Is working in human resources a dangerous job?

 | Fri 10 May 2013 09:26 ICT

Dozens of people have been questioned, but so far the investigation into the murder of Jintana Mahattanapak, director of Human Resources at the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, has not been able to answer the who or why of the killing.

Jintana Mahattanapak – photo Phuket News

Police have already interviewed colleagues from the Hilton and Anantara, the hotel where Mrs Jintana previously worked, and are waiting to see whether CCTV footage can be enhanced enough to give clues as to the identity of the gunman.

However, they seem fairly sure that the professional hit on the much-loved 43-year-old wife and mother of two children was related to her work.

The murder not only shocked the hospitality communities; it also shone light on one of the darker corners of the hotel industry: violence against managers.

Some who have experienced this firsthand have learned to keep their heads down. Others have quit hotels in fear. One reader of The Phuket News, asking not to be named, said, “I am from Phuket and I’ve live here long enough to hear about violence in the hotel industry.” 

She cited four previous cases she knew of:

– The head of housekeeping in one hotel found a employee asleep in one of the guest rooms. She issued a warning. Later, she was attacked by an assailant who gave her a severe beating with a piece of wood. The case was never reported to the police.

– The HR manager of a well-known Krabi hotel was on her way home on the hotel’s boat when she was beaten to death with a piece of wood. All the managers and staff were sworn to silence, with the result that police could not investigate the murder. The case dropped out of sight.

– The housekeeping manager of another hotel issued a warning to an errant subordinate, who was so furious that he arrived at work the next day with a gun. He fired at the manager, but missed, hitting and killing the manager’s assistant. The terrified manager resigned.

– At one of Phuket’s top resorts, a dispute between the head gardener and one of his subordinates ended with the subordinate shooting and killing the head gardener.

Sanit Chuchot, 51, has worked at the Banyan Tree Resort for 19 years. He knew Mrs Jintana, whom he describes as “a nice person”.

He stresses that Human Resources (HR) is not just about discipline. He explained, “We have to comply with the Labour Laws. If employees act incorrectly there are standard ways of handling this.” 

“But I have to take care of employees with kindness and understanding, not just by using my authority. 

“For example, if employees come to me about family problems, I am very pleased to advise and encourage them.”

The Chairman of the Human Resources Association of Phuket, Nares Srinark, has worked in the field for more than 30 years. The 61-year-old is now an HR consultant with the five-star Trisara resort. 

He believes Mrs Jintana’s death was not work-related because, he says, HR is a normal hotel function.

“Our job is taking care of people so that they all work together well, and solving problems that arise between different departments. 

“When someone is fired from a hotel, they usually get a job at another hotel. They may even get a better job. 

“Some hotels do not have psychological tests [for job candidates], but we have other ways to determine [candidates’] characters.

“Warning and firing employees is not the main function of HR [unless it is for a criminal act]. Kindness and caring is. We have to ensure everyone works together in harmony.”

Dr Napath Petwerachuwong, consultant psychologist at Phuket International Hospital told The Phuket News about the importance of psychological testing.

“Mrs Jintana’s murder and the others you mention might have been carried out by psychologically dangerous people. Or they might not.”

He offered advice to employers to avoid employee problems. 

“If an HR officer senses the possibility of violence by an employee they should approach the problem correctly and smoothly. 

“First, the HR officer has to understand about the person in question, to find out about their life, their upbringing and their family environment. This knowledge will suggest ways to tackle problems.

“It will also help the HR officer to read the employee’s attitude and understand whether they have temporary or long-term problems. 

“Second, if the employee has to be warned, it has to be done many times. 

“Third, do not punish or blame the employee in a way that makes it seem that this is a personal matter.

“Fourth, do not do this alone. Hold a meeting [with the department]. If the employee has done something wrong, the warning should be delivered at the meeting as a joint matter. 

“Money is important. If an employee is fired, he or she may not have enough money for their children, for their home, to pay off debts and so on. He or she may feel trapped and may unthinkingly do violence.

“Finally, my suggestion is that HR managers should be kind and thoughtful.”

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