The Landmark London’s award-winning approach to pandemic wellbeing

Words by Liam Soutar

Last year, luxury London hotel The Landmark earned an award for investment in the health and wellbeing of its team during the pandemic. myGrapevine magazine finds out more about how the hotel helped its team cope with the stresses of lockdown...

When the coronavirus pandemic first began to grip the world at the start of last year, it didn’t take long for companies to realise the importance of employee wellbeing. The events of the past 20 months have laid bare the importance of maintaining a happy and healthy workforce, largely due to the impact that burnout has had on many workers. This is backed by stats. In fact, May 2020 data from LinkedIn’s Glint found that burnout had doubled from March (2.7%) to April (5.4%), while research from the RSA’s Matthew Taylor and Vitality found that multiple lockdowns have worsened employee physical and mental health. Yet, despite the apparent effects of the pandemic on employee wellbeing, it seems as though wellbeing continues to be a top priority for some employers and HR. According to recent research from Legal & General, just over half (54%) of employers have a formal wellbeing strategy in place. For nearly one-third (29%), it’s informal and 15% have no strategy. Yet, whether employers have a strategy in place or not, an overall average of around eight in ten survey respondents said that a good wellbeing strategy can bring about improvements across all key business parameters; such as recruitment, retention, productivity and culture, pointing towards the business case for supporting employee wellbeing.

It was so important that we felt we should over-communicate to try and keep people from not panicking, and to know we were still there...

One such business to recognise the benefits of strong staff wellbeing, even long before the global pandemic struck, was The Landmark London – a five-star luxury hotel in the heart of the capital’s trendy Marylebone. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued the order for all non-essential businesses to temporarily close in March 2020, The Landmark’s leaders knew that the wellbeing of its 350-strong workforce would be the most pressing matter in the coming months. Big decisions had to be taken around mental, physical, and financial resilience – and not without good reason. Close Brothers’ Expecting the unexpected: a spotlight on preparing for a crisis report found that 51% of employees have experienced an increase in worries relating to their mental health due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, around two in five (39%) of staff have experienced an increase in financial health-related worries. For those working predominantly remotely, 2020 data commissioned by Nurofen found that 36% of staff had experienced increased pains – something which is largely due to working environments that simply aren’t designed for sustained use. As such, there has been a myriad of pandemic-related issues for HR and employers to contend with.

A clear comms strategy

The leadership at The Landmark was determined to help staff navigate all aspects of wellbeing during the pandemic. But if they were to stand any chance of doing so, a clear communication strategy would be crucial. It was a task not as simple as it may first seem, given that some Landmark employees didn’t even have an email address or didn’t have English as their first language.  It was already in the hotel’s DNA to look after its team members, having been 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, but even for them, the pandemic created an unprecedented situation which required unprecedented solutions.

Ultimately, The Landmark’s response to staff wellbeing both before and during lockdown added another gong to its already brimming trophy cabinet with the addition of a Healthy Workplace Award for investment in the health and wellbeing of its team during the pandemic. This helped ensure that the majority of staff returned to work for The Landmark when the hospitality sector reopened. The Landmark’s impressive handling of the pandemic, and the resultant staff retention, is, according to the hotel’s Director of Human Resources Nicola Forshaw, down to several key elements.

We drove that culture that no question is a silly question

Strong leadership

In a time when millions of staff looked to their bosses for reassurance and a clear path through one of the most stressful events in modern history, showcasing strong leadership values and empathy towards staff was an invaluable strongpoint. “We were very lucky that, on a financial front, our owners looked after us very well and paid our team members a lot more than the Government guidelines,” said Forshaw. “Our company was very conscious that it was a very stressful time for so many people on so many levels,” she added. Again, commitment to staff wellbeing was something already high on The Landmark leadership’s agenda even before the pandemic. In 2019, the hotel became the first in the world to be awarded the Platinum Level Investors In People Award, achieving the highest score in the accommodation business sector globally at that time. The following year, the venue claimed 4th position in the prestigious Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For 2020’.

At the beginning of lockdown, we also made sure we had lots of fun online activities

Contact is key

Communication, Forshaw explained, was also key. “During the lockdown [period], we were very mindful of people’s psychological wellbeing, so it was really important to us to keep in contact,” Forshaw explained. “When we went into lockdown we had no idea it was going to last so long. We all thought we’d be going home for a couple of weeks, but as the months went on it became quickly apparent that we were going to be in this for longer, and we needed to keep these things going. As a hotel, we’re in a very face-to-face industry, and you see people a lot. So in lockdown it was important to us that our team members who might not have that social network outside of work, that we carried on doing those.”

To help with this, the hotel deployed several initiatives to help keep staff connected including virtual coffee mornings which were hosted each week. Forshaw added: “We’d send out a Zoom link on Wednesday evening and remind everyone we’d be having a coffee on Thursday morning. If people wanted to join, they could, but if they didn’t, they didn’t have to dial in. So, it was really good because we learned so much more about our team members, than we did even before. There was no agenda – though, if they wanted a business update, we’d give them one! – but really it was just to connect with people, have a chat and to make sure people were looked after during that time, and knew that we were there for them.”


The Landmark's focus on listening

boxout image one

How can other firms follow The Landmark’s trail towards improving staff wellbeing? In a nutshell, listen.

boxout image one

Forshaw said: “I’d say that one thing doesn’t fit all. It’s very much about finding what connects with each team member. Not everyone has the same needs.”

boxout image one

“I’d really advise speaking to your teams and finding out what they have to say, because your team knows what they want, you just need to make sure you ask, and listen to their answers.” 

Although The Landmark found that the majority of staff quickly grasped the new world of Zoom calls, there were of course a handful of employees whose computer literacy was not as strong, and some didn’t even have an email account. For those few, Forshaw and her team kept things traditional, by making regular welfare check phone calls. “There was no business agenda, we were just checking that people were okay,” Forshaw explained. “At the beginning of lockdown, we also made sure we had lots of fun online activities. We did quiz nights, we were doing bake-offs etc, to keep this very connected approach.”

Concerned that staff would be worried, even fearful, of the uncertainty posed by the lockdown, the hotel’s HR team held online, company-wide meetings around once a fortnight to update every single employee on the state of the business which, fortunately, stayed strong. Forshaw added: “It was so important that we felt we should over-communicate to try and keep people from not panicking, and to know we were still there, that the business was still viable and that it was always our intention to reopen the hotel. I think that worked very well. We drove that culture that no question is a silly question.”

It’s very much about finding what connects with each team member. Not everyone has the same needs

Feedback from staff 

Feedback was also embedded into every piece of communication The Landmark made with its colleagues, Forshaw said. Staff were encouraged to ask questions during video calls, and their internal newsletter featured a section for questions and comments. “When we were planning to reopen, we did a lot of training, virtually, and had a lot of opportunities to ask our teams about any concerns around coming back to work,” Forshaw said. “Would it be travel? Would it be childcare responsibilities? Would it be simply going back to work after being off for so long?”

From all these streams, Forshaw and her HR team had access to continuous information from the teams, and ensured that all staff were kept in the loop about plans for the future of The Landmark. Concerns about the safety of returning to work when the hotel reopened were addressed in creative fashion. “We did a live Instagram of all our PPE, masks and visors, arriving at the hotel, to show them what we were doing. We put in a one-way system in the hotel too,” the hotel’s HR lead added. “By doing all these things, the team members could see that we were very serious about their safety and general wellbeing. We found that we didn’t have any team members that didn’t want to come back to work, because of everything we’d communicated and put in place prior to them coming back to work.”

Financial wellbeing

But The Landmark’s focus on staff wellbeing did not start with the pandemic. Long before an emphasis was already placed on looking after the team's financial wellbeing. Alongside regular salary reviews, bosses realised that bolstering benefits packages could improve job satisfaction and allow team members to spend their hard-earned money on the things that really mattered to them. Deals were struck with local merchants, including discounts at hairdressers, so staff could look and feel their best, not just at work, but in their personal lives too. Cobblers also joined in the scheme, providing discounted shoe repairs, and all of the team members have access to free dry cleaning of work uniforms via the hotel’s housekeeping department, thus reducing household bills, to a degree.  Forshaw continued: “It’s all these costs that you have because ultimately, you’re going to work. Everyone wants to spend their money on some things in leisure time, so we wanted to reduce the cost of coming to work. We have the focus on financial, so we have our financial advisors come to the hotel so our team members can be advised on different parts of their career and financial planning, whether it’s relating to pensions or mortgages.”

Of course, The Landmark also placed great emphasis on physical health and mental health too. Prior to the first lockdown, fitness classes were introduced during working hours, ranging from dance classes and bootcamps to yoga sessions. The best approach, the hotel felt, was to do lots of different things to connect with as many staff as possible. Mental health first aid courses were introduced, and all staff members were encouraged to complete at least the first stage of the training. “It will help us deal with whatever the future holds, ultimately,” Forshaw explained.

As she describes it: “Mental health became a bigger issue for everyone during the pandemic, and we have to be aware of spotting people who are burning out, and young people who are struggling. I think it’s really going to help our business. Our team members found that the course helped them personally, but a lot also found it helped them look out for signs of others struggling.” And, of course, the skills provided by The Landmark are not just suited towards life in the hospitality sector. Increasingly, feeling in control of one’s mental and physical wellbeing is becoming ever more important, and by investing in the team’s personal lives, workers are embracing the hotel’s ethos and brand even more.

Reuniting team members

Embracing that brand is exactly what most staff did when The Landmark was finally able to re-open. While some, understandably, decided to move back home or pursue other opportunities, the HR practitioner and her team found that most team members opted to return to the hotel, even with hybrid working now being an option for a portion of them. “I think it’s a very face-to-face industry and lots of people wanted to go back and re-bond with their teams which they hadn't seen for a long time,” Forshaw continued. “A lot of our teams need to be in the hotel for our guests, but our teams in support roles did mostly opt to go back too,” she said, adding: “We do have an element of homeworking going on still for our sales team for example and we do see that this will continue. If people want to continue a hybrid approach, that’s something that we will embrace.”

And it surely can’t be a coincidence that – in an industry where staff turnaround has always been high, long before a global pandemic exacerbated the issue – The Landmark managed to retain most of its workforce with such a keen focus on wellbeing. From deploying initiatives to keep staff connected, to hosting company-wide meetings and good communication, there were many ways that The Landmark strived to keep employees together when they were apart, as well as focussing on their employees’ physical and mental health. But this was not all. Thought was also given to financial wellbeing and providing training to employees when the hotel reopened, a tack that has clearly paid off from a talent retention and engagement perspective for The Landmark London.