Strategic good

Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s commitment to inclusive hiring is winning over its staff, improving loyalty and retention rates, and inspiring its CSR chief to do even more to help those who need support.

Brenda Tay is a guest services agent at Pan Pacific Singapore, where she performs her duties in the linen department

“I’ve been in the hospitality industry for 35 years and I know that people are the key to success in our business,” exhaled Wee Wei Ling, executive director of asset, lifestyle and corporate social responsibility at Singapore-headquartered Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG), as she settled comfortably into her chair at the start of the interview.

While that may be a common corporate declaration, Wee and her team at PPHG have set strong examples in their investment in people.

Brenda Tay (right) is a guest services agent at Pan Pacific Singapore, where she performs her duties in the linen department

PPHG has been practising inclusive hiring on an ad hoc basis with special needs schools for several years before it embarked on SG Enable’s Project IN, a School-to-Work transition programme for persons with disabilities (PWD), in 2017. The company has since taken its participation in SG Enable further by developing a structured recruitment and training process for PWD.

Today, PPHG employs 16 PWD across its Singapore hotels and serviced suites, with another 12 undergoing training.

To ensure integration with its regular workforce, PPHG’s hotels redesign processes around its PWD hires and carve out routine and structured tasks that are better suited for these individuals. For example, PWD hires may focus on folding linens or tagging uniforms with RFID.

“They perform important roles too, as they are helping to relieve our regular staff to focus on the more complex or laborious jobs, or those that require customer interaction,” explained Wee.

PWD hires are given the opportunity for career progression. Citing an example, Wee said: “We have an employee who started out clearing tables during breakfast service when we have manpower shortage. Today, she is able to take orders for coffee and tea.”

So, how does inclusive hiring translate into investment in its people and business success?

A six-month study conducted by Elijah Wee, assistant professor of management at Foster School of Business, University of Washington, and involving over 1,000 employees across all organisational levels from PPHG’s corporate office and properties in Singapore, found that the company’s inclusive hiring policy over the years has yielded positive outcomes at the employee and organisational levels. This is especially so when the effort is accompanied by experiential and reflection activities which reframe disability as a strength and help employees make sense of the implication and meaning of the policy in their day-to-day work.

As a result, significantly higher levels of compassion, organisational pride and proactive customer service were observed, among other indicators. The research also showed that compassion is a strong predictor of the company’s financial performance.

“We think we are helping the needy, but in fact, we are benefitting far more from them,” remarked Wee.

“Through interactions with their special needs colleagues, our staff have become more like a family. They have become a lot more patient, and are more willing to help and watch out for one another,” she shared.

Having to design its work processes to accommodate PWD hires also “forced us to be innovative in our work system, looking at the usual process and finding a more efficient way to do the same old things”.

PPHG’s work in inclusive hiring has earned loyalty and improved retention among its younger generation of employees, who “rate their employers by how much they do for the society”, observed Wee.

PPHG’s investment in its people extends to its ageing workforce. The company has renovated back-of-house spaces, particularly in its older hotels, to include safety features such as handrails and non-slip tiles, reworked the job scope of its elderly staff, and moved them into roles with less physical responsibilities.

A yearly employment contract is also offered to staff who are past their legal retirement age, to provide option for continued employment for those who feel they are still able to work and want to.

“The new roles present opportunities (for our elderly staff) to learn new skills, while the opportunity for continued employment keep them active and allow them to feel they can still contribute to the company,” Wee remarked.

Having seen success in its inclusive hiring practices, PPHG is eager to encourage its business partners to do the same.

The company introduced its keycard holder supplier to the option of outsourcing some of its more repetitive jobs to people with autism, and even connected the company with the right organisation, set up meetings and facilitated the arrangement.

“We didn’t just make a recommendation and then took our hands off,” remarked Wee.

With the same objective in mind, PPHG also supports efforts to improve the employability of PWD through its work with adopted charity Extra.Ordinary People and Samsui Kitchen which runs a vocational training programme for final year students in special education schools.

As part of a fundraising campaign from September 25 to October 24, 2019, PPHG outsourced the making of three customised dim sum items that were supplied to and served at all its hotel dining outlets.

The pilot project provided special needs students with an opportunity to learn a real skill and prepare them for partial or full-time employment when they graduated in November.

PPHG’s inclusive hiring efforts tended to support students who were less likely to be employed after graduation, such as those with independence issues or have higher support needs.

“We select these students and place them (in our training courses) to help ease their transition. Instead of simply going home or be institutionalised (upon graduation), these children now have a chance at employment. It gives them dignity, and for their caregivers, hope,” she explained.

Understanding that hiring PWD is a long-term commitment that requires patience, PPHG spends six to nine months to settle a new hire in, and will redesignate the individual to another department or role should there be difficulties.

“We will keep trying, and we can afford to because in hotels, we have many departments and roles. We can keep moving the individual, say from stewarding to housekeeping, until he or she is happy,” said Wee.

Wee, who drives PPHG’s CSR work, dreams of setting up a school in Singapore that focuses on providing hospitality training to special needs children at an earlier age, so they can sooner discover what they are good at and have a better shot at employment when they graduate. Her dream may be fulfilled once inclusive hiring gets enough buy-in from other supportive employers who are willing to provide the right work environment.

PPHG’s active community work has motivated staff to do the same themselves.
“For example, we have staff who often provide ideas on how to further improve the work environment for their special needs colleagues, and what to do for homes throughout the year,” said Wee.

“I must say that while it is good to have CSR work starting from the ground up, deeper and wider assistance must come from the top. Companies must take the lead and be committed to do better and more useful things than just visiting homes or distributing goody bags during the festive season.”

Wee’s other passion is in the arts, and she drives PPHG’s support for local artists by purchasing and using their creations in the company’s properties around the world. PPHG has also produced a book that spotlights its regional local art collection as well as carved out an art gallery in the lobby of Parkroyal Beach Road Singapore for artists who need a platform to showcase their work.

“As a young girl, my father (Singaporean billionaire banker Wee Cho Yaw) told me that as his eldest daughter, I must have a big heart. Perhaps he has named me Wei Ling so that I will be willing (phonetically similar) to help,” she laughed.

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