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The Caterer HR Forum: employee engagement, insight and tips

Written by:
The Caterer HR Forum: employee engagement, insight and tips
Written by:

The Caterer’s second HR Forum, at the Lanesborough hotel in London on 26 April, was a fast-paced, half-day conference focusing on the subject of employee engagement, and packed with insights and tips from the experts. Tom Vaughan joined the audience


This year’s HR Forum, which celebrated our Top 30 Best Places to Work in Hospitality, run in partnership with Purple Cubed, centred around celebrating hospitality’s most important assets – its employees. It is a subject close to the heart of keynote speaker Claire Fox, global HR director of Save the Children, who opened with the provocative Mahatma Gandhi quote: “Be the change you want to see”. Fox explained why: “It is a quote that resonates with me. I feel it is so deeply relevant to all areas of my life.”


Her book, Work/Life Symbiosis: The Model for Happiness and Balance, explores the importance and influence of a healthy attitude to work, and this was the issue she wanted to press to the audience. “We are in a culture where people think it is normal to work long hours. Often, they mistake ‘long’ for ‘hard’ – you can work for 12 hours and not get a lot done.”



Claire Fox (centre) of Save the Children


How you approach your working life not only has a huge impact on your personal life, but also on your output, she explained: “Your work should make the rest of your life better and your personal life should make your work better. When you get good energy from work, you can feed that into your personal life, and that in turn will feed back into your work life. It is the start of a positive cycle.”


How does this affect hospitality employers? That, of course, is what the Forum is all about, but for Fox, the answer is to offer your workforce something they want to buy into – something that incentivises them: “How clear is it within your organisation what you stand for? How clear is it to people on the outside? And how clear is it in recruitment?”


Engagement starts at the top, and Gandhi’s quote epitomises this, said Fox: “If a leader looks stressed and never has the time to talk, they are never going to have an engaged workforce. As leaders, you should all think about the kind of work place you want to be in, and then go and be the change you want to see.”




Hospitality Action’s EAP


Engagement goes hand in hand with happiness. And countless people in the hospitality industry have to struggle with their own personal demons, day in, day out. Camilla Woods, Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) manager at Hospitality Action, was next on the podium with a presentation about the charity’s employee support network, which launched in 2015. It now offers 90,000 employees across 90 companies both financial and emotional support for issues ranging from drink and drug addiction to bereavement and bullying.


For subscribing companies, Hospitality Action EAP support includes a managerial advice line, a whistleblowing line, emergency critical incident debrief and rehabilitation. A domestic violence case study stood out among the examples Woods presented. After the incident was reported, Hospitality Action helped the victim with emotional and financial support, paying the deposit for a new flat so she could move out. Another testimony helped sum up the importance of the work: “The call I made changed and saved my life.”


Alison Gilbert, group HR director at CH&Co Group, joined Woods on stage to testify to the EAP’s effectiveness. “We had employee assistance programmes before,” she said. “They reached some workers but not others. We found there were barriers: different roles, different ages, different nationalities. But HA knows the industry – it knows about chefs and their drink problems, for example. We decided to jump on board and, without a doubt, it was the most cost-effective solution.”


Since joining the EAP 18 months ago, Gilbert says it has helped 60 out of 2,500 employees. “It gives us that peace of mind that we are helping employees in another way.”



Refurbishing an employee brand


Project 1898 is a new brand of urban, lifestyle hotels created by Starwood Capital Group. It includes properties acquired from the Principal Hayley Group, De Vere Venues properties and the Town House Collection. The group’s launch date is now imminent, and follows a full refurbishment across all its new properties. Chief operating officer David Taylor and people development director Sean Wheeler shared the secrets of refurbishing not just a portfolio of properties, but a whole employee brand.



David Taylor and Sean Wheeler


Sean Wheeler (SW): The process has been an evolution. We haven’t closed any of our hotels during their refurbishment – it’s been a bit like rewiring a house while still keeping the lights on. With staff, our job has been to respect the past of all these hotels, but to also engage them and take them on a journey. How to communicate that journey? That was the key.


David Taylor (DT): It is a lot harder than somewhere like Malmaison or Hotel du Vin that has a formula in place. If we don’t get that people proposition ready and in place, it will just be a pretty refurb.


SW: It is about creating a framework and a freedom. We don’t want it to be cookie cutter. We want each hotel to have its own personality. We decided on five core values: distinctive, intuitive, warm, generous and local at heart. Then we made Change Gurus in each hotel – people who we felt were already living our values without realising it. It might have been Fred the waiter, or Mary the housekeeper. We invited them all to a training day at the monkey enclosure in London Zoo and gave them the framework to share their stories – on Whatsapp groups and on story boards in their properties. That story might be spotting a birthday card in a room and ringing down to get two glasses of Champagne – we want to empower them to make those decisions. If the decision has to go up the chain to me or to a GM, it’s too late and it’s already cost too much money.


DT: Some of those Change Gurus were the people who management said: ‘You’ll have a problem with them’. It quickly identified to us that in those cases, it was management that was the problem!


SW: We want staff that live our values – we can show them the rest.



People pulse


Jo Harley, managing director of Purple Cubed, explored the results from The Caterer’s Best Places to Work survey.



Jo Harley


What makes a great place to work, in order of importance? (2014 results in brackets)


1. Team respect (1). “Patti McCord at Netflix says that ‘Excellent colleagues trump everything else,’” said Harley. “What can we do to help that?” Organisations should look towards collaborative hiring, such as that used by Pret and Itsu.


2. Produce results (2)


3. Work/life balance (3)


4. Positive working environment (6)


5. Good communication (4)


6. Paid on time (-)



Other findings



  • 58% of people in hospitality aren’t happy all of the time, which is slightly lower than the Investors in People statistic that 65% of people are unhappy in their current role
  • 45% of people wouldn’t recommend their organisation as a place to work
  • ‘Trusting managers’ enters the list of what hospitality is good at, indicating the creation of empowerment cultures
  • Just 1% of workers think their employer never treats them well
  • 9% of employees who have been with their organisation for two to five years are ready to move on


Engaging teams through gamification


Gautam Saghal, chief operating officer at Perkbox, discussed how employee engagement is becoming the biggest competitive differentiator in the industry.


“At Perkbox, we think we are in the middle of an engagement crisis right now,” said Saghal. “Our productivity is lower than every other G7 nation except for Japan. If our productivity was the same as the US, our GDP would be 30% higher. We talk about how unengaged workers are, but then we go out there and do nothing about it.”


Hospitality is at the heart of this crisis: staff turnover in the industry is 66.3% – an increase of 10% in the past five years. Why? The key is demographics: 2016 is the first year that millennials outnumber every other demographic group in the workforce.


“The expectation of the millennials is different from other demographics,” he explained. “These are workers who expect to set their own career path, whose loyalty to an employer is lower and whose demand for feedback is higher than ever.”



Gautam Saghal


The secret is no longer just ensuring workers’ financial wellbeing. At Perkbox, they believe in two other major things beside paying people well: physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing. “Fifity per cent of people who say they are engaged receive feedback once a week,” said Saghal. “It distinguishes companies that perform well from companies that don’t.”


How do companies achieve this? Gamification, said Saghal. “Gamification is about creating an incentive that drives a behaviour that drives improvement. It’s about creating a culture where workers aren’t relying on you to pay them to improve, they are relying on themselves to improve because they believe in what they do.”


For example, at Snowflake gelato in London, where Perkbox was hired to help, workers found the job mechanical and struggled to attach themselves to the brand. Among other changes to review systems, the company created Snowballs, a points system for customer service, where if you accumulated enough snowballs you not only received a financial reward but recognition.


Over an eight-month period it reduced staff turnover by 50%. “If you can move towards a similar model through games, then you are creating an environment that is much powerful: the constant self-improvement through feel-good mechanics, and that drives a huge reward.”



The Best Places to Work in Hospitality panel


Chaired by Purple Cubed chief executive Jane Sunley, four of the leading operators featured in the top 30 of The Caterer Best Places to Work in Hospitality debated key trends and questions hitting people engagement in 2016.



Clockwise from top left: Peter Avis, Babylon Restaurant at the Roof Gardens; Stephanie Hamilton, ISS; Julia Murrell, Firmdale Hotels;
Jane Sunley, Purple Cubed; Carly Trisk-Grove, the Café in the Park



Our research shows that 100% of companies know they must do something about engagement but only 86% do. Do you have a strategy?


Peter Avis (PA): I remember my first job, when my boss sat me down with a cappuccino and told me how important my job was. That experience never left me. My strategy is still to sit down with all 60 of my employees regularly. You can get to a certain position and forget what it is like to be a young person starting out in the industry.


Stephanie Hamilton (SH): One of our core values is respect and having an engaged workforce is about just that – about connecting with people. We have a large multinational company and our strategy is built around the belief that you can’t connect with people just by having a blue name-badge.


Julia Murrell (JM): We don’t have a strategy as such – it’s not written down as a plan. But we regularly hold things like breakfast clubs and ask people what engages them and what kind of place they want to work in. That feedback drives what we do over the following months.


Carly Trisk-Grove (CT): I tell my employees that it is my job to get customers through the door and to market the café. It is my husband’s to make sure we are profitable (he’s an accountant). It’s their job to make sure customers come back. We are in hospitality – if we don’t have an engaged workforce, we fail.


If you could do one thing to make the biggest impact on staff engagement, what would it be?


SH: To make sure everyone feels connected to somebody. You want employees to feel like someone has their back. Which is exactly why we do a buddying scheme.


PA: We want people to feel that their job has an impact. Everyone wants to feel recognised for the job they are doing and see the difference it makes.


JM: To work with people and ask what they want to see implemented in the company. We have a scheme with four potential steps: from suggesting changes to seeing them accepted and implemented, with rewards for each step. We already have one suggestion at stage three and the scheme is still young.


CT: It’s about understanding what each individual person wants out of their career and how you can help with that. We need to know their goals. We are a small company and there isn’t a lot of chance to progress and learn. If we know what an employee wants, we can send them out to learn elsewhere and pay them for it – so long as they bring back what they learn.


 



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