Hoteliers believe having a clear and authentic focus on environmental efforts gives a company stronger ties to its employees.
NEW YORK—While it may not be the top motivator driving employee engagement, sustainability has a clear connection to satisfaction and retention, experts say.
Speaking during a roundtable of experts held at the InterContinental New York Barclay, Paul Snyder, VP of corporate responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group, said he sees a correlation between the two.
“I totally believe, even though I can’t prove it, that hotels that authentically engage in environmental issues and social issues have higher retention rates of employees,” he said. “But analysis of that is very, very hard. Turnover in this business is a killer, so the benefits of this layer on each other.”
Hervé Houdré, GM of the InterContinental New York Barclay, said it’s something he’s seen play out in his position, at least when it comes to the recruitment side of things.
“For young people who interview, it’s something that has made a difference in convincing them to join us,” Houdré said. “I’m not sure if it makes them stay here an extra year or not, but it’s a huge differentiator during the interview.”
He said his young employees largely have backgrounds in public service and civic engagement, including an employee who started her own nonprofit organization. So seeing their employer engaged in issues that benefit the communities or larger society helps forge a connection.
“It’s something that goes through the veins of our younger staff members,” he said.
Bennett Thomas, SVP of finance and sustainability for Hersha Hospitality Trust, said he’s seeing these types of concerns quickly becoming a key factor for employees making a decision about their career paths.
“It’s growing into the third dimension (for employment considerations),” he said. “It seems like people want to look at the potential for professional and financial growth. Now, that third component is seeing if that company has shared values. I’m seeing that become more and more important.”
Justin Bakule, executive director of the Shared Value Initiative, said business people should no longer look at these types of programs as a luxury because they are growing increasingly vital for employees’ outlooks on their companies.
“It’s a question of creating business value with social issues,” he said. “You might want to think that an employee’s life is separate from work, but that’s not true any longer.”
In that context, he said, the costs of some sustainability initiatives shouldn’t be quite as imposing. Instead, they can be compared to the other costs associated with attracting and keeping talent.
“You have to look at how much you pay to find talent and what makes people leave your company,” Bakule said.
Thomas said he has been surprised by the amount of buy-in he’s seen from employees for environmental efforts in which the company partners with outside organizations that lend credibility.
He said this has shown up in his company’s partnership with water.org.
Staff “really rallies behind it because they know it’s truly authentic,” Thomas said. “And it makes them more willing to carry out other initiatives or do things themselves. These are really multiplying factors.”
A.J. Singh, a Hilton Hotels fellow and professor of international lodging, finance and real estate at Michigan State University, has a front row seat to what draws the interests of the next generation of hoteliers. He said he can see a clear difference in the overall success of recruitment efforts from companies that are sustainability- and socially-minded versus those that are not.
For young people “it’s all about work-life balance,” he said. “So when they see companies align to their values much more closely, they’re more interested.”
Bakule noted that the effectiveness of using things such as sustainability efforts in recruiting and retention depends on how deeply those efforts and values penetrate an organization.
“If you’re bringing in a millennial promising management training or who you expect to come up the ranks but they’re feeling the sentiment or purpose in the company doesn’t go beyond limited opportunities, it’s going to be a lot less meaningful,” he said.
Marcus Munse, a GM at Courtesy Management, said different employees have the opportunity to engage with sustainability efforts in varying ways. He said housekeepers participate in a specific program related to their job functions, while front-desk employees are more likely to be engaged in guest education efforts.
“It’s different in how it touches different departments,” he said.
He said success metrics speak to all employees, however.
“I think they all appreciate that,” Munse said. “When you’re going over facts and numbers you can see their eyes light up.”