Ever dream of working in the hospitality industry in Florida? It's not always what it's cracked up to be in advertisements, but for those working in a few select hotels, it can be fun and rewarding, according to this year's annual employee workplace survey.
Three well-known hotels ranked highly in the categories for companies attracting quality workers and retaining them: the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach and the Tradewinds Resort.
Attracting quality people in an industry that sometimes has a high turnover rate — and hires seasonal workers — can be difficult. What makes this trio of hotels different is a greater focus on hiring full-time employees, according to senior management. Each said their hotel seeks full-time workers over part-time whenever possible. But ensuring loyalty and happiness can be a tricky balance to strike.
Keith Overton, general manager of the Tradewinds Resort (No. 13 among large businesses), makes it hard for qualified candidates looking for work to ignore his enticements. He raised the hotel's minimum wage to $10 an hour for entry-level employees, with some starting higher, and recruited talent in certain areas with $1,000 and $2,000 signing bonuses. Monthly, quarterly and annual bonuses are also incorporated into the pay structure. More than 65 percent of his employees are full time.
"We decided that if we wanted to be competitive and really get the best employees, we needed to raise our wages," Overton, 48, said. "We weren't sure if it was going to work, but it did. We generated a ton of new applications and garnered a ton of new, better quality employees from it."
He went on to say that to keep the employees connected to the hotel, you have to treat them like guests. The hotel is rolling out an app to be made available to all 1,100 employees that will link them to the daily goings on of the hotel: schedules, data, daily updates and the like.
At the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay (second in the midsize business category), General Manager Paul Joseph said incentives and what he called "empathy interviews" to get feedback from staff keep his 325 employees — who earn a base of $9 to $10 an hour for entry-level positions — motivated.
"We offer 12 comped nights (per year) for all of our associates who have worked here for at least one year — they can stay at any Hyatt hotel or resort as long as there is space available for them," Joseph, 51, said on March 7. "We've also gotten comments on our employee cafeteria and now offer complimentary meals for everyone every day. And it was in need of repair, so we made it a comfortable area for them to rest, relax and get re-energized to get back out into the hotel."
He said the Tampa hotel also improved the employee locker rooms and employee resource center.
More than 75 percent of his employees are full time, Joseph said.
Savana Zion, 20, is an order taker and server for room service and a server at the 1823 Kitchen and Bar at the Grand Hyatt.
"I have an interesting job because I do several different things,'' she said. "It's fun because I can be at 1823 one day and take someone's order and it will be the same person I bring food to the next day in room service. And then the third day I might take that same person's order over the phone. So it's really fun for me. I started out as a hostess at Oystercatchers, so I'd like to keep moving around and eventually become a manager."
At the Sandpearl Resort (No. 9 in the midsize category), General Manager Eric Waltz said one great resource for his 350 employees is an associate fund, which is replenished annually at a company benefit.
"If someone has an emergency — take, for example, a family emergency — then we give money to that associate to do whatever they need to do," said Waltz, 43. "One recent example that comes to mind is we were able to send an associate overseas because her mother was gravely ill. Her mother died two hours after she landed."
Gifts from the fund do not have to be repaid.
According to Waltz, more than 75 percent of his staff is full time. An entry-level position pays $9 to $10 an hour.
At the Tradewinds on St. Pete Beach, every employee is authorized to spend up to $500 to solve a guest's problem or make their experience better. Overton gave a recent example of a British family whose young son had lost a beloved stuffed animal, creating misery for all of them. A hotel staffer bought a replica of the stuffed animal and presented it to the boy as if the toy had gone on a mini vacation but was back to rejoin the family — to the joy of the parents and the boy.
Overton, who has been managing the hotel for 21 years, said there were examples like this every day at the Tradewinds.
"The fact is, our employees probably under spend when it comes to these kind of situations because they're worried about the cost," Overton said. "And they often do a better job than our managers. It's about making the employees feel empowered."
Assistant director for food and beverage Younes Taghzout, 47, originally from Marrakesh, Morocco, and now a naturalized citizen, has been with the Tradewinds for 23 years. He said that, as a teenager, watching tourists come and go from the luxury hotels in Marrakesh made him wonder what it would be like to work in one of those hotels. He considers his job at the Tradewinds a dream come true.
"My belief is when you find the right place to work — instead of jumping from place to place — you need to stay and grow, especially when they provide good opportunities. The Tradewinds has been that kind of place for me. I love it."