Once upon a time, there were people called alchemists who dedicated their entire lives to the search for an elusive substance that turned base metals into gold or silver. This substance was known as the “philosopher’s stone” and was also thought to grant immortality. Efforts to discover it were known as the Great Work. Now, of course, alchemy and the philosopher’s stone have been relegated to the realm of historical curiosity, other than when they turn up in the name of a Harry Potter movie.
The symbolic impulse behind alchemy however still has relevance. Hoteliers, for example, are always looking for a panacea or that thing that turns an ailing property to gold. Thoughtful renovations and amenities put us in the right neighborhood. Direct bookings and higher levels of guest loyalty get us closer. When we start talking about interactions between employees and guests, it feels like we’re zeroing in. After all, maintaining a team of employees who are motivated and inspired to do great work is at the heart of running a great hotel. Without that, the finest finish in the world can’t help you.
But what if we took it one level deeper? What if we started paying attention to the health and wellbeing of our employees, and equating those factors to the performance of our hotels? Could this be the philosopher’s stone of the hotel world — to have employees that are fitter, healthier and happier?
A few notable brands already say yes. Over the last few years, Marriott International has rolled out an employee wellness initiative called TakeCare, to which it has attributed notable increases in customer satisfaction. It’s Marriott Suites in Maharashtra, India for example showed that guest satisfaction apparently jumped 13% in one year in accord with the wellness program. “Higher associate engagement” and “cost savings on lower medical claims” are further benefits claimed by the company.
The real JW Marriott was famous for saying "Take care of associates and they'll take care of your customers” and Marriott’s TakeCare program is actually a spectrum of programs made available to associates, including fitness, nutrition, weight and stress management, quit smoking programs, and even programs to help associates achieve better financial health. These efforts have earned the company recognition from the American Heart Association, and have been grouped under the company’s corporate responsibility flag.
Another great example of Marriott’s greater attention to employee wellness is the Ritz Carlton in Chengdu, China. In addition to partnering with community organizations to host a 5K run to benefit children, this property hosts weekly yoga classes and ping pong tournaments for employees. Meanwhile, Hyatt are not to be left out with the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco giving fitness bracelets to its associates and holding fitness competitions amongst different Hyatt properties in the area.
Am I crazy, or is it obvious that these hospitality alchemists are on the right track? When you can demonstrate that your workplace is progressive — and that it’s centered on people and actions rather than pale corporate statements — the benefits are practically beyond counting. First off, your existing employees are going to look and feel better about themselves. They’re going to be inspired to do great work, and they’re going to interact positively with guests. Second, your reputation in the job marketplace is going to rise. Better talent will come your way as a result of the efforts you put in.
But there’s often an unspoken shrug of the shoulders when we read about developments like this. Sure, the Marriotts and Hyatts of the world can throw money at trendy wellness programs with clever names, but what about the rest of us? What about boutiques and smaller hotel chains or even independent, stand alone operators?
The answer is to start small and send a message. Does your hotel have a fitness room, or a yoga studio? Grant your employees access before or after their shifts. If there is a place for them to shower and clean up, all the better. And paying a yoga instructor to hold a weekly class doesn’t cost much — depending on where you are in Australia, it could be less than $100 per session. Use inexpensive gifts (music or movie vouchers, for example) to make fitness competitions interesting. In fact, you may not even have to spend money; you could just start a regular walk/jog with the boss. Most of all, ask your employees directly what they might like in terms of health and wellness programs. The question itself could have a powerful effect on morale.
Can we honestly say that employee wellness is a newly discovered panacea in our industry? Of course not, good managers have known this for decades. Running a successful property is a nuanced and complicated undertaking. But employee wellness does matter, and is probably an untapped source of growth for your property.
As hospitality professionals, people are always at the centre of what we do. Doing a better job of looking after our own people could provide the alchemical reaction we’ve been looking for. Go for gold!
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