Source: Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook – Monday, August 23, 1999
Hyatt Turns Turnover Trend on Its Ear
By Wende Schwingendorf, Journal Staff Writer
Mike Casey, Hyatt Albuquerque’s general manager, received an unusual distress call at 1:30 in the morning recently. “It was from a competitor, asking me how we’ve been so successful here,” he said. “I guess it must have been important, being that time of the morning.”
It’s a question being asked a lot in Albuquerque hospitality circles: How has the Hyatt, faced with the same obstacles as any other hotel in town, made such a remarkable turnaround in retaining staff?
The Hyatt opened in 1990 as the city’s only four-diamond hotel. But by 1994, employees were resigning in mass numbers. From 1994 to 1996, the employee turnover rate was 90 percent, 90.1 percent and 92.5 percent, respectively.
In surveys, workers complained that pay and benefits were minimal and morale was low. Dismal turnover also was expensive. It was costing up to $6,000 per employee to hire and train workers over and over again, Casey said. Though high turnover in the hospitality industry is more common than not, Casey decided to make some changes.
Spurred on by a new way of thinking from incoming human resources director Mary Cooley, the hotel has since turned the trend on its ear. In 1997, the hotel’s employee turnover dropped to 54.98 percent, Casey said. In 1998, it was down to 45.7 percent. And the anticipated rate for 1999 is 24.5 percent, an enviable goal in the industry.
Additionally, in 1998, the hotel had
The road up
Here’s how the turnaround happened. Management recognized that the Hyatt is a four-diamond hotel and therefore should treat its staff that way — in pay, benefits, respect and recognition. In return, the staff will treat their customers like diamonds, Cooley said.
Company officials started treating employees differently, rewarding good work rather than focusing on chastising poor performance. The hotel also began seeking some new employees from homeless shelters, halfway houses and associations for the developmentally disabled. And the Hyatt started internship programs with post-secondary schools such as Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, which sends student chefs to the Hyatt’s restaurants and banquet halls, especially when the hotel is fully booked and extra staff is needed.
Among the new programs adopted were:
- A perfect-attendance policy. Every month, employees who didn’t call in sick, and who were on time for work every day, share in a $1,000 pool. At the end of the year, those who still have perfect records share in $5,000.
- A Superstar program, given monthly, that recognizes employees for outstanding job performance with a luncheon and a cash prize. At the end of the year, those winners could be named employee of the year and win a trip anywhere in the world, a week’s extra vacation, and spending money. The best supervisor of the year also wins that package.
- A Gold Key award program, in which meeting planners who are holding events at the Hyatt present one or more gold keys to employees they think did an outstanding job. The person with the most keys at the end of the year wins an award.
- A program in which, on the anniversary of each employee’s starting date at the Hyatt, he or she receives a 50 percent-off coupon for McGrath’s, a restaurant in the hotel.
Cooley said she guards her new employee pool, as well, vowing to never lose “one of my staff to another hotel.” To underscore that philosophy, she said, she makes sure the Hyatt pays wages that match — or exceed — any other wages offered by other hotels in town. Benefits are also matched or exceeded, such as health insurance, holidays or work schedules that don’t interfere with family and personal time. “I figure that if we take good care of our staff, they’ll go to bat for us,” Cooley said.
Employees, both new and old, have seen and appreciate the changes. “It’s been a well-rounded experience,” said Tamara Moore, 30, a full-time culinary student at TVI who is also working as an intern at McGrath’s in the Hyatt. She has been at the Hyatt since November and says her employers have also been her biggest supporters. She is a member of a culinary team that competes regionally, and the Hyatt sponsored them by buying their uniforms. She also gets to test her ideas at McGrath’s — she recently presented a tequila lime chicken salad and has been working on a piece de resistance, a chocolate, flourless lava cake that oozes warm, liquid chocolate when sliced. “It’s a family atmosphere,” she said. “They let me put my items on the menu to practice, and I did a co-op project for one of my classes to create sanitation procedures. It was stuff the Hyatt could use, and I got to apply things I’ve been working on. “It’s a whole lot better than sitting in the classroom,” she added.
Another employee, Eddie Majors, is a lifelong Albuquerque resident who was homeless for 51/2 years. A graduate of the Albuquerque Rescue Mission’s New Life program, he said he is reshaping his life through God and through the Hyatt, which hired him to help set up rooms for banquets and other events for the convention services department. Since he started work about a year ago, he was named a Superstar just two months into his tenure and has won two Gold Keys from meeting planners. For 11/2 years, he’s been studying English, math and the Bible at the mission. He heard about the Hyatt’s hiring program from a friend at the mission, who told him to come along with him to the hotel and apply for a job. “They have good incentives, and the people are wonderful to work with,” he says. “They opened that door, and I don’t have to live like an animal. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” he said.
Leanne Poggio, Hyatt’s catering manager, has seen both sides of the hospitality industry. She is a pastry chef and started working with the Marriott in the ’80s. She returned to the Marriott in Albuquerque but heard about an opening at the Hyatt and switched. “The mentality in this industry is that you have to work, or be on call, 24 (hours a day) 7 (days a week), 365 days a year,” she said. “Here, they truly care about balance. They know that people have a professional life and a personal one.” She said she appreciates the reasonable schedule and the fact the Hyatt has a program to pay for continuing education. “It showed that they wanted to invest in me,” she said.
The changes have become obvious to customers, too. Robert Sill, owner of Sill Consulting Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., he’s been a consultant for PNM since mid-February and has been staying at the Hyatt several days a week. “They even let me sit in on their staff meeting last week,” he said. “They wanted to know what I like and didn’t like about the hotel.” He said he was booked at another Albuquerque hotel but decided to move to the Hyatt because “customer service was lacking” at the other. “They realize that this is my home,” he said. “They are concerned about my happiness.” As a consultant, Sill says he understands that it’s hard for management to decide to spend money on human resources without the anticipation of instant results. But with patience and time, the results are astounding, in any line of business.
Casey said the changes have also caught the attention of corporate executives with Hyatt, who are beginning to adopt some of the programs started here.