Team builders

The region’s human resources managers talk to Hotelier about promoting good staff morale, benchmarking employee benefits, calming down strike action and the constant challenge of employee housing

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By  Sarah Gain Published  September 17, 2006

HME: How did you become an HR manager?|~|Jan-Harrison.jpg|~|Jan Harrison, Coral International.|~|Danielle Muffat:
Hotels were my first love. I studied Hotel and Restaurant Management and joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts upon graduation. After working in various management roles, I found that the most rewarding part of my job was working with our employees, whether it was helping them perform better, assisting with their personal development goals or finding out what personally motivates them.

Dara Pinke:
While working as a food and beverage manager, I realised how much I enjoyed recruiting, training and helping my team succeed in their careers. It was a personal celebration for me each time an employee I worked with was promoted to a higher level of responsibility. This satisfaction led me to seek out a full time position with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts in the field of human resources.

Ziwa Htun:
I started working in the hotel industry 11 years ago. During this time I have held various positions in operations. This afforded me the opportunity to recruit, train and develop the staff. This enabled me to develop my skills and expertise in training and coaching staff.

In the year 2001, I was nominated as the trainer of the year, which led to my appointment as training manager. In 2003, I transferred to Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai as training manager. This July, I was promoted to my position at Traders Hotel, Dubai.

Hassan El Azami:
Since university, I have been fond of all that has to do with human contact and customer service. And this is due to the following Arabic saying, “The difference between a desert and a garden is not water, it’s man”.

I was appointed HR manager six years ago with the Sheraton Casablanca and it was primarily thanks to my background as training manager in the same hotel. At that time, I was nearly doing the job of the HR manager; communicating the right information at the right time, taking the right decisions, solving problems, managing the team’s efforts and ensuring appropriate motivation. I gained experience through training, workshops and working as a HR intern. Eventually, our HR manager left, and our general manager invited me to work as the HR manager for a three months test during which time I proved my readiness for this position.

Jan Harrison:
In a previous company, I worked as PA to the HR director. She delegated a lot of tasks to me and I slowly learned about different aspects of HR and related issues. When the company restructured I was given an opportunity to manage the HR department, which I loved.

Mohamed Tarek:
It all started when I joined a consultancy company that was specialised in human resources and training. My job included the preparation of training material, and I learned the fundamentals of human resources. Then a friend of mine gave me a tip about a vacant position in the human resources department in an international hotel in Cairo. I applied with great enthusiasm and was accepted. That was the start of my career in the hotel HR field, followed by several assignments as HR manager in international hotels in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.||**||HME: What are your main areas of responsibility?|~|Casablanca.jpg|~|Hassan El Azami, Sheraton Casablanca Hotel & Towers.|~|Pinke:
I oversee colleague housing, compensation and benefits, health and safety, performance management, training and the day-to-day operation of our human resources office. The majority of my time is invested in meeting with colleagues and leaders to talk over various concerns and offer support and coaching.

Coral International is a relatively young company and, with things moving so fast for us, I spend time ensuring that policies and systems are formalised and adopted as common practice. I’m involved in recruitment for the hotels and the corporate office, as well as assisting and monitoring training schedules in the group.||**||HME: What are the main challenges faced by HR managers in hotels?|~|Four-Seasons-doha.jpg|~|Danielle Muffat, Four Seasons Doha.|~|PinkeL:
With the sheer number of colleagues in a hotel, it can be difficult to make the amount of time you’d like for everyone. There simply are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all of the career discussions, focus groups, training sessions and recognition that you wish could happen on a regular basis.

Everyone on our team, from the co-ordinator who keeps me on track and on time to our incredibly talented recruitment and retention manager, plays a key role in maintaining our reputation as an employer of choice.

Creating a culture of learning is a challenge. We try to do this by growing individuals through training and personal development. However, when staff have been working long shifts, it is understandable that it becomes more difficult. It’s all about making the time and we do require the individuals to be committed to their own development as well.

We would like to increase the number of local people working in our company but are battling to find candidates interested in the hotel industry at this stage.

Since all of us are expatriates working in a multicultural environment, HR managers have to spend more time resolving staff issues, taking care of staff facilities around the clock to ensure all is in order and getting the right people through interviews, many of which initially must be done long-distance.

The main challenges we’re facing include a shortage of skilled hotel employees, high staff turnover, lack of foreign language skills, an inferior perception to working in the hotel industry and the attitude towards service sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

El Azami:
HR should be involved in all management decisions and have the support of the GM and all the executive committee. Challenges in the role include associates’ level of education and language barriers.||**||HME: How does hotel HR differ from HR in other industries?|~|Pinke,-Dara-----FAIRMONT-DU.jpg|~|Dara Pinke, The Fairmont Dubai.|~|Htun:
In the hotel industry we are serving guests 24/7, so hotel HR managers must ensure that employees have the right training, attitude and service standards to keep guests satisfied. Hotel HR plays a more strategic role than most other industries because we rely so much on every single employee to ensure guests are satisfied each and every time and we achieve our business goals. Unlike many other industries, training of hotel staff is a daily process.

El Azami:
Hotel HR has to manage 24-hour service with zero complaints. The hotel HR has to care differently for two sets of customers: staff and clients, and care for heart and front of the house. In addition, hotel HR has multiple contacts worldwide in comparison with other industries

A hotel team is made out of employees from many different professional and educational backgrounds and it is expected that all of them work together harmoniously and towards a common goal — guest satisfaction.

We’re in a service industry and one of our missions is to provide our employees with continuous training on product knowledge and service attitude that goes beyond basic skills for their daily job performance.

Executive teams in our industry need and want a HR department that understands the fast pace of operations, especially in this city, which is constantly evolving. The industry dictates we must move quickly and decisively, acting as guides for our leaders. Hotel HR today is a far cry from the previous role of the paper-pushing personnel manager.

Hotel HR certainly does differ from HR in other industries. Firstly, as our primary business is to deliver personalised and intuitive service, we must ensure our employees have not only the training and tools to do their job, but also the drive and personal well-being to consistently perform at an exceptional level.

If our employees are not well in both health and spirit it would be ridiculous to think they will be able to deliver luxury service in an attentive manner to our guests. Hotel HR teams also have to be able to adapt to and communicate to each different employee group who may come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and educational levels.

While other industries have moved towards more centralised departments for benefits and using the internet, hotel HR teams generally need to administer such things locally.||**||HME: What experience and qualifications do you need to be a HR manager?|~|Movenpick.jpg|~|Mohamed Tarek, Mövenpick Resort & Spa El Gouna, Egypt.|~|Muffat:
There are no set requirements. A degree in HR or a related field certainly helps. The ability to speak multiple languages is a huge plus. But for hotel HR managers it is helpful to have an operations background and be able to demonstrate that you truly have “been there”. Technical skills areeasy to come by; the number one qualification is a genuine care and concern for people.

It is a great asset to have previous experience in the operational side of the hotel industry, and preferably in a leadership role.

To truly understand a colleague or leader and the challenges they face on a regular basis, it helps to have experienced the same challenges. It is essential you are business savvy and posses the ability to communicate concisely to staff.

Reading a textbook will not necessarily make you successful in coaching others. An awareness of your internal ethics and personal strengths is essential. After all, education and training only sharpen what true HR professionals already innately understand. ||**||HME: What has been the most unusual staffing issue you have had to resolve?|~|Ziwa-Htun.jpg|~|Ziwa Htun, Traders Hotel, Dubai.|~|Pinke:
A reservoir leak caused a water outage in one of our more remote hotel properties, also affecting the water supply in colleague housing. For two days, we orchestrated bucket brigades, built outdoor shower stalls and had to outsource hotel and staff laundry to the closest town. Although it was difficult to provide our usual level of service to our guests, our colleagues stepped up to the challenge, remained cheerful throughout the two days and pitched in where needed. You truly gain a clear picture of the team around you when you are faced with challenges; the best teams make you proud to be part of them even during the most difficult situations.

In one of the hotels I worked for in the past, a strike took place one hour before the start of an important dinner reception. I took the leaders aside and I used understanding, diplomacy and negotiation skills and finally we reached a compromise and the strike was called off, just in time.

I guess it’s not that unusual in Dubai, but I’ve never had to walk the pavements looking for accommodation for new employees before. Our staff housing was full so we had to make another plan. That was an interesting challenge.||**||HME: How do you manage to maintain high staff morale when hotel staff are having to work increasingly long hours due to high occupancies?|~||~||~|Pinke:
I am pleased to say that The Fairmont Dubai has recently implemented a flexible schedule in our hotel. Colleagues and leaders alike are scheduled to work 48 hours per week across five days, with two full days of rest. This enables our team to return to work energised and ready to provide the memorable service required to build loyalty with our guests. Of course, this is just one of many initiatives. I could also cite examples of benefits programmes, staff restaurants and housing. Essentially, morale comes from creating the right work environment.

Some of the ways we maintain staff morale are by taking care of their facilities, establishing proper reward/incentive systems, and ensuring career development opportunities for our colleagues. It is important that promises are delivered; each member of the team is treated equally regardless of position or nationality.

There is rarely a morale issue. Our employees know that business levels fluctuate and that a committed team that helps one another surrounds them to get through the busy season. After the hard work is done we celebrate and have fun together at employee events such as picnics and end of the year celebrations. We also support community and charity work such as the annual Terry Fox Run. Lastly, we strive to have the best accommodation for our employees. Our staff compound, Seasons Villas, boasts its own restaurant, dry-cleaning shop, barber, mini-mart, internet cafe, library, sports courts and a swimming pool.||**||HME: How many people work in your department? How often do you conduct training with them?|~||~||~|Htun:
There are eight team members including myself. We conduct an hour of training each week in HR on such areas as performance management, foundation leadership skills, HR management, HR and financial related policies, training and train the trainer.

I represent HR in the corporate office and work closely with the operations director; however, each hotel has an HR department that varies in size but usually two to three people with an HR manager.

There are 14 talented professionals on the HR team at The Fairmont Dubai. Training occurs daily — on the job. Members of our team are invited to attend internal training sessions. External training is tailored to the individual, as is personal career development.

El Azami:
There are 15 associates between administrative staff, locker rooms, cleaning, nursery and cafeteria. I conduct training with them at least once every two to three months.||**||HME: What could be improved in your department to make things run more smoothly?|~||~||~|Pinke:
An entirely smooth operation would ultimately bore our team! We relish the constant flow of people and challenges that make up our days.

If I had to mention one improvement that would provide better service to our internal guests, I would say that it would be wonderful if we could find the time to go out to more departmental shift briefings and talk with colleagues in the operational departments of the hotel. Offering HR service in the evenings would also provide support to our colleagues who work night shifts.

Since I joined the HR team at Traders Hotel, I set guidelines to ensure the HR office is seen more as an internal customer service centre for all employees, ensuring we offer a “never say no, be flexible, do more’’ type of service at all times. I have a development plan in place for all my HR team members to be multi-skilled, customer service oriented and serve as role models of Shangri-La’s company culture.||**||

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