A comment on my last post got me thinking. I haven’t been seeking to give a bad impression of chalet staff in this blog at all. Having been one myself I appreciate how hard the majority of them work and that the majority do a good job. I’ve just been hoping to give a completely honest appraisal of how things work in the industry and I stand by my assertion that chalet staff complaining about their pay is rarely justified. No-one goes on a season with a big tour op without knowing what their wages are going to be before they leave. No-one is under any obligation to stay if they don’t like the “appalling conditions” they’re “forced” to live in.
I hope that the cretin who compared seasonal accommodation with Wormwood Scrubs gets a chance to spend a few months there at Her Majesty’s Pleasure sometime. I think you’d quickly find out that prisons contain a lot more violence than seasons, without the option to leave if you don’t like it, and I haven’t heard of any prison which includes a lift pass and six days a week on the hill. I hope you are utterly ashamed of such an ill thought-out and deeply offensive comment.
I’ll deal with the tour operators (TOs) later, but now I’d like to place the focus on the people who are in charge on the ground. The Resort Managers (RMs). Just like with chalet staff, you aren’t going to get many people with loads of management experience looking to do seasons. The perks of being an RM (as I was for a couple of seasons) are slightly more money than your chalet staff, your own accommodation and a little bit of freedom to set your own working hours. In theory this could mean more ski time, but as anyone who has ever held the dreaded position knows, it doesn’t work like that. During my two seasons as an RM, I barely remember a single day going by without my phone ringing at least 30 times, including on my “day off”. With upwards of 30 staff, 120 guests, 10 chalets and three vehicles, the challenge of coordinating everything is a big task and quite often the people charged with undertaking it are inexperienced. It would be a tough job for an experienced management professional, but your typical RM will be 22-27 and have maybe 2 seasons under their belt. Incredibly some TOs still employ people with zero seasonal experience as RMs. Even for someone who’s done two or three seasons and understands how everything works, the job can be a nightmare, imagine what it’s like for someone who knows nothing about it.
In a lot of cases the RM is seen by the their staff as a bit of a bogeyman/woman, a figure that everyone loves to hate but most of the time the RM is just so snowed under with the constant issues, chalet problems, guest complaints etc… that he or she simply doesn’t have the time nor the inclination to be everyone’s mate and keep everyone happy at the same time as getting everything sorted. Everyone has a story about an RM they worked under who for whatever reason wasn’t their cup of tea but, before you share yours here, please think about it for a while. Was the person you’re thinking about really that appalling, or was it just possible that they were harassed to near breaking-point and really had better things to worry about than your faulty dishwasher?
So I thought carefully before selecting a story about a shabby RM. I was one once in Courchevel, and whilst I’m sure plenty of my staff over those two seasons enjoyed getting things off their chest and giving me a right good going over in the pub when I wasn’t there, I hope that when they reflect on their time they would see the bigger picture and go a little easy on me.
My very first season in Les Arcs included an RM in the “older, experienced manager, no seasonal background” mould. For the purposes of this story she’ll be called Jo. Jo had no idea how things were meant to work on seasons and whilst delegation is key to being a succesful RM, her idea of delegation was to get her management team (Reps, Chalet Manager, Child Care Manager) to do everything. She could normally be found writing her weekly report/doing her accounts in the office when not skiing, never visited any guests, rarely spoke to or even physically saw “regular” staff and gave the general impression that anything other than her weekly report and accounts was a real nuisance and interfered with her ski time. Her Chalet Manager was made to work 18 hours a day, 6 days a week dealing with a huge team of staff and loads of suppliers, a constant logistical nightmare, without any contribution from Jo. Her main occupation was to sit at her desk and scold him for every tiny problem without offering any soloution or assistance. She treated the remainder of her management team in a similar fashion and things came to head for me one transfer day. Jo was also one of those RMs who thought that it was fair for everyone except her to get up at 4am on transfer day. She’d generally appear around 8am, after the guests had all left and start criticising. On this particular day I had been to Geneva and back, sold countless ski packs and was still taking orders from some late arrivals around midnight. The other reps and I retired to the office to go through our orders and get everything prepared for the next morning. Still trying to do our sums at about 1am, utterly exhausted, one of us queried Jo’s whereabouts. “She went to bed at around 9.30pm” was the response. So whilst we had been up for 20-odd hours, and before the last guests had even arrived in resort, she had slunk off to her bed. Through sheer frustration and anger, I scrawled “JO = CUNT” across my pad before retiring to bed. The next morning at the lift pass office she appeared at around 8 again, just as I was distributing passes to various clients and asked to borrow my notepad to write something down. I thought nothing of it but about half an hour later, after she had disappeared again, I picked up the pad and recoiled in horror at what I saw. Below my little tribute to her was a note in her handwriting warning me not to use company stationery for the expression of personal grievances. I tried over the next few days to approach her and apologise for my outburst. Oddly enough, every time I tried to speak to her alone over the following fortnight about the issue, she found a convenient excuse to dash off, phone someone or simply ignored my request. Eventually I gave up and not long after that, in the middle of the week we got a call from our Area Manager telling us that Jo had decided it wasn’t for her and had packed her bags and gone home.
I’m not sure I really have a conclusion to this post, other than to invite a few more stories about dodgy management and how you might have dealt with it. If you have experience of being in a managerial post then we’d all like to hear about that too. I’d also love to hear some people come on here with good things to say about the people who they worked under when overseas. There are just as many excellent RMs around as there are bad ones, it’s just that the bad ones make far more entertaining reading!