Hotel News ME talks to a group of Human Resource specialists to discuss the changing role of HR, the challenges of retaining staff and how technology is shaping up the ways potential candidates are selected?
How has the role of HR changed across hotels in recent years?
Barhouche: The role of HR has most definitely changed, as it has moved from an admin function to an evolution of a more of a business partner approach, especially in the Middle East where the process is very much admin driven.
With the UAE government so focused on hospitality and tourism, I think the next few years will be an interesting time for the industry here. Training colleges and institutes will be set up to develop the skills for the people who will then execute the plans for Expo2020. Building hotels is necessary, but you also need talented people to run these hotels. The ideal situation would be to develop a homegrown talent base that can fulfill the demands of travellers into the UAE because educated; homegrown hospitality employees are the best way to sustain this industry.
Solle: The role of HR has changed significantly over the past few years, but it is definitely moving in the right direction. We believe that HR is an integral part of the hotel business to ensure that all areas of the team are supported. We’ve spent time with each department to help them not only understand their own goals, but also the wider business strategy and financial targets. We believe it’s important to observe our associates in action to help determine the trends in customer service and the positioning of the Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Center, Abu Dhabi. This in turn helps us to make the right recruitment decisions in terms of strategy and the best choices for our employees.
Dhugga: Personal is the word that will best describe the role of the modern HR. It is the job of someone passionate about people, interested not only to promote a hotel or to fill vacancies but also to share a common passion and identify potential committed employees and create a successful and positive work environment.
Ignatius: The role of HR and of human resource professionals is constantly changing as the business world continues to evolve and as the hospitality industry discovers new issues of importance. With increased emphasis on employee engagement, organisations are recognising the importance of facilitating communication between their teams. Simply put, organisations today are realising that people are the key to success. After all, when people within an organisation succeed, the entire company is bound to follow suit.
The role of HR is dynamic in itself. HR management has shifted to becoming a discipline that is founded on increased personalised effort. We view, review, and train on an individual one-on-one level rather than a group or ‘classroom’ style approach. This approach, which is supported by the adoption of appropriate technologies, along with team-building activities, has enhanced our retention levels and overall performance and, looking forward, we predict that this will only continue to develop as the TIME family of hotels’ grows.
Basmadjian: The HR role has grown increasingly challenging and complex in recent years and continues to evolve from being an administrative function to a department with strategic value to organisations.
What would you say has encouraged this change in the role of HR, and what do you expect to see in the future?
Barhouche: The attention to performance management has changed. The focus on employee welfare has been a key topic over the last few years with the ever-growing war for talent and companies are much more focused on better recruiting, developing and retaining the talent they have.
Ignatius: I would say that technology and the impact of ‘millennials’ as a dominant force and growing population have the biggest impact, and contributed to the changes that we are now seeing and evaluating, add to that the fact that technology is evolving, with information easily accessible and people/employees far more cognisant of a company’s standing and performance in the public domain, HR must be extremely transparent in its communications efforts. Overall, having a dynamic approach and being open to change is how we increase our efficiency.
Basmadjian: The fluctuating economies, the integration of Generation Y characterised by their drive, opportunism and high mobility coupled with the technological breakthroughs and the increased connectivity of the workforce with the outside world through social media and other online platforms have prompted this change. Candidates have now the opportunity to make informed decisions about the companies they aspire to work for based on easily accessible information available online.
Solle: If you want to stay ahead of the competition, you need to drive your business forward from all areas, including HR. As a discipline, HR is at the core of a hotel and it is key to get the culture and values determined and believed in from the very beginning.
We’ve seen a shift in a slightly younger generation joining the team, which means it is important to adapt to their needs and expectations, as they require a different style of management. I believe that in the future HR will focus on social media as a tool for recruitment and communication with our new hires, especially as the majority of the younger generation use social media to explore the world, so it’s important for us to be communicating in the right places.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges faced today?
Dhugga: All of these elements play their part in the HR daily challenge to find a qualified candidate to employ. To try to avoid in part these challenges, you must look for personal qualities in a potential candidate, once you find the candidate that has qualities that mirror your company values, training will play a decisive and final part in making a candidate a successful one.
Solle: One of the biggest challenges a HR team faces, especially in the UAE, is staff retention as there is so much competition from new hotels entering into the market. We focus on keeping our associates engaged in the hotel strategy and ensure they always see the bigger picture. We find this means we have an engaged team, who love working in the hospitality industry and understand that working with Marriott offers long-term career opportunities.
Ignatius: The biggest challenge is to recruit people who have a passion for the industry and what they do. Unfortunately, the hotel sector is not necessarily considered as a preferred place to work for many people. It takes a mindset focused on efficiency, personal connections, service orientation, a desire to exceed expectations, and several other key personality characteristics, to be successful in the business.
Barhouche: Within the hospitality business there is a war for talent, but by developing internal talent this not only extracts the company from such a war in many cases it also allows us to gain a reputation as an employer of choice.
We’re seeing a trend towards the achievement of nationalisation targets, especially in the GCC. The biggest challenge we’ve encountered with this though is that job seekers are faced with so many options of work in other industries. A national who is a fresh graduate will have the option to work in government or in finance among many other industries. What we really need to focus on is attracting national talent to Rezidor, and the broader hospitality industry, in a way that will make them want to pursue this as a valid career choice above other industries.
Basmadjian: It is a highly competitive market in terms of both sales and the attraction and retention of talent. A dissatisfied guest will choose to stay at your competition the next time on a trip; the same is true with your associates, if you cannot keep them engaged and satisfied at the workplace, they have plenty of other options to choose from.
How can some of these challenges be overcome?
Basmadjian: Keeping associates engaged, giving them a sense of purpose, connecting them emotionally to the workplace and rewarding them for their contribution are key to overcome these challenges; and rewards do not need to be always financial in nature, professional development opportunities, increased responsibilities and appreciation for a job well done can go a long way in retaining your top talent.
Solle: Effective communication from the leadership team really helps to overcome challenges within the workforce. It’s important that every employee understands their goals and feels empowered to deliver above and beyond to do a great job. As a company we believe in treating every employee with respect, understanding each person has different talents and giving people the opportunity to do a fantastic job everyday. We find this motivates the team and in turn builds trust and loyalty.
Ignatius: For example, creating more awareness about career opportunities in the hotel sector. This can be communicated at events such as career days or the promotion of internship opportunities. Other ways to overcome these challenges include co-ordinating efforts with educational sector facilities in the community to create and deliver hospitality business awareness or soft skills education programmes to encourage the next generation of hoteliers to enter the industry.
Dhugga: Every employee is motivated by different things, and retention strategies need to be personalised to the individual level. You have to ask yourself about what motivates you, money as an incentive is a winner in the short term, however people are more concerned with challenging work, personal and professional growth opportunities and work/life balance.
Al Raisi: We need to change our mind set. The market is full of Gen Y & Z. It’s the generation of technology and social media and we need to adapt a corporate environment to be able to attract and retain talent.
Barhouche: With both recruitment and retention a greater focus is needed to ensure we stay competitive. Growing our talent pool will improve our competitiveness in the marketplace and reduce recruitment time and costs. We have recently introduced our Women in Leadership initiative to attract and retain a larger pool of female talent for senior leadership positions. Women in Leadership is a business issue. It is all about removing barriers to support our long-term growth. And according to McKinsey, 2013, companies with a top quartile of women in executive committees perform better than companies with no women at the top.
What are the challenges when using an outsourced company to find staff and are these recruitment agencies able to find the correct caliber of people matching the requirements of the hotel?
Ignatius: The main challenge of using an outsourced recruitment company is that the process takes a very long time and in many instances, they are unable to find the correct caliber of people that we are looking for.
We value referrals and candidates that reflect a unique set of characteristics and skills, and we find that too often, agencies are not able to handle appropriate filtering sensitive to our industry.
Basmadjian: The main challenge is always to find the right caliber whose compensation expectations match the hotel pay and benefits scale. Another challenge is the time it takes agents to sources profiles that match your requirement.
Al Raisi: Recruitment agencies are vital business partners today in the world of hospitality, however before hiring or outsourcing its important that they understand the organisations culture and needs.
Barhouche: We do use recruitment agencies but the danger is that, because they have a limited knowledge of a company’s values, philosophy and culture, they don’t always find the best fit for our needs.
We prefer that candidates who come to us are warm and welcoming and have the ability to solve problems. Most importantly though we prefer to recruit candidates who have a genuine passion for the hospitality industry and for interacting with guests. We are passionate about our ‘Yes I Can’ spirit, the ethos that guides our every action within our hotels, and we look for that attitude when we are talking to potential candidates.
Dhugga: Agencies can provide a good level of professionalism, but then it is our duty to make sure that we train these employees in order to raise their skills to the level that we require for a five star luxury, personalised service.
Solle: When it comes to recruitment agencies you must ensure you’ve done your research so you know you’re using the right company. It’s important to build rapport and trust to help us get the most out of the relationship. We are working with approved agencies with good reputation that understand the Marriott requirements, they normally do the first initial screening of candidates but the rest of the recruitment process is finished by the property HR team.
What initiatives should be put into place to retain staff?
Barhouche: Employee welfare is at the very core of everything we do. We have a comprehensive and competitive benefits programme in place, recognising the seniority of the employees. The Rezidor Hotel Group has a strong, ongoing commitment to promoting our own people from within. And we aim to be the employer of choice, offering the best range of tools and support to encourage individual development.
Dhugga: Always focus on the long-term when managing people in a high performance environment. When you take someone on board do not have the expectation that they’ll succeed in the role for which you’ve hired them and assume they will stay in that role forever. You need to think about their career.
The key is to lead your employees in finding out how they can achieve their career goals within your company.
The success of your retention strategies are subject to your line managers’ ability to deliver on initiatives you put in place. Whatever your company values, you have to be sure your managers are executing it.
Solle: It is important to offer excellent career and training opportunities, acknowledging our associates as individuals and understand their strengths and weaknesses to get the most out of people. Each individual has a well-structured review programme, including annual goal setting and a personal development plan. It’s key that we communicate effectively and at the Courtyard we believe it’s important to ‘make room for a little fun’ and we ensure this is part of our everyday working lives.
Ignatius: We have to ensure that we provide for and communicate the clear career development opportunities We allow employee to be creative, we empower them to express their talent, ideas and innovative tendencies.
Most importantly, we provide them with continuous learning and development that meets their needs and that is delivered in a way that resonates with them personally and that they can absorb and retain.
Basmadjian: There is no one formula for associate retention. The internal and external environments must be carefully assessed to create the most effective initiatives that yield the best results. But generally speaking, offering associates meaningful and challenging work that will stretch their capabilities, agile learning and development opportunities and celebrating team and individual accomplishments have proven to be powerful tools for retention.
How is staff turn-over dealt with?
Barhouche: I believe dialogue is critical to the retention of our employees. In our hotels we have monthly reports and ongoing discussions between the heads of department and the general managers to unearth and rectify sources of unhappiness or address any issues the team may have.
Dhugga: Employers shouldn’t wait until people quit to find out what they are dissatisfied with. One alternative to one-time exit interviews is to hold regular “stay interviews.” The main goal of a stay interview is to discover “What can we do to make you stay?”
Solle: Being a newly opened hotel, our staff turnover is currently low but we are taking extra time to review the reasons behind every resignation. On the occasion we have had someone leave, we ensure that we understand all the reasons in the exit interview and gain valuable feedback on where and what we need to improve on.
Ignatius: Staff turnover should always be properly monitored and analysed. Each departing employee should go through an exit interview and feedback should be seriously discussed among the management team for immediate action. Prior to accepting a resignation, HR should meet the employee and find out the reason.
This is all ‘eleventh hour’ procedure and at TIME Hotels we believe that before an employee even starts to think about leaving, there must be a comprehensive system of continuous communication and regular scheduled one-on-one meetings where issues/concerns can be raised and dealt with, hopefully leading to retention rather than resignation.
Basmadjian A certain turnover percentage in an organisation is always healthy; it gives the opportunity to integrate new candidates with new ideas and different perspectives. The key is to always have a pool of candidates ready to take on the role both externally and internally through succession planning.
With such high turnover of staff reported across the region, what are the key source markets for staff, and what new source markets are you looking into?
Dhugga: A key market for recruiting staff is via the Hotel Management School, they are able to provide candidates with a good academic hospitality background and a good attitude to problem solving; characteristics that are necessary to achieve a successful career in hospitality
Solle: In our hotel we wanted to create a very multicultural environment and we currently we have thirty-seven nationalities working under one roof. We have a good base of associates from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Philippines as well as from European countries and African countries.
Ignatius: We pride ourselves on being a positive, energetic, genuine and straightforward employer and we work across an international selection of source markets to serve our requirements and guests and have worked with a number of key source markets since we began operations with most of our staff coming from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Ukraine, Portugal, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, UAE, Greece and France. As we have new upcoming properties in UAE, Qatar and Egypt we are looking into having more of local UAE manpower (Emiratisation), Sweden, Qatar and Egypt. The UAE is an international hub that brings together people from all over the world and TIME Hotels employs team members representing over 30 nationalities.
Barhouche: Obviously the local markets are our first stop for recruiting new team members as we would always prefer to recruit nationals to our hotels but we also go beyond to other markets such as Asia Pacific. Lately we have also been looking at new emerging markets such as Africa as potential pools for employees.
Basmadjian: The subcontinent and South East Asia are still key recruitment sources, while the Indian economy has grown significantly in the past decade providing many job opportunities to its local workforce; the Indian market has still a lot to offer to this region in terms of talent as many fresh graduates and experienced candidates are attracted by this regions hotel reputations and their need for international exposure.
Since 2011, Myanmar has emerged as a new source of talent. And while not a “new” recruitment market, the recent uprisings and turmoil in the Middle East shifted the recruitment efforts towards Morocco for its stability compared to the rest of the Arab world.
How has technology impacted the ways in which you recruit?
Barhouche: Social media has helped companies reach out more easily to a younger, more socially accessible generation. The ease of using emails as a primary method of communication and the use of online applications has drastically reduced the time spent in recruitment. With just the click of a button candidates can explore multiple job opportunities and respond to them all simultaneously, while texting, ‘friending’ and surfing. Social networking is most certainly the hottest new recruitment strategy right now.
Ignatius: The traditional methods of recruitment are no longer suitable due to the introduction and integration of new technologies. i.e. online candidate screening and interviews on Skype against face to face. We deal with this by going back to basics and keeping the process simple. We pride ourselves on being flexible and adaptive. Exploring and adopting new approaches is key to ensure that we are up to speed on industry trends.
Basmadjian: Technology improved the efficiency of the overall recruitment process with the increased usage of online recruitment systems and the elimination of paper work within organisations.
Technological advancements and specifically social media drastically increased the online visibility of employers, their practices and the opportunities they offer to candidates and employees. The online reputation of an organisation as an employer of choice has and will continue to have a direct impact on the way we recruit.
Solle: There are constant updates on our Marriott recruitment website which is really helpful. We personalise job vacancies with pictures of our associates in action, making the application process faster and accessible from all electronic devices but also utilising social medial such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.