Thursday, 2 July 2015

How will you put the EASE in Season?

Recently, I was invited for lunch by the Bournemouth Accommodation and Hotel Association (BAHA) with the role of guest speaker. The sun shone all day on the golden beaches stretching in both directions in front of the Sandbanks Hotel and it was a very good lunch indeed.

To earn my place at the table, I researched a subject that I hoped would be of interest to the audience and created a short presentation of my findings. Entitled "Putting the EASE in your Season" the content was about how to Engage All Seasonal Employees - a challenge that is shared by many hospitality businesses and with other industries too. 

For example, children of a certain culture will eventually arrive at the realisation that Father Christmas is a Generation Y seasonal worker in an Amazon warehouse far removed from the North Pole and with no reindeer in sight.

So many businesses and enterprises rely on seasonal and short term contract employees, that my curiosity led me to compile a list of tips, presented in a chronological sequence around the employee life cycle:

 Firstly, let's start with a definition of engagement so that we are all on the same page. One way of defining engagement is "the emotional commitment that an employee has to the organisation and its goals". This is not the same as happiness, or equivalent to satisfaction. The outcome of engagement is the deployment of discretionary effort - and that is the stardust that enables any hospitality enterprise to really fly. Discretionary effort is the effort that I (and you) choose to give. It's mine (and yours) to do with as we wish and we can all provide or withhold it at will. Just pause for a moment and consider ... 

How much of your success relies on people doing the job they are paid to do? 

The answer is interesting because if just "doing the job" was sufficient, then why do we need to jump up and down to encourage concepts such as innovation, creativity, going the extra mile, exceeding expectations etc? 

In my experience, discretionary effort is the life-blood of our hospitality operations because we rely on people to care, give themselves, connect and have a positive attitude to what they are doing, rather than mechanically perform their duties as per the rota. So, engaged employees are doing things because they care. 

I could argue, as Devil's advocate, that this may be easier to achieve with seasonal people than with full-time, routine-fatigued, mortgage-paying employees who need to get their children safely into child care and lunch-boxes packed before they can utilise the discretionary effort necessary to love their jobs and your guests and customers!

As operators, we know this instinctively, but research also proves that engaged employees:
  • Are more productive
  • Provide better customer service
  • Achieve greater levels of customer satisfaction
  • Have fewer accidents
  • Are more likely to return and / or re-commit as seasonal employees.

According to research conducted by Gallup, over 70% of variances in engagement are related to management and their influence on the environment. (My own academic research with a selection of hotels proved a higher rate than this). If your business success and achievement of objectives are invested in seasonal workers, then creating the best possible employee experience should be an integral part of your business strategy.  

Once that strategy is clear and aligned to the objective, then it's time to work up some tactics to fit:

1) First things first - begin well by:
  • Hiring the right people in the first place. The simple fact is that some people find it easier and are more likely to be engaged than others, (and some would struggle to be engaged without the aid of high voltage electricity). It's a psychology thing.
  • Hire for the right reasons. Again, I know this sounds obvious, yet availability often plays a big part in the decision to employ and filling that slot in the rota is not a good reason!
  • Consider doing group interviews. Give them something to do, observe closely and choose the ones that best fit your culture. 
  • Be choosy and don't compromise on quality
  • Expand the pool of potential people and go fishing in a different or bigger pool
  • Extend your use of social media to attract more people to you who might be looking for work

2) Work the all important spaces between interview offer and start date. 
  • Stay in touch and be welcoming. This is easier now with social media, so consider short videos of welcome, apps, information delivered to smart phones and variety of messages and media.
  • Provide them with an irresistibly good story to tell their friends and family about what they will be doing for the season that elicits the response "how exciting!" rather than "poor you". Engagement has an element of pride attached, so don't expect that to happen by itself.

3) Onboarding / Starting / Induction
  • Make them welcome. Really welcome. It is important to appeal to, and satisfy, fundamental human needs to be included, feel part of things and to belong. This is psychology from first principles, so the early stages of your relationship are vital. Make them count.
  • Go out of your way to create a good first impression
  • Make sure that your communication extends beyond what it is you want them to do and includes understanding of your culture and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Find out what is important to them. Get to know them from the beginning. Be personal and not process-driven.
  • Don't front-load the training at the beginning and then sit back and wait for boredom to take over. Leave them something to look forward to and sign post it clearly. Anticipation of something good or exciting wakes up the Dopamine receptors in the brain - and that's a useful ingredient for the neurological chemical cocktail of engagement.

4) During employment and throughout the season
  • Keep it fun. Make up games, quizzes and activities to help them remain engaged, continuing to learn and interested. (Everything you create can be re-cycled, so nothing is wasted) 
  • Be flexible. They have needs too, so a bit of give and take may be required and reasonable.
  • Incentivise. Be creative and change incentives frequently. Regular, small incentives, rewards and recognition are more powerful than one boring incentive that soon becomes part of the wallpaper of work.
  • Mix it up. Consider different jobs, tasks, cross training, responsibilities. 
  • Make it competitive.
  • Keep it engaging. Involve them fully in the business and make sure they understand the requirements and how their contribution counts.
  • Keep it personal. Help them to understand the needs of different guests, groups and individuals, the objectives of the stay etc. and encourage them to personalise their service accordingly.
  • Use communication, team meetings, briefings etc. to be constantly remindeed of team goals and objectives. 
  • Make it relevant to them. Connect to their purpose as much as you want them to connect to yours.
  • Set goals and make the most of the fact that goal theory is a strong psychological factor in motivation and therefore in engagement.
  • Collect the most frequently asked questions for your guests and help employees to construct model answers. Super-useful if English is not their first language.
  • Encourage them to value their seasonal experience as learning and help them to achieve full value from it.
  • Be clear about skills acquisition. Help them to realise that the skills they are developing with you are with them for life and will be valuable in the future.
  • Make this relevant to their aspirations (which you already know because you have taken the time and trouble to find out), whether that is business management, dealing with the public, getting to work on time, problem solving, conflict handling, complaint resolution etc.
  • Generally encourage and nurture a mindset that this is not a punctuation in their life, but a really useful connection to the rest of it.
  • Work together to create a good learning experience, if possible recorded as such. The Institute of Hospitality provides a useful framework for supporting this in the form of the Hospitality Adding Value for Employability (HAVE) Scheme. This is available FREE from  Hop onto the Careers button and click on the drop down menu - it's all there.
  • Let them gain some leadership skills and experience too. Create some projects and opportunities to unleash their leadership skills and give praise and feedback on strengths deployed.
  • Give feedback. Frequently. Make it personal, specific, sincere and timely. 
  • Let them know what they are good at and how/why they are valued
  • Lower your expectations of their levels of engagement. Then you can be devastatingly impressed and grateful when they show a glimmer. The psychological term for that is positive reinforcement.
  • Pull up on poor performance. Don't let it go by unnoticed or apathy will wash over your team quicker than the tide over your seven miles of beautiful Bournemouth beaches.
  • Question the logic of the end of season bonus. You may be rewarding the wrong behaviour and paying people for sticking it out and just turning up each day. Think about it - Do you really want a bunch of hostages serving your gorgeous guests? I'm not saying don't do it, after all you know your business, but just suggesting that you question it. Because one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!

5) Ending
  • The way you complete the relationship at the end of the season is as important as the beginning.
  • Consider creating a group or alumni who have worked the same season to create a sense of belonging. For example a Facebook page or WhatsApp,  so that they can keep in touch and connect with you and with each other. 
  • Celebrate the end of season and honour their contribution
  • Consider offering a bonus for introductions for next year's intake
  • Collect their comments and recommendations to help with recruitment next year - on social media or via a form of visitor / guest book 
  • Conduct exit / end of season interviews so that lessons can be learned and there is a process of continuous improvement.

So, on the fingers of one hand, you can count 5 key areas of focus for engaging your seasonal employees. In a future blog, I will add the psychological underpinning to these suggestions that I mentioned briefly in my presentation.

For now, lastly and perhaps most importantly, look after yourselves so that you can stay at the top of your game and stay passionate about your business so that the climate is positive, exciting and successful. 

To all the ladies I had the pleasure of lunching with, and the rest of the BAHA, I wish you a successful and engaging summer season that you manage with EASE.

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