Communicating with your employees

Green Hotelier investigates why internal communications are critical to a company’s successful sustainability programme. We look at how the hospitality sector are engaging their workforce and what we can learn from other industries

You wouldn’t normally expect an applicant to take part in a beach cleaning operation as part of a job interview. But for The Scarlet on England’s north Cornish coast, it is an early indication for future employees that – if successful - they are going to be at the heart of the sustainability policy of this 37-bedroom luxury eco-hotel.

“The overarching theme of our company’s philosophy is to cherish the world,” says Suzie Newham, sustainability manager of The Scarlet, which in 2010 became the first recipient of the AA Eco Hotel of the Year award. “That philosophy is embedded in everything we do. It forms part of our business goals, key performance indicators and job descriptions and is, therefore, an important element in our selection and interview process.”

All 85 staff members are encouraged to participate in initiatives that benefit not only employees, but also guests, the local environment and community, including beach cleans. The result is a hotel that successfully combines sustainability and luxury within an environment in which staff communicate the “cherish the world” mantra to guests. “We show that sustainability is much more than just recycling and turning off lights,” says Newham.

The effective communication of a company’s sustainability or CSR policies to not only employees but also to wider stakeholders is increasingly key to the success of any business. Particularly in uncertain economic times when consumer spending is down and brand identity and image, as well as customer loyalty, become more important than ever. It allows companies to highlight sustainability goals and accomplishments, build and strengthen relationships with local communities, and support the overall reputation of a company as a responsible business which, if done well, will improve the bottom line.

But any quest for sustainability has to start from within the organisation. And while many hotels have sustainability or CSR policies in place, very few have it, like The Scarlet, running through their DNA. Without staff who are emotionally engaged and supportive of what an organisation is trying to achieve, businesses are missing out on huge potential benefits, including improved staff retention and reduced recruitment costs and higher productivity through a more content and motivated workforce.

For David Collins, who runs the Future Conversations consultancy, the key factor to the success of a company’s sustainability programme is the involvement of people. “A company may have the most impressive policy in the world but it means nothing if there is no communication between the management and the staff regarding its implementation,” he explains. “Some managers lack the confidence to engage staff in a subject that they may not fully understand themselves or that they regard as being emotional. Others may try telling their staff, but that is not engagement – there is a subtle but huge difference. For sustainability within a company to truly work, it is essential everyone from the chief executive down buys into the policy in order that it becomes fundamental to the way the business is run.”

One company enjoying the benefits of a fully engaged workforce is retail giant Wal-Mart. It recognised early on that its workforce were critical in the company’s efforts to become a more sustainable business and, in 2007, launched an ambitious programme to encourage its employees to embrace sustainability in their everyday lives.

Wal-Mart asked staff to voluntarily change their behaviour on everything from their diet to the environment. As many as 500,000 adopted these “personal sustainability projects”, committing to everything from graffiti removal to car-pool sharing and using public transport to get to work. The result, says the company, is the creation of an inspired workforce, which has helped to produce a culture of sustainability within the organisation.

In the UK, ethical communications company Forster topped The Sunday Times 60 Best Green Companies list in 2009 in recognition of its efforts to make sustainable behaviour attractive and appealing to staff. Many of the company’s most successful green ideas have come from employees, including its programme that rewards staff for every journey they make to work by foot or on bike. They win five minutes’ additional holiday, up to a maximum of two and a half extra days holiday annually, for each trip.

We’ve always been proud to have sustainable business policies, but when it comes to ensuring those policies are upheld, having your staff on board from the top down is crucial,”
Gillian Daines, Forster marketing manager

She offers the same advice to her clients. “You can then stretch targets and go beyond best practice.” Quarterly company days are an opportunity for all 40 staff to brainstorm about improving company practices, including its environmental performance. Results of tangible benefits and successes are then shared to ensure that staff know their efforts are making a real difference. For example, 40p per mile is offered for business travel by bike, rather than taxis or tube, resulting in a saving for the company of around £500 per month.

While Forster is a small company, the Dow Chemical Company has shown that it is equally possible to have a positive influence on a much larger scale. Dow has had great success in actively engaging its 52,000 employees from 37 countries with its 2015 sustainability goals, set in 2006.

In a series of internal advertisements, created by Dow in conjunction with Insidedge, a PR company that helps businesses connect with their employees, and ad agency Draftfcb, individual staff told their stories on how they wanted to help the company achieve its goals. The campaign won the PR Week Employee Communication Campaign of the Year 2008, with one judge saying that the Dow has provided “a great way to both honour and engage employees”. The adverts, which appeared on the Dow intranet home page, recognised employees from all areas, levels and job functions, and shared examples of their daily work to achieve each of the goals.

At the company’s annual meeting, five employees – one from each of Dow’s global regions Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, India/Middle East/Africa, and North America – were introduced to shareholders to inject reality into the company’s sustainability policy. By choosing its employees to serve as brand promoters in a global campaign, Dow effectively built awareness and pride.

There are some brilliant examples of hotel's leading the way in employee engagement including CampbellGray Hotels, which has frequently been a step ahead of its competitors. Founded by Gordon Campbell Gray, the company has put the environment at the forefront of its operation ever since it launched its first hotel. Like Dow, CampbellGray has found that instilling pride in his staff at his properties in Antigua, Beirut and London has been essential to the success of its sustainability policy and communicating it to a wider audience. Initially, he thought it might be more difficult to achieve in Antigua and Beirut, where people are only just beginning to talk about environmental issues. “However, I’ve found, so long as you include the staff in what you are doing, they are extremely keen to learn and be involved,” explains Campbell Gray, who is also chairman of the Considerate Hoteliers Association, “If you show them, for instance, how wasteful it is to wrap laundry in sheets of tissue paper – and instead place the clean garments in a beautiful basket, which can be re-used again and again – they understand that it is the right thing to do which, in turn, will attract the intelligent guest.”

So enthused are the 260 staff at the 87-bedroom Le Gray hotel in Beirut to embrace the company’s environmental initiatives that when Campbell Gray asked for volunteers to join the property’s green team, every single employee showed an interest.

By inspiring staff in a hotel’s green agenda, communicating the sustainability message becomes much easier. It is something that the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, an InterContinental Hotels Group property in Denmark, clearly recognises. “It is quite simple – our staff are our most important ambassadors because they are first in line when meeting with our guests,” explains Frederickke Tømmergaard, the hotel’s director of communications and CSR.

All Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers employees receive tours of the 366-bedroom hotel to introduce them to its workings, which includes the largest solar panel park in Northern Europe and Denmark’s first groundwater-based cooling and heating system. “We share all our energy saving successes with our staff,” says Tømmergaard. “And the effects are immediate: for the hotel industry, we have a low staff turnover and a high level of work satisfaction among employees – they all recommend us to friends and family when we need to recruit new staff.”

Employee involvement is also at the heart of Hyatt Hotels and Resorts’ environmental and social policies with “Green Teams” used around the world as positive catalysts for change. To support the work of these voluntary staff groups, Hyatt organises Earth Training workshops to help employees create a plan of action to raise environmental awareness, reduce waste and conserve natural resources at their properties. In addition, an online social network, the Hyatt Earth Community, encourages staff across its properties worldwide to share ideas, initiatives and communicate best practice.

When you have a workforce of more than 300,000 spread over 70 countries, communicating your sustainability policies and initiatives for staff is more challenging than within a single hotel. However, Marriott Hotels International – the only hotelier among the 60 businesses in The Sunday Times Best Green Companies 2010 – has shown that it is possible. As well as being ranked seventh, the company also received the Best for Employee Environmental Engagement award – no mean achievement with such a diverse and global workforce.

Sustainability objectives are included in the performance reviews of Marriott’s senior executives, which ensures their ongoing commitment to the cause. Messages regarding the company’s green ethos are included in executive speeches, regional conferences and meetings, the company’s internal electronic newsletter and even the blog of chairman and chief executive, Bill Marriott.

For staff at individual hotels around the world, the primary channel for receiving the corporate green message is via Marriott’s intranet. Managers in each property download, translate and share information with their employees through staff bulletin boards, daily briefings and departmental meetings.

Active employee engagement is encouraged with two global environmentally focussed events: April’s Environmental Awareness Month and May’s Spirit To Serve Our Communities Day. From these, a host of other events have sprung, with employees helping to preserve, protect and improve their local environments.

At the Sharm El Sheikh Marriott Resort in Egypt, for instance, staff have established the Know & Protect the Red Sea project, which raises employees’ and guests’ awareness about protecting the sea, its coral and fish through regular beach and underwater clean-ups. Meanwhile, in London, employees from all Marriott-branded hotels join forces with Thames21, a leading waterways charity, to clear litter and debris from the River Thames every year.

The company’s sustainability goals can only be achieved with the commitment of our global workforce. We consider our employees our strength and it’s their enthusiasm and passion for sustainable business practices that help give us a competitive edge.
Barbara Powell, senior director for international social responsibility at Marriott

Staying ahead of the competition on sustainable and CSR issues will be a growing focus for companies.
Allan Agerholm, managing director of the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, says that if a hotel is not sustainable by the end of this decade, it will be discriminated against. “It will definitely become one of the top-five reasons why guests choose a hotel in the future,” he says.

This applies to recruitment too, with employees increasingly only wanting to work for ethical companies. It’s also imperative that hotels are confident in communicating and engaging staff in sustainability matters so that they are willing to commit to the long-term goals of the company. Only then will a hotel be able stand out from the crowd as a responsible operation, which guests will be eager to use.

Janet Harmer is the hotels editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper.

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