Employee engagement in a 24-hour operation
In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms our interviewee is Kristina Vaneva who is Director of Employee Engagement & Internal Communications at Atlantis Resorts in Dubai. Kristina is on a mission to create hope and positivity, and to encourage happiness not only in the workplace but also in people’s personal lives. In her twelve years at Atlantis Dubai, Kristina has successfully managed the Employee Engagement Department, part of the HR Division and has received several personal as well as team industry awards.
Kristina describes the Atlantis Dubai as one of the largest integrated resorts in the world with a huge water park which fits up to 10,000 people, 28 restaurants, a dolphin bay, a sealion point and 1458 guest rooms. There are 2200 employees from 87 different countries leading to a very diverse workforce operating 24/7 which is an accurate reflection of what Dubai itself is about – a melting pot of people and diversity. Employee engagement in a 24-hour operation is always something Kristina is driving for.
A passion for employee engagement and internal comms
Kristina’s passion for employee engagement and internal comms began at an early age and was developed in childhood. She describes how as a child she enjoyed creative writing and was in the literature club, then in high school she was part of the school paper and later in charge of the yearbook. At university she was part of the university magazine and then went on to work as an investigative journalist. During this time, and while living in Malta, she embarked on a project to examine the affect of adopting the Euro in Malta and visited many countries in the Euro zone. She interviewed everyday people on the streets and politicians and journalists to see how adopting the Euro had affected them. This project helped solidify Kristina’s love for journalism, her passion for communicating and getting messages across. It was this passion which helped her join Atlantis Dubai in 2008 as manager of the employee marketing team which, as Kristina says, is really all about employee engagement and internal comms.
Creating positive, thriving workplaces
Interestingly, in her own time, Kristina runs her own YouTube channel (https://youtube.com/c/KristinaVaneva) where she shares her experience in employee engagement. This could be of interest to people who are looking to create an Employee Engagement department, an Internal Comms department or to put together a better strategy for something that is already in existence. Kristina wants to share her experience with her viewers to help create positive, thriving workplaces all over the world.
She believes that if the place you work has a great camaraderie and sense of belonging, then the 8-10 hours a day that you’re there will fly by and you will consider it less as work.
Craig comments this is a brilliant and benevolent thing to do, finding the time and having the confidence to share this kind of knowledge.
The challenges of diversity and employee engagement in a 24-hour operation
Craig asks Kristina about the challenges of employee engagement in a 24-hour operation and Kristina replies that it’s actually the challenges which keep her engaged as this is what she loves. She enjoys making sure every day at work is a different day and explains that every project, programme, campaign and engagement strategy that is put in place always involves a diverse set of expectations. Some people have worked in the organisation for over 10 years and don’t want to see old information which has just been regurgitated… they want to be surprised.
Hospitality in general is in the business of creating amazing experiences and everlasting memories so, how do we as internal employee marketers do this for our colleagues? According to Kristina, the secret is care and connection. If you connect with the people around you in a genuine way and show that you care then you’ve opened that first door.
Part of the challenge is adapting the style of your communications so that it’s fun but also serious and understandable for everyone – what looks like a straightforward message can be easily misconstrued. People have different preferences for communication, some may prefer written communications and others video channels such as YouTube. You have to be careful and not just concentrate on one type or style of communication.
“Adapting to people’s various styles is one of the challenges” says Kristina.
The other main challenge is the 24/7 nature of the organisation means that you have to reach people at different times of the day – the morning shift, afternoon shift and evening shift. So how does your message reach all of them? You have to make sure you have engagement and communication champions in every department as it’s not just a push communication, it’s also a pull communication. Two-way honest and open communication is what you’re looking for to create that sense of engagement and belonging. It’s not one person’s role to be in charge of communication, everyone is responsible for their own engagement.
Briefings at the start of shifts are crucial and share the important communications for that department plus the communication related to the hotel. These briefings are the responsibility of the team leaders. Meetings are also held with influential people within the departments and divisions of the hotel. It’s important to talk to these people and this may be in their offices, the lunchroom, in the smoking area or maybe on the bus. Making sure that what you’re communicating is understood and that they can translate your message is key.
Unstructured communications such as an impromptu meeting are also important as they have an authenticity, and you can get immediate, informal feedback. Craig suggests that maybe organisations which aren’t 24/7 or operate shifts could learn from this.
Demonstrating care through actions
Kristina shares a quote which really resonates with her “If you care less about your people, they start to become careless”. If you show a sense of engagement with your employees, which is created by care, they then share this with the guests. She goes on to say that there’s a certain type of person who fits really well within the hospitality environment and that’s someone who is caring by nature, who’s warm and loves to make personal connections.
Recruiting and keeping the right employees
Craig asks Kristina how they make sure that their employees are a great fit for their organisation and she replies that in Dubai they are lucky that they have so many people from all over the world who want to work there. Atlantis has a great customer brand name and also a good employer /employee brand name and reputation so they always have a high number of applicants. This in turn allows them to select someone initially who has the right attitude and then they can train them in the required skills if necessary.
According to Kristina, keeping employees engaged needs to be a multi-prong approach from different levels. For example, the senior leaders are as much in charge of employee engagement as the HR team, as are the team leaders and the departmental managers. So, everyone who is in charge of someone, at any level, can engage or disengage a person.
A strategy for engagement
Kristina describes how the Atlantis engagement strategy is created a year ahead with a calendar of activities and programme of events and has three different areas of focus:
1.Creating a sense of belonging using internal communications
This is achieved using town hall meetings (more recently these have been virtual), newsletters, videos from the senior leadership team, digital noticeboards and print magazines. A lot of the campaigns are displayed on a giant billboard at the ‘back of house’ where the offices are. Also on display are long term service awards and loyalty recognition for employees.
2.Rewards and recognition
It’s important for any organisation to celebrate a win, be it a big or small win. Atlantis win a lot of industry accolades so it’s important to recognise the people who helped achieve those awards.
These may be mental, physical, social or cultural activities and help gel the people together with a sense of community and belonging.
Once you have created a sense of community and pride in the place that people work, then they will show genuine care for their guests. They feel they are welcoming guests to their home because they’re proud of where they work and feel connected to their guests on a more in-depth level.
Then there’s learning and development, talent management and career progression which all form part of employee engagement and the employee experience as a whole.
Keeping people engaged through the challenges of the pandemic
Craig asks Kristina how she has kept people engaged through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and she says the last 10 months have been a rollercoaster ride but working for Atlantis resorts prepares you for that. One day you could be helping prepare the biggest live-stream concert, another day a gala dinner where you could have someone like Katy Perry performing and on another day you could be setting up the ballroom for a local artist to display their work. “Every day is a huge challenge but a fun challenge so it’s within our DNA to be prepared and resilient and expect the unexpected.”
When the pandemic hit in March 2020 the communication style completely changed particularly in terms of frequency. Previously weekly newsletters became daily and sometimes twice daily. As the lockdown was very strict people couldn’t see anyone, so they also started a weekly 20-30 minute video newsletter called the Atlantis Flashlight where the news was read out like a genuine broadcast, there were competitions and interviews with people. It was made fun and something that people would look forward to and helped motivate people.
They also used a lot of positive psychology interventions, an example of which is a one-month gratitude campaign which helped create a lot of positivity within the team.
Another successful campaign was the ‘Clean and green in quarantine’ campaign which, while being environmentally related, helped bring people together. This was especially helpful in a time of crisis when a glimmer of hope can help relieve feelings of powerlessness which could lead people to become disengaged. It was important to give people a sense of purpose and create different avenues which maybe they hadn’t thought of before.
This was a 5-6 month period of very intense, engagement focussed campaigns to make sure people’s morale remained high which paid off as a wellbeing survey showed 95% engagement. A more recent engagement survey showed a result of 88% engagement which shows what a great job the leadership team did in terms of care. Craig comments that this showed the campaigns must have covered all angles of engagement to get such a great result in a very difficult period.
What does 2021 hold?
The weather in Dubai is amazing from October onwards so the last two months of 2020, when the travel corridors opened up, the resort had phenomenal occupancy in the hotel and December was actually busier than the previous year Kristina says. So, 2021 is filled with a different kind of (but still very engaging) work, possibly with an increased use of technology which is often under used in employee engagement especially employee engagement in a 24-hour operation. For example, apps and programmes that create a virtual experience such as parties as they do not want to forget celebration and rewards and recognition, so they need to adapt and learn more about this technology.
- Two-way honest and open communication is what you’re looking for to create a sense of engagement and belonging.
- Remember people have different preferences for communication, some may prefer written communications and others video channels such as YouTube. Don’t just concentrate on one type or style of communication.
- It’s not one person’s role to be in charge of communication, everyone is responsible for their own engagement.
- It’s important for any organisation to celebrate a win, be it a big or small win
Craig thanks Kristina for giving us an amazing insight into employee engagement in a 24-hour operation in an incredibly complex but also really well coordinated operation with a fantastic culture. This is critical to not only customer service but also employee experience.