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Engaged employees drive guest satisfaction
February 29 2012

Employees all want the same thing: engagement. If HR practitioners are able to foster that, improvements in guest satisfaction are sure to follow.

  • The most engaged employees are those who understand how their roles and responsibilities relate to a larger meaning.
  • The foundation of employee engagement begins with a strong brand promise.
  • To determine what motivates employees, simply ask them.

SAN FRANCISCO—All employees, regardless of where they work, want the same thing: They want to be cared about as individuals, as human beings. They want recognition. And they want to know what they’re doing matters.

If HR practitioners are able to meet those needs, the result is a joyful, engaged workforce that will help facilitate happy, engaging relationships with guests, according to experts during a session titled “How the Game Has Changed: Rewards and Incentives,” at the 6th Annual HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.

To emphasis that point, presenter Darci Riesenhuber, director of brand culture and internal communications for Hilton Worldwide’s Embassy Suites brand, offered the following statistic: The No. 1 reason customers don’t come back to a hotel, as cited by 68% of respondents in a recent poll, is because employees don’t care. At a distant second is price (14%), followed by product quality (9%).

“The ripple effect is you don’t care about me as an employee, I don’t care about you, I certainly don’t care about your customer,” she said.

That idea of “caring” is especially important, Riesenhuber said. Bad reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor shouldn’t be the primary concern, as any review suggests a guest cares enough about the experience to write a reaction to it.

“When guests give up (and don’t offer feedback), that’s when we’re in trouble,” she said.

Engaging employees
The most engaged employees are those who understand how their roles and responsibilities relate to a larger meaning, Riesenhuber said.

Room attendants, for example, shouldn’t just view their role as cleaning rooms. Rather, they are creating a tidy place of comfort—a home away from home—for travelers. Likewise, janitors aren’t just cleaning hallways; they’re stopping the spread of germs and are contributing to a healthy environment for guests.

“Our job is to help connect and give meaning to our employees’ jobs,” Riesenhuber said. “… If you can do that, you will have a truly engaged workforce.”

So how do HR practitioners create those places of engagement? Riesenhuber, along with fellow presenter Fred Bendaña, executive director of client service for Fenton, Missouri-based consultancy Maritz, shared three important principles that are crucial when fostering an engaged workforce.

1. Brand promise
The foundation of any HR initiative rests with the individual organization’s brand promise, the panelists said.

At grocery-store chain Whole Foods Market, for example, the company’s brand promise is to radically improve the health of people, both physically and emotionally. Every decision stems from that core philosophy, Bendana said.

Embassy Suite’s brand promise is to deliver more of what guests want in a consistent and generous way, Riesenhuber said. With that foundation in place, she was able to investigate what motivates her employees to help them better find meanings in their jobs.

2. Motivation insights
What is the best way to discern employees’ needs and wants, Bendaña asked? Ask them.

His research found 78% of employees said praise or recognition for a job well done is important or extremely important when it comes to fostering engagement.

Gaylord Entertainment excels in this regard. Not only does the hotel company recognize and reward its employees, but it tailors its recognition and rewards to meet the needs of specific segments within its workforce, Bendaña said.

For instance, some employees—the “career builders”—want development opportunities. “Praise cravers,” on the other hand, want to be publically recognized. Others didn’t want any public recognition but place high value on days off and flexibility in scheduling.

“What do your employees want? It’s not all the same thing,” he said.

3. Recognition practices
Another Maritz poll found employee engagement doubles when recognition practices are in place. One particular Maritz client found departments with the highest level of customer satisfaction had the highest occurrence of employee recognition.

The key, added Riesenhuber, is to clearly articulate what it is you will be rewarding. If employees don’t understand the preferred types of behavior, they’ll never be able to achieve them.

“Tell employees exactly what you’re looking for,” she said.

Matt Lucas (
3/16/2012 12:02:00 PM
This sentence is key: For instance, some employees—the “career builders”—want development opportunities. “Praise cravers,” on the other hand, want to be publically recognized. The article addresses how to assuage the "Praise cravers", but how are hotel management companies working with the "career builders"? The most progressive companies I've worked with have very robust management training and leadership programs in place. Some even go a step further and offer wellness programs, day care, etc. These are the companies that consistently retain talent and reduce turnover.
Alex Kuenzli
3/15/2012 6:46:00 AM
I fully agree to the points made in this article. Yet having worked successfully for over forty years in this profession it baffles me to note that many management companies and GM's have difficulties to understand and more importantly to follow these basics of human behaviour and expectations. It is common knowledge that the employees make or brake a hotel whereby their attitude, their interest and their dedication to provide professional and caring service create a positive atmosphere in which guest satisfaction is driven to high levels. After all, hotel business is a people business therefore people i.e. guests, employees, suppliers, partners etc. must be put at the forefront of your efforts but to my surprise this is very often neglected. These efforts must be inspired by the GM as part of the overall policies to create a successful hotel and monitored to ensure that all the projects are kept running without interruptions or slow down in pace. Once people are dissapointed and these policies perceived as hot air only the support will fade very quickly and the best intentions will turn against you.
Kurt Turrell
3/6/2012 1:30:00 PM
Many limited service General Managers - lacking an "engaged" HR team - do not understand exactly where to begin to create an engaged or involved staff. My suggestion: Begin with the end in mind. In other words, learn from your employees directly what is important to them individually. Then create programs that involve employees collectively, while reinforcing this with individual recognition and rewards. Visualize your staff as engaged and caring, then begin to close the gap between the status quo and your vision.
2/29/2012 10:59:00 AM
Patrick - Awesome article and SPOT ON! One addtional thought regarding effective Recognition Practices: Recognition will generate the maximum effect when it is RELEVANT (meaningful as Gaylord Entertainment has learned), SPECIFIC (articulted as Embassy Suites notes) and TIMELY (as soon after the behavior as possible). Great stuff - thanks for sharing!
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