Business Today

Marriott Hotels India: Caring family

No black marks for taking off days, empowerment at all levels and open promotions make this hotel’s management and employees—oops, associates—one big happy family.

Suman Layak        Print Edition: January 25, 2009

When Business Today got in touch with Marriott Hotels for this story, Rajiv Menon, Head of the group in this region, was in Pakistan.

Living it up: With such happy people, guests have no worries
Living it up
Remember the JW Marriott in Islamabad that was bombed by terrorists in September 2008? Menon was there for a soft re-launch and to hand over the $3,00,000 collected by employees—associates in Marriott parlance— from across the world for the families of the 30 associates who died in the blast. He told BT later: “The money was collected from all over the world. Our people in Australia shaved their heads to attract attention and collected money on the streets. In the Caribbean, they washed cars. All employees were kept on the rolls while the hotel remained closed. This incident shows how we feel about each other in Marriott—it’s just like a family.”

Menon, who is Area Vice President for India, Pakistan, the Maldives and Malaysia, spoke to BT from Sydney, Australia, where he spent Christmas (his wife is an Aussie). Marriott associates told us how the management insists on everybody having a good work-life balance and Menon seemed to be setting the example.

Six off-days every month is something rare for the hotels industry and Marriott was the first one to do it in India. Marriott associates told us how the company has software that alerts seniors if someone has not taken all his off-days.

But let’s listen to what the employees themselves had to say: in their own words.

For Abhimanyu Singh, Senior Front Desk Manager at JW Marriott in Juhu, Mumbai, it was his first job. At 26, he is senior front desk manager at the hotel. It was almost love at first sight for him. “When Bart Dowring from Marriott made a presentation at the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration in Manipal in my final year, he mostly spoke about what a great place to work Marriott is and how the company helps associates grow in their job and as professionals. Other big hotel groups just spoke about how great a company they were. At that point I decided to work for Marriott.”

  • Number of people laid off in 2008-09 (as on Dec. 31, ’08)...0

  • Number of people hired in 2008....189

  • Head count in Dec 2008 vis-à-vis Dec 2007.....2,618 (2,502)

  • Head count post-March 2009.....Likely to go up

  • Pay-cuts resorted to/planned....None

  • Innovative HR practice....Marriott employees usually join the hotel in batches. They check in at the hotel reception and from that point, through the induction programme, the hotel treats them as guests—giving them the taste of the hospitality that they are expected to offer.
     

Source: Mercer, Company



Singh says the best thing about Marriott are the transparent processes. “If I want to change a process at work, I am allowed to do it and be responsible for the change,” he says. He often compares notes with his friends from college, who went to other hotels. “People talk about 12-14 hour shifts; two weeks without an off day. Here, I did not miss my six offs even in a single month. There is a good system of compensatory off, too,” he says.

Now consider 28-year-old Dhiraj Naik, who works in the Japanese kitchen of JW Marriott. He is, in fact, happy to spend 12-13 hours at the hotel. “I come in at 1:30 p.m. and leave when the kitchen closes. Time flies when I am at the hotel. I learn so much, I hardly notice the time I spend here.” Naik is happy to be a chela of chef Bambang in the Japanese kitchen and also sometimes comes in early to learn some tricks at the other kitchens of the hotel. What about a social life? Naik says with an impish smile that he has dated colleagues at the JW Marriott.

We will talk about romance at work a little later. But first let’s listen to Manish Konar. Thirty-yearold Konar has been with the Marriott at the Renaissance in Powai for nine years. He had joined as a help in the kitchen and now has been promoted to an executive. He didn’t know Hindi when he came to find work in Mumbai from Tamil Nadu, but now speaks Hindi as well as English. What does he like about working here—the promotions, the training, the spoken English classes? “Last year, three members of my family fell ill and had to be hospitalised. My three-year-old daughter caught pneumonia, my son hurt himself while playing cricket and I went down with appendicitis.

All we had to do was seek admission in the local hospital in Dombivli and inform my hotel. We have a good medical insurance policy but the management even took care of all the formalities,” Konar says. He had started off washing dishes. Now he checks food for taste and temperature in the staff canteen.

Who’s happier? Associates relax at the staff canteen
Who’s happier? Associates relax at the staff canteen
Mahima Sharma (29) loves the work-life balance at Marriott. She is in charge of the spa, salon and health club at the Renaissance in Powai. “The company ensures work-life balance. Right from the seniors, they keep an eye on what time you finish work and whether you are taking all your leave. If an associate is unwell, they come forward and ask how the company can help. Also, when one asks for leave there is no negative reaction. If there is heavy business the bosses ask if I can adjust,” she says.

Sharma has been married for a year now and says that since getting married, she has never had to work an extra hour. “Even before I got married, I would stay back sometimes on my own and the other great thing is whenever it is time to complete our shift there is someone to take over, so there is no real need to stay on.”

Gurmeet Singh, Head of Human Resources at Marriott for India, the Maldives and Pakistan, says: “The real trick lies in the scheduling. Also, we have empowered the supervisors to grant a twohour off tomorrow to compensate an extra couple of hours put in by the employee today.”

Sharma has worked with Marriott in two stints and has also worked with Le Meridien and Hyatt. And it’s Sharma who has the love story. She met her husband for the first time at the JW Marriott in Juhu. Although she was posted at the Renaissance Powai, she was sent to Juhu for orientation. Her husband has since moved to the Oberoi Group, but Sharma says she is not going anywhere.

“There is a friendly and caring atmosphere here. There is a lot of flexibility, too. In companies like these, you feel attached and it becomes very difficult to leave,” she adds. “Who knows if I have to move, I may get to move within the group and with my husband, too,” Sharma adds.

A happy check in
A happy check in
Broach that to Singh, and he is enthusiastic. “We have often moved couples together. A guy working with us was being transferred to Phuket. His wife, an ex-employee who had quit when she had become a mother, was offered a job too and we took both of them to Phuket. Another husband-wife team from Mumbai has just been transferred to Pune, both of them are in sales.”

Singh says that the Marriott group does an annual survey of their associates, seeking their opinion. One of the key findings this year was that many associates felt that salary levels could improve. As the Mercer survey showed, the company scored high on work satisfaction as well as work life balance, but comparatively lower in salaries.

He adds that the group does not plan to fire or lay off anyone and with six new hotels opening next year, it would need to hire. Promotion and attrition rates both had dropped in the last year and Singh says that it can be attributed to the slowing down of the economy and promises that as new hotels open the promotion rate will go up.

The two hotels of Marriott in Mumbai have trade unions controlled by the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena. Rajiv Yadav, Vice President of the union in JW Marriott, says: “We have very cordial relations with the management here. We have a three-year contract running with the management which will end in 2010. We had negotiated a calibrated approach to increments linked clearly with the appraisal grades and the management accepted our proposal.”

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