Four Seasons puts staff first in recession

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 September, 2009, 12:00am

The hotel industry is notorious for its rapid turnover because staff are easily lured away by new hotels opening in the region. But, fortunately, the recession has offered employers in this sector a golden opportunity to earn some loyalty from their staff.

Coleman Chui, director of human resources at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central, said the events of the past year had given hotels a chance to prove to staff that they were valued, by treating them well in difficult times, when others might be letting people go.

His hotel had made a concerted effort to minimise the impact of the recession on staff, he said. It had been cautious in its reaction to the downturn and had declared that there would be no redundancies and that no member of staff would be asked to take unpaid leave.

The hotel was fortunate that guest numbers had stayed at a reasonable level, among the highest of the five-star hotels in the region. This had allowed management to avoid drastic measures and drive home the message that it cared about staff. He said this could only benefit the hotel in the long run.

'I believe if we can take care of our people, they will provide a good product and that will take care of the profit,' said Chui.

This message was delivered by regular employee meetings, he said, where staff were given first-hand information on how the company was reacting to the economic crisis and were appraised of the company's financial situation. This avoided speculation and the spreading of unnecessary rumours.

The hotel had also made a point of continuing with its usual social events and staff recognition programmes, holding on to the belief that management should continue to make work fun for employees.

Although the most worrying period of the recession was probably the last quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year, the company went ahead with the usual Christmas party for the staff's children and did not hold back on the staff party in the Grand Ballroom at Lunar New Year.

More ongoing regular celebrations include lunches where employee achievement is recognised, breakfast meetings where overnight staff get to mingle with management, and monthly birthday parties. Sporting events, to which many staff are committed, have also proved extremely popular.

'Through these activities we can really help bonding among the employees. If staff in different departments play soccer together, then they will know each other and will help each other to make things happen at work,' said Chui.

Chui believed that these measures all helped to keep turnover low but said that the internal transfer and promotions policy played an even more vital role. Every available position in the hotel is posted on an internal notice board for at least three days before it is opened up to the public.

'When I say it is a policy, that means we stick to it, so you can guarantee that our employees are given the opportunity first. It is important because if we have a position available and we bring someone in from outside, that is very demotivating,' he said.

As a result of this policy, 85 per cent of management positions are filled internally. Staff can see that their managers have risen through the ranks and can realistically expect to do the same themselves.

Consistent promotion from within only works when combined with a strong, structured training programme, and the Four Seasons Hotel offers training at every level.

Throughout the hotel there is a designated trainer in each department. This is not a person brought in externally but a member of staff doing the job who is also responsible for training colleagues.

Training is also ongoing at management level. Managers have access to the e-knowledge suite, a Web-based learning tool with multiple programmes that they are expected to complete. The hotel uses this in conjunction with its e-talent suite, where management logs performance reviews and keeps tabs on development plans.

This means that senior managers have access to information about staff all over the world, which helps with their succession planning.

Chui is a good example of this policy. He joined the company in 1992 in the food and beverage department. After two years, he became a human resources officer and in 2000 he became human resources director. He has been at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong since it opened in 2005.

'If you feel that you are not only getting a job but getting a career, that every day you are learning something new and that you have promotion opportunities, there is no reason to leave,' he said.

Good housekeeping

Recession offers hotels a golden opportunity

Turnover is reduced by making staff feel safe and valued

Four Seasons Hotel announces no redundancies

A strong internal transfer and promotions policy is adhered to

A clear career path, together with training, keeps staff happy