The first day of ICE North America’s Road Back focused on human resources, and the importance of restoring both consumer and employee confidence in casinos following the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.
Kicking off the series on July 7 was a discussion covering onboarding and training employees to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for customers, moderated by Dave Newton of Hospitality Resources.
Newton began the discussion by asking the panellists about the onboarding process for returning customers. Boyd Gaming corporate vice president of human resources Chris Smith explained that for his business, the focus had been on over-emphasising the safety protocols put in place.
This was not only to emphasise that staff were returning to a very different environment than the one they had left in March, but also to highlight steps taken to protect employees. He said that this had not convinced all employees, with a small number unwilling to come back. Some were shifted to different positions and roles in which they were more comfortable, while others ultimately left the business entirely.
David Carroll, senior vice president of human resources for Seminole Hard Rock Support Services said his employer ran into the same issues, breaking down returning staff into three categories. There were those that were concerned about their health; others enjoying the break, and others raring to get back to work.
To ease the transition back to the workplace, Rick Fields, a former senior vice president of casino operations at Mandalay Bay, argued that management had to lead by example.
“What I’ve seen work really well in Las Vegas and native casinos is the presence of senior leadership welcoming employees back, showing they’re in this together with their staff,” he said. “That has made a huge different to [friends] of mine going back to work in the new normal.”
Julia Stewart, founder of wellness business Alux and a board member of Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chão, added that for the restaurant, its onboarding had been guided by an employee survey. This quizzed staff about their concerns, revealing that up to 20% of the workforce had concerns about safety, necessitating efforts to highlight the protective measures taken by the business.
This also required retraining, something Stewart said was “critical” in creating a unified culture, with transparent lines of communication between management and workers. It was all very well explaining what they had to do, she said, but making sure they knew why was vital.
Smith pointed out that operators had to keep the message fresh to ensure it continued to hit home, noting that after two to three weeks of hearing the same instructions, people would start to tune out. Constantly changing the messaging would help them keep paying attention, and as Carroll added, would keep them aware of a constantly evolving set of rules and protocols.
This was especially important, the panel agreed, as upholding these requirements was as much a part of employees’ duties as their pre-pandemic responsibilities.
“We’ve approached this like any other expectation we set for our team members,” Smith said. “We’ll coach, but eventually, when a team member fails to comply we may resort to progressive discipline. That’s the way we look at it.”
Stewart added that if the training had been carried out effectively, it was important to reinforce the new behaviour.
This was especially important if they were to enforce new protocols, such as the mandatory wearing of masks on-property, for customers. This could range from providing staff with set phrases to highlight the policy to patrons, to clear protocols for the isolated occasions when customers resist.
While Smith admitted that for some customers a mask “could be a confrontational issue”, Boyd has not had many issues over their usage. Carroll said that on occasions when this did not work, it was escalated to a supervisor, who would have security politely remind the customers of the policy.
Looking ahead, the panel agreed that making patrons feel as if staff were genuinely pleased to have them back would aid the resumption of activity. Carroll said this could go as far as training staff to “smile with their eyes” to convey the sense of being grateful to have their custom.
“It’s so important that the guest trusts you,” Fields said. “It’s so important for employees to reach out and let the guest know how grateful they are for them to come back.”
Further changes are likely, with Smith revealing he expects a “real challenge” in hiring. While security roles were readily available due to on-the-door controls, he said operators would face a challenge to convince prospective employees that they would be safe.
“It’s the new folks who may not have a lot of hospitality experience, and watching the news, down the road I think there could be a hiring crunch,” he said. “Although unemployment is high, I think hiring will be a challenge.”
“Come on with a vaccine,” Carroll added with a laugh.
The Road Back series continues tomorrow, with a discussion exploring the role of the gaming and hospitality sectors in helping states’ economic recovery. This brings together a remarkable series of lawmakers, founders and executives. Tune in at 8:30am PDT, or 11:30am EDT tomorrow, and if you haven’t registered, you can do so here.