Allowing employees to express themselves is the key to lasting relationships at Hastings House Country Estate.
Bonny O’Connor and Jerry Parks were once frequent guests at Hastings House Country Estate. When the opportunity came up for them to take over its ownership and management, both had clear ideas about how to run the place, and keep employees on their toes, yet happy.
“Our core staff live on Salt Spring because they love it,” Bonny says. “They could make more money elsewhere, but lifestyle is more important to them than money.” That said, because Hastings House’s operation is seasonal, Bonny and Jerry need to rehire as many as 20 support staff, encouraging them to rejoin the core team after a long hiatus.
“We are only open to guests eight months of the year,” says Bonny. “We recognize our returning employees in small ways, like giving them freshly baked muffins for their coffee breaks, allowing them to stay as a guest of the hotel at the the end of the season when we are quiet, offering them discounts in the spa, etc. We always have a staff party at the end of the season to celebrate another job well done.”
Many use the winter hiatus to travel. Staff who have worked for a Relais & Chateaux operation in North America for more than a year can arrange to stay and dine at much-reduced rates at other properties in the network. “It gives them the opportunity to experience other superb properties from a guest perspective, and to see how these hotels and restaurants define excellence,” says Bonny. “They come back with lots of ideas for improving our service, but often with a renewed pride in being part of one of the very best.”
Bonny and Jerry fundamentally believe that allowing their employees to develop pride in a job well done pays off in enhanced guest service. “Every one of our employees takes a lot of pride in what they do and how they do it,” she says. “It is a lot more pleasant to work when the guests are happy than if they are upset, so there is an immediate reward for doing a good job.”
To that end, staff input is tremendously important. “Every employee is charged with noting any deficiency, correcting it immediately if possible, or bringing it to the management’s attention.” Small maintenance issues are quickly addressed, while the more complicated ones wait until Hastings House is closed for the season. “When employees return after their winter break,” says Bonny, “they find the hotel looking and functioning better than ever. We listen to their requests and incorporate their ideas whenever possible.”
Sharing both glad-tidings and brickbats is another way that employees are brought into the hotel dynamic. “When we get positive feedback, we post it in the kitchen and in housekeeping. On the rare occasion that we get a negative comment, we collectively try to figure out what happened and how to make sure we are doing all we can to satisfy our guests. We have borrowed a saying from one of our colleagues: ‘The guest may not always be right, but the guest is always the guest.’