Giving Five-Star Treatment to Colleagues

The 50’s Chapter 31, entitled: “Giving Five-Star Treatment to Colleagues'' featuring Thesz Liwanag, the Vice President of Human Resources of City of Dreams Manila.

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The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled, “Giving Five-Star Treatment to Colleagues.” In it, Thesz Liwanag, the Vice President of Human Resources of City of Dreams Manila, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in maintaining good working relationships among employees.

Your employees deserve the 5 star treatment

Thesz Liwanag knew the ins and outs of the hospitality industry having been in it for more than 30 years as of this writing. She most certainly knew how employees work there as she had also been in the human resources profession since the 1980s, kicking off her career at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel as a personnel manager.

From that point on, she moved to work for various local and international hotels and did consultancy work with call centers and luxury liners. It wasn’t until in 2013 when she joined what is now Melco Resorts Leisure (PHP) Corp., the operator of City of Dreams (CoD) Manila, which led her to her current position since 2016 as the Vice President of Human Resources at the luxurious hotel and casino complex.

In her breadth of experience, one thing that Liwanag said she’s best at is labor relations and employee engagement. And it shows in the initiatives that she has in place at CoD where guests and employees alike get five-star treatment.

The luxury integrated resort nurtures its employees through its Employee Love program, which includes activities that centers on CoD’s guiding principles for its colleagues. Some of the initiatives focus on recognition, health, education and training programs, and the career growth of CoD colleagues. They also adhere to volunteerism, wherein CoD colleagues participate on their own accord and are encouraged to join the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts during their personal time. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, about 61% per cent of its colleagues volunteered in various CSR activities, which HR had creatively grouped into:  Spoonful of Dreams (with orphans and street children), Connecting Dreams (with the elderly), Headful of Dreams (educational sessions with children and elders), Hopeful Dreams (hospital visits to indigent patients), Growing Dreams (environmental protection), and Building Dreams (repair of beneficiary shelters and schools, participation in community housing construction).

Another way that CoD provides top class treatment is granting 30% employee discount in the restaurants operated by the resort, accommodations in any of the three hotels―Nobu Hotel, Nuwa, and Hyatt Regency Manila―and other facilities, enabling all colleagues, regardless of rank, to enjoy and experience the varied features of the resort complex with their families.

Of course, CoD extends this kind of hospitality to its expatriate corporate leaders as well. Liwanag explained that their foreign colleagues get to imbibe the Filipino culture, as they are encouraged to participate in some of the hotel’s localized activities such as the Queen of Flowers parade, an adaptation of the Philippines’ Flores de Mayo festival. Liwanag found that having the expatriate employees participate in such a local ceremony has helped them assimilate local culture faster while becoming more acquainted with their co-workers and environment.

The expatriate colleagues also go through a week-long orientation program where they are exposed more to Filipino culture. They are toured around famous spots in Manila such as Fort Santiago and Luneta, and are even brought to native restaurants to experience the gaiety of cooks and waiters who dance and sing to customers.

“They get to see how fun and lovely the culture of the Philippines is and how hospitable we are. I believe that somehow these experiences help them to embrace more easily the culture of the country that they eventually love staying here,” Liwanag said. 

Aside from these activities, CoD management also arranges weekly face-to-face meetings with colleagues who are provided the opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have via focus groups. One of their strong formations was an employee council called Ugnayan, which is composed of elected representatives from rank-and-file and supervisory levels. Through this dynamic council, the management gets to feel the pulse of the colleagues, bringing them all closer together. The active council has also been a channel for colleagues to speak directly to as high up the senior management. 

 

Liwanag explained that Ugnayan has helped maintain harmonious relations between management and colleagues, enabling them to resolve internally any concern in a timely manner. For a company that has an average of 6,000 employees, it’s important for CoD to instill open lines of communication with its workforce.

 

Day-to-day camaraderie is strengthened at Chow Down, the colleagues’ dining room which serves hefty buffets and is open round-the-clock to all work shifts―a five-star treatment consistent with how the resort looks after its guests. At Chow Down, the colleagues and bosses enjoy casual conversations together, briefly blurring the ranks in the employee hierarchy.

 

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Philippines and greatly affected the hospitality industry, the CoD management continued to care for its colleagues as it does for its guests, staying in touch through SMS and email blasts, even having at the ready the phone numbers of mental health consultants people can talk to if they’re feeling anxious. Rapid COVID-19 tests have been conducted on property for all colleagues, and an isolation area within the premises of the hotel was established in the event of suspicious cases. Colleagues on property were given health confidence kits, each consisting of washable masks, hand sanitizers, goggles, gloves, and more. 

Even as the pandemic forced hospitality and entertainment establishments like CoD to temporarily suspend operations, there was still a need to maintain the building and its premises and properties. During the community quarantines, CoD has been housing some essential operations and team members in the resort —from security guards, housekeepers, engineers to management staff—providing meals and vitamins, and arranging recreational activities throughout their stay. These efforts may seem taxing for other HR practitioners, but they certainly weren’t for Liwanag. To her, CoD’s colleagues act as front-liners as well and it’s just as important that they’re greatly taken care of in every way possible. While the resort remained closed during the government-initiated lockdown since mid-March 2020, the management advanced 13th-month pay to April, and 50% of the 14th month pay in June when colleagues were out of work. It continued to offer colleagues full pay through paid leave.  

“The health and well-being of our colleagues are paramount, especially in these unusual times. Looking after each other’s needs and welfare, maintaining constant communication also with those not on property, keeping the morale high amid uncertain times is challenging, but the amazing teamwork and camaraderie that have emerged is rewarding as we prepare for the resort’s reopening,” she said.

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Thesz Liwanag, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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