by Andrew Hazelton and Matt Peterson
Hotel organizations in today’s global marketplace compete heavily, not just among one another but also with other service-focused verticals and customer-facing businesses, in attracting and retaining top talent. Robust compensation and benefits packages certainly help meet candidates’ conditions of satisfaction, but these are not enough anymore for retention in the absence of one specific benefit – namely, a company culture devoted to “employee engagement.”
Defining Employee Engagement Employee engagement is a very old premise, but it has become an increasingly hot topic for our industry over the last decade. The concept is less about being “warm and fuzzy” to employees and more about aligning in a thoughtful way an organization’s people practices and business practices. This means paying attention to a company’s internal “brand personality” via a leadership culture and core value set that demonstrate support and empathy for its primary brand ambassadors.
Engagement ultimately boils down to emotional connections between organizations and their employees, i.e., a marked sense of vested interest in their personal and professional success. This, in turn, generates positive influences on employee behaviour, drive and work ethic.
Of course, this is simple in principle but less straightforward in practice. Achieving and sustaining an engaged workforce requires the hotel industry to treat its people fundamentally as their number one customer. Success or failure in this goal can entail long-term survival of a given business, since a disengaged workforce corresponds to multiple financial repercussions, including lack of productivity and the cost of an unwanted employee turnover.
The Power of Engaged Employees Many studies show that higher levels of employee engagement deliver a competitive edge to organizations. To be sure, engaged employees exhibit greater loyalty and motivation due to their own great brand experience. Such employees actively deliver on external brand promises and thereby drive stronger guest satisfaction or net promoter scores. The bottom line is that there is a persuasive business case for treating employees as your top customers. In hotel terms, think of it this way: “employee engagement = guest satisfaction,” which translates to higher occupancy plus greater spend plus greater ADR and a more successful business over the long term.
Building an ‘Engaged’ Culture Employee engagement must be an integral part of an organization’s culture for it to be authentic and sustainable. Owners and leaders must commit to a meaningful, accountable and measurable employee engagement plan, which should include a platform or system that promotes two-way communications up-and-down the organizational chart, as well as targeted investments in ongoing training and development programs for employees. Again, the goal is to earmark employees as your number one customer, so this complex, integrated process should be implemented and managed with the same care and attention to detail as any other major branding initiative. Over time, it can revolutionize an organization’s daily practices.
Consider these key components to help evolve your company culture and workforce from being “disengaged” to “engaged”:
- Passionately Adopt a ‘Your Employee Is Your #1 Customer’ Philosophy. The DNA of any great hotel organization is the people who have direct interaction with guests and other critical stakeholders. You need to establish a culture and expectations whereby leadership constantly contemplates how to improve its service to the #1 customer. Professional success and fulfilment of employees equate to business success and growth.
- Strengthen Working Relationships between Managers and Employees. The trust and working rapport that leaders have with their direct reports is critical, but the top-down engagement shown to employees must be genuine. This requires more frequent conversations or interactions with employees to proactively discuss their needs or priorities. At end of day, employees are more likely to go the extra mile for a company or a supervisor they trust, respect and believe in. This extra mile could be in the form of a guest experience, in supporting or training a co-worker, or simply NOT leaving your company for another. Position your employees for success outside your company, but ensure they never want to leave because they feel respected and valued as more than just an “employee.”
- Establish a cultural of collaborating and innovative thinking. The relationship an employee has with their peers is a close second to the relationship they have with their direct reports. Therefore, it’s important to foster an environment in which ideas and thoughts are shared and company goals are tackled in a team-oriented fashion. This directly leads into your employee’s voice.
- Listening to the Employee Voice. Leadership should always strive for more innovative ways to give their teams a voice. Traditional training programs and sessions often involve large departments with many employees, so you might consider instead augmenting this with more intimate focus groups that can drill down on needs, priorities or strategic issues of the organization. Treating employees as “owners” of the business empowers them to share their insights and feedback, which fosters increased engagement and role satisfaction.
- Overcommunicate. Employees at all companies want to know about the latest strategic initiatives, even if they don’t impact them immediately or directly. In fact, routinely sharing an appropriate level of detail about the company’s plans and achievements fosters a positive culture and expectation of candour and transparency – variables that collectively help to connect and ground employees to an organization.
These five talking points merely offer a quick snapshot, and each could elaborate on sub-point upon sub-point. It’s important to keep in mind that no one can give you directions to the finish line, if you don’t know where you are on the racetrack. Informal manager walk-arounds and 1:1s combined with more formal employee surveys and Q&A sessions are among the best and most productive tactics to extrapolate key data from your employees to get everyone aligned and moving in the right direction faster and with more purpose. Make no mistake, purpose is a make-or-break benefit that employees look for, stay for, or leave for.