries about COVID-19-instigated workplace changes. Our investigation was grounded in NIOSH’s Total Worker Health (TWH) framework and examined concerns about returning to work related to the following: (1) COVID-19 exposure, (2) chemical/biological exposure, (3) organizational constraints, (4) workplace mistreatment, (5) workload intensification, (6) COVID-19 safety policies, (7) sick leave policies, and (8) work scheduling policies.

We tested the following research question: how do hospitality employees’ worries about potential negative organizational changes relate to the eight aforementioned THW domains, and which of these areas are most impactful in shaping people’s return-to-work threat appraisal?

Many workers in the hospitality industry are returning to work after being displaced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (O’Connel, 2021). While workers were laid off or furloughed, hospitality workplaces have changed considerably. The nature of the way work is carried out has changed alongside the implementation of new COVID-19 policies and safety measures.

This study examined laid-off and furloughed hospitality workers’ worries about changes in the various aforementioned domains (e.g., worry about enforcing COVID-19 safety policies, worry about COVID-19 exposure, etc.). Research on organizational change has found that threat appraisals (Tuckey et al., 2015; Horan et al., 2020) can be leveraged to understand workers’ reactions to workplace changes (Fugate et al., 2012; Rafferty & Restubog, 2017). Based on cognitive appraisal theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), individuals’ worries elicit threat appraisals because employees anticipate future harm that will accompany change. We extended this theory by proposing that returning to work may be appraised as a threat if workers are worried about workplace changes that impacted their job. We explored several domains of worry and tested which domains best predicted hospitality workers? return-to-work threat appraisal.

Participants who were laid off or furloughed from hospitality work between March 2021 and May 2021 were recruited from Prolific.com, a third-party data collection platform. 211 participants completed a survey containing measures related to worry about changes upon returning to work in the aforementioned TWH domains. An example item from the workload intensification domain was: “I am concerned about my workload being too high.” A list of our measures is provided in Table 1.

Descriptive statistics and correlations among study variables are in Table 2. Stepwise regression analysis with forward selection was used to identify the worries from each domain that predicted return-to-work threat appraisal. The analysis revealed that worry in two domains were positively associated with return-to-work threat appraisal: (a) worry about guest/customer mistreatment (b = 0.23, p < .001) and (b) worry about workload intensification (b = 0.26, p < .001). After accounting for these two domains of worry, no other predictors were statistically significant (and therefore, not added to the model). This two-step model was statistically significant (R2 = .22, p < .001). In other words, when controlling for workers’ concern related to all other domains, only worry about guest/customer mistreatment and worry about workload intensification predicted threat appraisal. Detailed regression results are in Table 3.

A key strength of our study was our focus on multiple domains of worry. This strategy resulted in a parsimonious way to investigate the impact of hospitality workers’ worries related to TWH priority areas on their threat appraisal of returning to work. As such, we can provide practical recommendations to hospitality organizations to help manage change as their employees return to work. We suggest that hospitality managers reach out to returning workers to initiate conversations about guest mistreatment and workload intensification. Purposeful and considerate re-orientation for hospitality employees should be planned and executed with a focus on guests’ behaviors that could be designed around mock scenarios. Hospitality managers should be transparent in these re-orientations by acknowledging potential workload intensification and devise a plan for workload attenuation with their employees.

A limitation of this study concerns the breadth of worries that we could capture. Our approach leveraged the TWH framework to develop aspects of work that were affected by COVID-19 and that workers may have worried about. It is possible that we failed to capture some aspects of workplace changes that workers were concerned about. Moreover, some of the domains investigated in the present study may be irrelevant to some industries (e.g., guest mistreatment). Thus, these results may not generalize to work in industries that have different work demands, potentially outside of the services industries.

The present study found that many hospitality workers saw the prospect of returning to work as threatening. Specific domains of worry predicted return-to-work threat appraisal, and two domains best predicted threat appraisal: (1) worry about guest mistreatment and (2) worry about workload intensification. Future studies may build on this work by investigating ways that organizations can ease workers’ worries related to interpersonal mistreatment and workload intensification.

Tags: Applied research, Comprehensive Approaches to Healthy Work Design and Well-Being, COVID-19, Empirical study, Job Attitudes; Turnover; and Retention, Services, Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress, Total Worker Health, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery