Though much of the industry is suffering from layoffs, companies are trying to provide financial and emotional support as well as food to employees in need. Here’s what two management companies and one California hotel are doing.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—With furloughs and layoffs rippling through the industry because of the loss of business from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, hotel companies and properties are looking to offer support to employees and former staff in several ways.
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Randy Hassen, president of McKibbon Hospitality, said the hotel industry was hit quickly and drastically, and his company looked for the best way it could to help its employees with the essentials.
Before the pandemic, the company had about 2,400 associates. At the time of the interview on 26 March, he said that number will likely slim down to roughly 500. He said about 10% of the company’s hotels have suspended active, day-to-day operations. However, the doors are not locked, the lights are not off and people are still answering phones, he said.
On 3 April, McKibbon Hospitality’s 90-day associate assistance fund took effect in the company’s payroll system. The fund, which will provide $200 every two weeks, is to help all its temporarily laid-off employees purchase groceries and supplies, such as medication.
“We didn’t want to do a one-time payment because we felt like this was going to last a little bit longer,” he said. “As we look at the number of associates affected, we said ‘What are we able to do and how long can we do it?’ We felt that 90 days would help get them through this.”
In terms of layoffs, he said the key was to react quickly.
“The quicker we reacted, the quicker our associates could go and apply for unemployment benefits, and the relief fund will kick in on top of the unemployment benefits,” he said.
Because the associate assistance fund is through McKibbon’s payroll system, he said laid-off workers will have access to updates on when the company is hiring again. The goal is to get them back as soon as possible, he said.
Marcus Hotels & Resorts has temporarily closed “almost all” of its properties, said VP of Marketing Erin Levzow. With that came quite a few layoffs, she said, which is in line with other hotel management companies.
To help laid-off employees, Marcus launched Marcus-cares.com. Through the initiative, it will provide temporary compensation based on length of service, and employee benefits will also continue.
The temporarily closed Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, California, which is privately owned by a family, is also offering relief for laid-off employees.
The resort’s GM, Coni Thornburg, said the owners consider its employees as family, and “whatever they could possibly do, they are going to do it,” she said. The ownership team is continuing to pay associates for the month of April, she said. They also will be able to maintain benefits, and any co-pay fee for tele-doc services will be waived, she said.
“That’s (for) all eligible full-time employees, cooks, housekeepers, servers, front-desk agents, everyone,” she said.
Offering mental, emotional support
In addition to financial relief, companies are ensuring their staffs maintain communication with each other and get the emotional support they need.
Levzow said Marcus Cares is an online hub for people to connect and find resources such as how to file for unemployment. But a large part of the website’s content also includes suggestions on how to stay active, as well as activities for improving mental health.
The website links directly to a Facebook group Marcus created for all employees, she said.
“It turned out to be even better than we could have imagined. Employees are interacting, they’re taking care of one another, they’re posting uplifting content,” she said. “It’s pretty impressive that a company our size is able to do something like that and see so much engagement.”
She said while the teams can still email each other, a lot of the members prefer to communicate through the Facebook page. Levzow said the company continues to monitor what employees want to see on the Marcus Cares website based on feedback.
“It’s about what the employees want,” she said. “They said they wanted to be able to connect, and more so than ever right now, in a world where our hotels and resorts are all about social connection, and now the entire world is under lockdown.”
Thornburg said in addition to an internal communication system, Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa has an employee newsletter that covers at-home wellness tips, recipes and things to do with children.
“With social distancing, we’ve been very creative with what we are doing and how we’re doing it,” she said.
Through a partnership with Marketplace Chaplains, Hassen said McKibbon is offering both its limited on-site staff and temporarily laid-off employees and their families 24/7 access to chaplain services for emotional support.
“That’s really been a big benefit to our organization. … (The chaplain services) can really provide the care, guidance and support for our associates,” he said.
Contactless food drives
Levzow said Marcus has been working with its vendors who have sent the company food donations for employees who need it.
“We were able to set it up where they could drive through and pick up … fresh fruits, vegetables and grains and take that home to their families,” she said. “Employees who drove through (took) pictures (and showed us) what they were able to cook with that food that they were gifted.”
Thornburg said her resort has on-property gardens and whatever is grown there will be shared with temporarily laid-off employees, she said.
As temporarily laid-off employees await a return to work, Thornburg said her property is conducting online management training courses focusing on voice of leadership, time management and creating a positive attitude.
“Team members can really focus on (them) and continue to develop their skill set,” she said.
She said the goal is for everyone on staff to return, and once they do, to celebrate being back together.
“We miss each other right now,” she said.