Engaging all staff during the pandemic
Being aware of the diversity amongst the staff body can drive better outcomes regards wellbeing and retention, especially in difficult times
Like many recent interactions, this interview was planned to be face-to-face. Yet, instead of visiting Landmark London’s oasis-like luxury – words I’m taking from the hotel’s web page – to talk in-person with Nicola Forshaw, the firm’s Director of Human Resources, I’m sitting at my makeshift home office (a desk in my bedroom) on the phone to her instead. Which isn’t to say that our conversation was any less edifying or important. Prior to the call, we had agreed to talk about how diversity and inclusion, one of HR’s favourite topics, dovetails with wellbeing – and what that might mean for HR practise in the light of the current lockdown, one that has hit the leisure and hospitality industry particularly hard.
In fact – perhaps unsurprisingly for a company named IIP Platinum Employer of the year 2019 as well as ranking highly on The Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ 2020 list – Forshaw tells me that having to ensure that a diverse array of employee needs are met during the pandemic has re-emphasised the importance of taking diversity seriously. For The Landmark, this has meant having an informative, differentiated comms strategy sensitive to the individual needs and living conditions of every person within the workforce.
It’s also important to communicate using a diverse way to make sure you touch everyone
Firstly, Forshaw explains the onus is on the employer to understand the diverse array of financial situations amongst its staff. “It’s an anxious time,” she tells me “and our teams were naturally going to be thinking of their financial wellbeing and mental wellbeing. One great thing our owners have done that financial security is given as people know they can pay their rent and feed their families, that’s a huge thing when we’ve been furloughed.”
“It’s also important to communicate using a diverse way to make sure you touch everyone,” Forshaw explains. For The Landmark London, she adds, this has meant ensuring a variety of different touchpoints for staff – ranging from Instagram, email and a good old-fashioned phone calls. Whilst some of these channels drive community and engagement – Forshaw explains that the Landmark team has been having a lot of fun via Instagram, running activities such as bakeoffs despite most staff being furloughed and at home – they also share important messages, which showcase an awareness of the staff body’s diversity.
Explaining that the hotel had to close very quickly, Forshaw added that understanding the diversity of the workforce, and letting this drive communications, helped alleviate potential anxiety amongst staff. “We closed the hotel very quickly, so we were furloughing via email which can be difficult as hotel staff don’t always check emails. We said, make sure you check your emails as we’ll be writing. Then we have some team members who don’t have email addresses, so we were phoning them, explaining to them what furlough meant."
We had to be aware that for most of the workforce, English isn’t their first language, so we were very conscious of that
She continues: “We had to be aware that for most of the workforce, English isn’t their first language, so we were very conscious of that. It can be scary, you’re not sure of the terminology, you’re not sure what the rules are going to be even if you’re in your own country, so we communicated very quickly about what furlough was.”
It isn’t just about one-time communication, though. Understanding that there were a variety of different individuals at the hotel – those who might not know how to access state assistance, those with different financial means, and those who might’ve been on long-term sick or who were more worried about what furlough might mean for them – Forshaw explains that additional support via an employee assistance programme was also delivered to staff. Information regards financial wellbeing support, mental health support and physical wellbeing was also communicated– as well as information on general health and safety. (The latter important for non-native staff who might not know where to access support). A salary top-up to 100% was also agreed. “What’s been reconfirmed is through the variety of messages from people about how appreciative they are, about how thankful they are, it just really confirms you can never communicate too much and it's good to do in a variety of methods,” she adds.
Yet, diversity and inclusivity hasn’t just been a focus during the pandemic. Prior to the new normal the pandemic has driven, The Landmark was keen to have staff involved in many channels of major business decisions. Forshaw explains that a third of staff – including non-full-time staff – make up tasksforces that drive feedback to management. “No one has to, it’s just if you're interested and want to volunteer to be part of groups and give the management team feedback,” she adds, “and they’re listened to and their ideas are implemented into business and it’s a huge part of people’s wellbeing.”
We say to them, in your review be honest about what you want to do
Forshaw also explains that as a hospitality employer, The Landmark is sensitive to the variety of different reasons that staff enter the industry. “We say we’re okay if you have other plans, if you come here as a graduate we don’t expect you to retire here, we say we know some of you have come here to earn extra money and you might go again in six months time. We say to them, in your review be honest about what you want to do, don’t just say what you think your manager wants to hear,” she adds.
In fact, this approach – driven by regular reviews rather than just one annual appraisal – has helped The Landmark place people into roles they were suited for. “We employed someone who wanted to be a personal trainer who was disengaged and working in finance. We moved him to our spa, got him a new path to follow and he got into the next job and the next job, and then developed his career in the spa.
“This approach is great. It gives the business energy and people know they can be honest. We don’t think people are using by saying, most of us who do careers in hospitality accidentally got in. You never know, they might come back, tell friends – for me I don’t see why you’d do it any other way.”