Big workplace ideas for small businesses

The US Small Business Administration defines a small business as “one that is independently owned and operated and which is not dominant in its field of operation” and most hotels, franchised or not, easily slip under that umbrella definition. While the small business nature of the industry has many positives, finding best practices to combat high turnover among employees is a perennial challenge in the industry in many parts of the world.

The Wall Street Journal runs an annual contest of sorts in conjunction with Winning Workplaces, an Evanston, Ill., nonprofit that helps small and midsize companies create better work environments, to identify 15 small employers that have built exemplary workplaces. As the Journal report notes “it’s never been harder to create a great workplace. With all the turbulence in the economy, business owners are spending more time trying to boost sales and cut costs than fretting about the well-being of their employees”. That’s a description that lends itself quite easily to the hotel industry even in better times and some of the measures taken by the “winners” (none of whom were from the hospitality industry) could just as easily be applied by hotel employers.

The measures vary widely across a number of employee focused areas. They include “100% employee-ownership enabled by an employee stock-ownership plan”. Most hoteliers would probably balk at that but a way to consider it is to set vesting based on tenure and set aside a finite ratio for employee ownership as opposed to a majority of shares that a conventional and traditional owner retains so as to not be concerned by control issues. Asset sales can be addressed with a proviso to ensure delivery of 100% of shares in the event the asset is sold. Another company chose to address it by setting aside a fixed ratio of pre-tax profit for employees with no dilution of shares thereby giving a real feel of “ownership” to all employees.

Another area addressed by best practice companies is the annual bonus where it was done as a ratio of one’s salary as opposed to the seemingly arbitrary flat bonus. Unfortunately, all too often, many hotels have no bonus policy for its employees.

Employee feedback formed a highly important component of another firm and was done very frequently and in a highly structured manner. When combined with on-site and off-site training it almost always engenders employee loyalty not to mention upward mobility within the company.

Encouraging employee suggestions or changes and rewarding as well as implementing the good ones is an excellent employment practice. A trucking company (traditionally a high turnover business) cited in the Journal article not only had the usual employee of the month and year awards but also quarterly $100, $50 and $25, rewards for suggestions.

Combating nasty and wasteful instincts in a work place was addressed by another company by getting “employees (to) meet for a “scrum” — a short get-together where they’re briefed on company news, do yogalike exercises and then play a quick brain-rousing game that forces them to think on their feet”. Monday morning GMs meetings could arguably incorporate some aspects of it particularly the latter.

Other morale boosting methods include finding fun and communal ways for employees to be involved; internal and leadership development programs; hosting annual soccer games, athletic contests and recreational trips; and enabling administrative staffers to take on challenging projects that “forge a fulfilling career path (with)in the organization”.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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