Critical to Prioritize Sale-Care & Employee Wellness in Hospitality

By: Andrea Lomas, Vice President, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group | Thursday, 13 June 2024

Andrea Lomas is an expert with 37 years of experience in the spa, wellness, and hospitality industry. Beginning as a spa therapist, she then evolved into operational management, project management and hotel development as well. Having spent 21 years in Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, she oversees pre-openings as well as operations together with wellness programs and colleague wellness programs.

In a conversation with the Global Woman Leader Magazine, Andrea talks on the topic ‘Instilling Wellness in the Workplace’ and emphasises on mental health support for employees as well. She also sheds light on crisis management during COVID-19 Pandemic. Read the article to know more.

Drawing from your nearly three decades of experience in the hospitality sector, how important do you think employee wellness is for the success of a business? In what ways can it manifest in a business doing well, especially in today’s hyper-competitive business landscape?

It's very important to be honest. We launched a colleague wellness program in 2015 because, in the hospitality industry, long hours require us to be very focused on guest care. I believe that a colleague wellness program is essential not only in hospitality but in every company. It helps instil daily habits, especially since COVID, as people have been working around the clock and are always accessible through their devices.

If we don't turn off our phones in the evening, we are constantly attending to apps. With our colleague wellness program, now in its ninth year, we share simple self-care tips and hold monthly mental wellness workshops. This has helped our colleagues learn practices to balance their work and personal lives.

How must business leaders approach the incorporation of the new generation wellness trends such as virtual reality meditation or biofeedback technology in traditional hospitality operations to improve employee experiences?

We tend to focus more on providing an in-person experience for our guests to help them connect with themselves. One of our programs encourages people to disconnect from devices when they visit the spa and wellness areas, allowing them to reconnect with themselves. We also promote spending time in nature. For instance, Global Wellness Day on June 8th focuses on getting back into nature and enjoying activities like forest bathing and listening to birds naturally, rather than through an app.

For mind-body techniques, we focus on classes, self-care techniques, and selfcare tip sheets. Our therapists, fitness, yoga and meditation instructors offer these experiences. While we are exploring virtual reality as an interesting wellness experience, we haven't incorporated it into our business yet. We remain focused on encouraging people to disconnect and connect with themselves and nature.

Could you share a strategy that you've implemented to address wellness not only for guests but also for employees, considering factors like mental health support, ergonomic workspaces, and healthy dining options?

We created a colleague wellness program in 2015. It includes an intranet site with monthly virtual meditations, self-care tips, recipes, and cooking videos teaching our colleagues how they can prepare fresh salads, smoothies, and other dishes. The program covers healthy dining options and different diets, including intermittent fasting. We ensure our colleague dining areas always have healthy options. We also offer vegetarian and vegan options in all our colleague dining facilities. Our intranet site also includes a section on meditation to support mental health, featuring various meditations. Additionally, we have a comprehensive mental health site linked to our mental health first aiders.

During COVID, we developed mental health training programs in collaboration with our learning and development teams. Each property and corporate office have mental health first aiders available for support. We also have a care line for people to call. Our focus is on supporting mental health and providing the necessary assistance. Additionally, each year we also run a colleague wellness in September where the focus is complete wellness for our colleagues.

In our hotels we offer a variety of activities such as badminton, movement, HIIT, dance classes, yoga, Pilates, and hiking to cater to different interests. During COVID, we created a month-long virtual program called "Inner Strength, Outer Strength" for colleagues to complete at their own pace. This program focused on strength-building exercises and mindfulness, helping colleagues stay fit and mentally healthy when gyms were inaccessible and some were also not working. We also had a section on authenticity, focusing on building personal strengths.

This program continues to be integrated into our colleague wellness programs system.  The hospitality industry is very demanding, we prioritize supporting and taking care of our colleagues through our colleague wellness programs.

In today's data-rich environment, how can leaders leverage data analytics to measure the effectiveness of wellness programs cultures’ offerings to meet the diverse needs of guests from different demographics and cultures?

We conduct extensive research before opening a property to understand the local demographics and culture. We design our equipment, programs, services, spas, fitness areas, pools, and kids' clubs accordingly. Simultaneously, we listen to global guest feedback, which is critical for us. We regularly review our best-selling experiences, treatments, services, and products in each spa. Training our colleagues is crucial to ensure they ask the right questions during the booking process, allowing us to determine and meet the guests' needs effectively.

Effective communication within the team is crucial. We ensure this through daily lineup meetings and monthly meetings in the back of the house. During these meetings, we gather feedback from colleagues about guest interactions, service outcomes, and any specific requests or feedback received. Additionally, since many of our spas have a significant membership base, we actively seek input from members to ensure we're meeting their needs and preferences. This open communication loop is essential for us to continuously improve our services and offerings.

Our Spa leaders are deeply involved in operations, actively gathering guest feedback and insights. From a corporate standpoint, we lead monthly global and regional calls with our Spa and Wellness Directors.

During these meetings, we prioritize obtaining feedback from various stakeholders, including Spa leaders, treatment managers, and operations managers. This feedback informs our decisions regarding program diversification, especially in destinations where we receive significant feedback or demand for specific wellness and spa offerings. We also consider the purpose of guest visits, whether for business or leisure, tailoring programs accordingly. Additionally, while local guests often frequent our spas, this dynamic differs in resort settings where guests primarily visit for leisure purposes. However, in our city properties, we typically have a substantial database and a sizable local guest base that frequents the spa regularly.

Based on the recent global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, how should leaders design a crisis management plan that prioritizes employee and guest wellness while maintaining operational resilience?

During the pandemic, we developed the Inner Strength, Outer Strength program, which proved highly effective in supporting our colleagues. Moving forward, prioritizing colleague wellbeing is paramount. This could involve implementing a monthly program, creating a dedicated platform with tips and video content, or integrating a meditation app accessible to all colleagues. The goal is to equip them with tools to navigate future challenges like COVID-19, fostering resilience and self-care.

Encouraging colleagues to establish personal boundaries and dedicate time for activities like meditation and exercise contributes significantly to their overall wellbeing and resilience. Our month-long program, which allowed flexible participation, yielded positive results in this regard. Expanding on this, our aim was to elevate our efforts by incorporating regular workshops into our initiatives. This parallels our existing practice of conducting monthly meditation classes and implementing various programs across the organization.

Wellness programs often rely on employee buy-in and participation. How do professionals propose cultivating a pervasive culture of wellness across all organizational levels, motivating employees to endorse and lead wellness initiatives, while concurrently ensuring that these initiatives remain agile and responsive to evolving market trends and guest expectations?

I believe it's important to continue researching, which includes having a colleague wellness committee at each of our properties as well as at the corporate level. The size of these committees varies depending on the number of colleagues we have. The focus is on researching, collaborating with the corporate office, and obtaining feedback from our spa and wellness facilities. This allows us to observe guest behaviour and track market trends effectively.

We consider factors like age when planning activities. For example, some colleagues might prefer virtual meditation sessions over in-person ones. Our approach aims to cater to everyone's preferences. Conducting colleague surveys is crucial for gathering feedback and ensuring we meet their needs effectively. Understanding what people are seeking is essential. Would they prefer a weekly Pilates class or an app they can access anytime? Regular surveys conducted annually, help in gauging colleagues' needs. It's also beneficial to have senior leaders participate in these programs to set an example and encourage participation. Diversity in programs, catering to different preferences like meditation or dance classes, is important. Continuously gathering feedback ensures that wellness initiatives remain relevant and effective. These initiatives are indeed tangible investments in employee well-being.

Wellness initiatives can sometimes be viewed as intangible investments. How can leaders articulate the return on investment (ROI) of wellness programs to stakeholders, both in terms of financial metrics and intangible benefits such as brand reputation and employee retention?

During the interview process, it's crucial to emphasize the colleague wellbeing program. Once mentioned, it must be effectively implemented. I recall a situation at one property where numerous colleagues frequently fell ill, leading to frequent sick leaves. To address this, we established a colleague gym, which significantly reduced sick days as colleagues became healthier. Monitoring sick leave frequency, medical expenses, and encouraging wellness activities like wearing Fitbits and organizing step competitions, run clubs can further support colleague health and reduce healthcare costs.

Indeed, highlighting the reduction in medical expenses and sick leave after implementing the colleague wellbeing program is crucial. By delving into specific metrics like decreased medical bills and fewer visits to the doctor, you can demonstrate the tangible benefits of the program. For instance, you could analyse data since the program's inception, showing a 10% decrease in medical expenses since July. While it may take time for full participation, incentivizing colleagues to engage with the program's tools and initiatives can accelerate its impact.

Would you like to share a message with our readers?

The key, after being in the industry for over 37 years, is prioritizing self-care. Many people work long hours, but are they truly productive? Could they achieve the same results in half the time? Making time for self-care is crucial for productivity, happiness, and well-being. It doesn't have to be a full-hour yoga class; even five minutes of stretching or journaling can suffice. Find something enjoyable for your wellness routine, whether it's dancing or meditation. Being cantered and grounded enables better decision-making and leadership. A balanced life sets an example for your team, leading to a productive and healthy workforce.