Magic Kingdom looks for 700 extra smiles

Gigi Lam

What does it take to work for the happiest place on earth? A great big smile, of course. That's what Hong Kong Disneyland wants to see when job candidates walk through the door. 'You can teach almost anything: how to serve a meal, how to treat a guest, how to prepare a balance sheet, how to do an interview,' said Greg Morley, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort's director of staffing and human resources services. 'But you can't train people on what kind of attitude to adopt.'

The company is looking to recruit about 700 people - or 'cast members' - for the upcoming Halloween season. About 200 of the positions are for entertainment performers, and the rest are for positions in food and beverage, merchandise, costuming and park operations. The positions are both part-time and full-time.

'You don't see a lot of grumpy, unhappy-looking people at the company,' Mr Morley said. At least not among the ones that stay on.

Getting people to want to stay is one thing. Finding the right people in the first place is another.

'We can hire anybody. We can fill all of our jobs easily enough, but we're trying to find the best of the best for those jobs,' Mr Morley said. 'In a market like Hong Kong ... finding the best of the best takes time.'

However Disneyland has been patient, and it has paid off. The firm's turnover rate is at about 20 per cent per annum, which Mr Morley said was quite good for the service industry in general. He attributes some of the turnover to Hong Kong's relatively strong economy and vibrant service industry, but said the company was working to keep the numbers down with the enhancement of employee benefits and advancement opportunities. The company offers cast members a number of avenues for professional growth and development, including both internal training and opportunities for training at other Disneylands around the world. Employees can also get reimbursement for external job-related training and education programmes, including language courses.

Disney also has the 'Cast Portal', where jobs are listed for internal transfer. This gives employees the chance to move from one function or discipline to another.

Mr Morley explains that this means opportunities to acquire multiple skills and experiences.

'What we're tying to promote is the fact you can have a very multidisciplined career within Disney,' he said.

The company also stresses recognition as a way of making Disney an attractive place to work. Besides the official awards given for service, it has also developed a culture of day-to-day recognition in the form of recognition cards.

These are short notes written by both management and other cast members that are given to employees to let them know that their efforts are recognised and appreciated.

'It creates a culture where everybody's watching out for everybody else, and it also creates an environment where everybody's trying to do the best they can,' Mr Morley said.

Last year, 4,800 of these notes were exchanged, a very good result given there were doubts as to whether the system would work at all without a monetary value attached to it.

'It's a universal truth that people like to be recognised for doing good things,' Mr Morley noted.

Other employee benefits include complimentary tickets for friends and family to visit the park, and discounts on special themed merchandise.

Another way of engaging cast members is through the 'Cast Advisory Council' (CAC), with about 1,000 cast members actively participating at any given time.

Employees with grievances or suggestions can take them up with the CAC, which is made up of representatives from the various departments. Last year, improvements were made to costumes, break areas, transport and other areas as a result employee suggestions.

'Our job is to make people coming to work here feel it is that much better as an experience,' Mr Morley said. 'If people come to work and they are passionate about their job, they like what they do, then they're much more likely to stay.'

The theme park has been in operation for three years and employs about 5,000 staff. Attendance has generally been up this year, and the company hopes the trend will continue. That would mean not only more jobs and more smiles in future but also, Mr Morley said, more dreams fulfilled.

Recipe for happiness

Looking for people with a passion for service with a smile

Functional Putonghua, Cantonese and English required

Opportunities for multidisciplined careers within the company

Reimbursement for job-related training