Countless studies have been conducted and theories explored to define just what it takes to keep employees engaged. To Peter Pollmeier, general manager at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, the key to successful employee engagement is open lines of communication and responding to employee concerns. 'It can do more harm than good if you ask employees to voice their concerns and opinions and then do very little about them,' Pollmeier said. He was among the business executives and human resources specialists who spoke at a half-day seminar as part of Dale Carnegie's Global Re-engagement Day held in more than 150 locations. Pollmeier followed his own advice in response to an employee questionnaire when he oversaw a three-year plan that involved the renovation of staff facilities. This included a makeover of the staff changing rooms, building a learning and training centre and upgrading the staff canteen. 'From having one of the highest attrition rates in the hospitality industry, we went to having one of the lowest,' he said. Other initiatives included ensuring staff had well defined opportunities for career development and showing appreciation for their work. Results from an independent staff survey revealed that employees not only said they were happy, they felt they were a valued part of the business. Pollmeier's experiences and those of Elaine Lo, human resources director Asia-Pacific, Rockwell Automation (Asia-Pacific), were just two examples of the different ways management have dealt with employer/staff relationships during the economic slowdown. 'Employee engagement is about building team spirit and stressing how important it is that everyone works together towards the same goal,' Pollmeier said. 'I share the good news and the bad news so everyone is kept in the picture.' During the past 12 months, when Hong Kong's hotel occupancy rates declined significantly, Grand Stanford staff worked together to reduce costs without affecting guest services. 'We set goals and priorities in the hope that other than natural attrition, no one would lose their job,' Pollmeier said, adding that the initiative saved several million dollars. 'We introduced a profit protection plan, which included staff ideas and suggestions such as job sharing. Our aim was to do everything possible to avoid cutting jobs.' Lo told the audience about how continuing communication played an important role in generating employee engagement. She said the company, which specialises in automation controls solutions and services, paid close attention to employee communication regardless of the prevailing economic climate. 'In the current environment it is only natural that staff are concerned about the security of their jobs so we give them frequent updates about our performance and the performance of our customers,' Lo said. 'Managers also arrange one-on-one meetings and small group meetings so staff don't feel embarrassed about sharing their thoughts and feelings.' The company's president and vice-president take part in staff meetings. 'As critical as it is to get production out of our teams and keep them on schedule and under budget, it is equally important to listen to our employees, recognise their contribution and thank them,' she said. With about 20,000 employees globally, including about 3,500 staff in Asia, Lo said it was important the channels of communication flow in different directions. This includes town-hall style meetings and experience sharing, where employees in different parts of the world reveal their successful work experiences. Lo believes employee recognition is another important link in achieving staff engagement.