PA Life’s Editor sat down with Maarten Drenth, Area General Manager Portugal at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts to learn about the hotel’s success as one of the best places to work in Portugal. They had recently been awarded the prestigious titles of ‘Best Workplaces’ and ‘Culture for All’ by Great Place to Work in Portugal.
InterContinental Lisbon is currently the only company in Portugal to receive the “Culture for All” Award which celebrates the incredible hotel team for their passion and care towards diversity and inclusion, two pillars of the hotel’s core philosophy. The “Best Workplaces” accolade is made by and for the people of InterContinental Lisbon where members of the team are a source of inspiration to create and maintain work environments. Great Place to Work recognises and celebrates companies with an excellent culture and a friendly and supportive environment that allows team members to thrive and grow.
There is also a third accolade worth mentioning. On June 27th InterContinental Lisbon received The Green Key certificate. It is the leading standard for excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry. Currently, over 4,000 hotels and other organisations in 60 countries have been Green Key certified. To be certified, the organisations must introduce an environmental management system, reduce energy and water consumption, promote the use of organic products and more. When guests choose to stay in a Green Key property, they are helping to protect the environment.
What are the key qualities that won InterContinental the prestigious awards?
“The management team of the hotel made a conscious decision to focus on workplace culture and employee wellbeing after the pandemic was over. We closed the hotel for three months but were the last to do so and the first to open in Lisbon. This culture change started during the pandemic – working closer together as a team and recognising the importance of taking care of all members of the staff. Thanks to our fantastic owners we maintained most of our workforce, who were able to stay at home on full salary. We prioritised communication with all our staff during the lockdowns by sharing a lot of information via videos and kept in touch frequently to make everyone feel connected with the hotel.
At one point we had different teams so when one team was working at the hotel the other one was at home. This way everybody had a chance to work and also be with their families during those difficult times. We experienced our ups and downs in Portugal, during the first summer we were open but then got hit by another wave of COVID-19 and had to close again which was difficult. But towards the end of the pandemic when we saw business coming back, there was a tremendous need for people who work in the hospitality industry. It was calculated at one point that Portugal’s hospitality industry was missing 75,000 employees after the pandemic.
The need to attract and retain staff drove the creation of a great workplace culture
We realised that we also have to do something to try to attract and retain staff. We realised with our Director of HR Victor Silva that we had to offer something different and more attractive compared to our competitors who were just offering higher salaries and improved benefits. This is when we decided to enhance our inclusive and supportive work culture within the hotel, so we could retain the talent of our fantastic team. Many staff members who left during the pandemic came back, even those who had left the industry or gone to work abroad. IHG created a new global ESG strategy called Journey Through Tomorrow.
The IHG framework has several areas it focuses on, such as environment, energy, community, people, and social responsibility. We turned our focus solely on creating the best possible work environment and, consequently, making InterContinental Lisbon the best hotel to work in. We hope to become the number one choice for young people wanting to join our industry.
How did you go about creating one of the best workplaces in Portugal?
The first areas we addressed were diversity and inclusion. We have a very diverse workforce with all different types of people working for us, including people with diverse mental and physical abilities. We truly believe that different nationalities, religions, and beliefs all work together in harmony and provide different and fascinating perspectives. We are proud to be the first hotel in Portugal to receive an inclusion certificate.
Employee wellbeing was another focus area for us, particularly addressing the difficulties our team faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dealing with stress and having a work-life balance is something many people are facing. There are often health issues, financial concerns, and family worries to cope with – this is what inspired us to curate a programme to help employees improve their mental and physical wellbeing. We now have a gym at the hotel for the use of all our employees, provide guidance in creating a healthy lifestyle programme, and have a doctor in the hotel available for staff. These resources are open to any employee seeking to improve their physical health.
We also offer coaching sessions to help support the mental wellbeing of staff which is as equally important to us as their physical wellbeing. Every employee has our HR Director’s mobile phone number in case they need to call for example, when dealing with financial distress or health issues.
Providing enough support to staff is key for their performance
We believe that providing the right level of help for those who need support is so important. This ensures that employees come to work, can perform well, feel happy at their workplace and are able to provide great service. Yes, we have people that struggled after the pandemic, getting back into society and getting back to work. Back in 2022, when the business came back with tremendous demand, we were short of staff. Team members were working long hours for many days in a row but with a lot of passion and dedication. But with that, you have situations where you need to provide support.
Room to Grow, Room to Belong and Room to Make a Difference
The three programmes – Room to Grow, Room to Belong and Room to Make a Difference help to drive our workplace strategy. One of the first things we did post-pandemic was to provide people with opportunities to grow. Many organisations have probably seen this when you go through a crisis. You have people that rise to the occasion and you have people that fade away. We give our workplace heroes opportunities to grow by becoming a leader or taking up a managerial role and therefore create a new structure where they can flourish.
Those who faded away are provided with coaching on physical and mental wellbeing and help for coming back to work. I think we offered about 26 internal promotions for different positions to strengthen the teams and create the best possible service. We still do this through training and development projects meaning our employees have Room to Grow. Nowadays, the young Gen Y (or Millennials) and Gen Z think differently from the older generations. They thrive on projects we give them, for instance how to improve the breakfast, how to focus on HACCP or how to develop the guest arrival experience – they have loved being part of something bigger. It was a difficult time but at the same time, there were many different instances where our team members pulled together and participated in the rebuilding of the business – it was truly inspiring.
Room to Belong led to us aiming and being awarded the certification on diversity. We have a certificate on inclusion as well, both Portugal based and became one of the first hotels to receive a Healthy Workplace Certification. We offer a plethora of programmes for our team and achieving certifications as a hotel is a wonderful form of confirmation and recognition that our efforts are working and that we are on the right track. Plus, these are important ways to gain a competitive edge and maintain great employee retention.
We are the market leader in Portugal with all these programmes and certifications and we are fast becoming a leader in southern Europe and even wider Europe in terms of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It was great to learn the results of our staff surveys during the external audit that led us to receive the prestigious awards. It shows that we have a high level of engagement among employees, a high level of trust in the organisation and leadership, and trust in each other. We are proud that we have created Room to Make a Difference and be the only company in Portugal with conditions fro all the certifications! We hope to inspire other hotels in Europe to strive to create this type of workplace culture.
We are on a journey
There are still a lot of things I believe we can do and more progress to make but we are committed to continuing the journey. Celebrate Service Week which is a fun week filled with different activities is a prime example of this. This is a global programme from IHG, where one week a year we celebrate, recognise, and thank all our people for providing world-class service to our guests. We did escape rooms one day and went paintballing as a big group on another. We all enjoyed the delicious food served in the cafeteria and, presented gifts or special food items among the team – it was a great atmosphere. It’s also important to share the financial success of the company with employees through profit sharing so this year we announced that every single employee will receive a voucher. We all know that inflation is high at the moment, but this is a wonderful way to recognise the team’s dedication and a great way to say thank you!
Is there any difference in the talent you are looking for in private guest services compared to meetings and events staff?
Meetings and events are an important segment for us, but we love our individual guests too. We have specialists across different departments but as a result of the pandemic we’ve cross-trained everyone. For example, the banquet team members can also assist in the restaurant, meaning they work in the restaurant if they don’t have events and vice versa for the kitchen team. Our operations team is also multifunctional. On the commercial side, it’s a little bit more difficult, however, the Group Sales Team is versatile and will help if there are specific requests on the commercial side. They’re very busy at the moment because business demand is high since Portugal is a popular destination for tourists.
You may also enjoy reading what our Editor thought of her weekend stay at the InterContinental Lisbon.
You will find more reviews in the digital versions of PA Life magazines.