July 22, 2014

Employee Retention is Paramount at Gaylord Palms

The key to Gaylord Palms' low turnover: Seeking employee input at every level -- and rewarding performance.

• Gaylord Palms
Kissimmee - No. 24 / Large Company - Hospitality

Gaylord Palms
Sales receptionist Kenny Stockdill (left), general manager Johann Krieger and lead restaurant hostess Margaret Sweeting ham it up.

"They always look to us for our opinion, and they work from there," says Margaret Sweeting, who has been with the resort for almost 10 years. "When we meet our mark and make our goals, we are able to — everybody — share in a bonus." [Photo: Brook Pifer]

Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center knows what it takes to keep guests happy and earn repeat business. The Orlando resort has proven that it also knows what it takes to keep its 1,500 employees happy and turnover low. Its employee turnover rate last year was 15%, far below the industry average of nearly 40%. More than 31% of employees have been with the resort for eight years — almost 23% since it opened in 2002.

The resort offers a slew of perks, including a convenience store that sells items at cost and a discounted on-site auto repair shop. It offers management training to employees at almost every level and surprises them with massages, ice cream sundae stations and more. But that's not why so many of Gaylord's employees stay on for so long.

"It's the culture, that feeling of comfort, of knowing that they genuinely care about me," says Kenny Stockdill, a sales receptionist who has been with Gaylord since just before it opened. Evidence of that, he says, is the input employees have into business decisions: Workers at all levels meet with general manager Johann Krieger, plus they share their opinions twice a year in an employee satisfaction survey.

"They always look to us for our opinion, and they work from there," says Margaret Sweeting, a lead restaurant hostess who has been with the resort for nearly 10 years.

Sweeting says the company also shows it cares about employees through bonuses, which even hourly workers can earn. "When we meet our mark and make our goals, we are able to — everybody — share in a bonus. That right there tells me that they see us as important," she says.

Twice a year, Gaylord has massive employee recognition bashes. In addition, every week each department calls out staffers who go above and beyond. "It makes me feel like somebody's paying attention, like somebody really appreciates what I do for them," Stockdill says.

It's all part of an attempt to create a culture that's different from other hospitality companies, says Krieger, who has worked at the resort since its opening and has been general manager since January 2010. Its owner, Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment, gave Krieger and his team the freedom to create their own training manuals, job descriptions and guiding philosophies.

Part of their philosophy is that, much as every guest's experience must be customized, so must every employee's. That's one reason why Gaylord offers such a variety of perks. It's also why Krieger gives managers almost complete freedom in determining how to reward employees. For instance, each department receives $120 per employee per year to, in Krieger's words, "create fun in the department." Fun has included everything from a day of softball to scavenger hunts and dance-offs.

That allocation didn't drop during the recession, and Gaylord didn't cut back on any of its employee programs. The on-site convenience store opened last year and the service station the year before. "It's a long-term investment, and you can't turn it on and turn it off," Krieger says.

The company believes treating employees well is the right thing to do and that it gives it a competitive advantage. If employees "don't know what it feels like to be cared for, how can they care for our guests?" Krieger points out. "You cannot replace what we have here. It's taken a long time to build this culture, and we're extremely proud of it."

Gaylord Palm's Benefits Package

» Quarterly bonuses for all employees (including hourly)

» Quarterly guest satisfaction and profit goal bonuses of up to $200

» Health insurance for employees, dependents and domestic partners 75% to 99% paid by Gaylord Palms

» Employee stock option plan

» Profit-sharing

» 401(k) with company match of $1 for every $1 contributed up to 4%

» Adoption assistance of up to $2,500

» 10 vacation, 6 sick days and 1 personal day off after first year

» Mortgage and student loan programs

» Free employee fitness center and daily classes

» Leadership training classes for all employees

» Free dry-cleaning

» On-site auto garage with discounted service

» Employee-only convenience store that sells food and sundries at cost

» Twice-yearly employee recognition celebrations

» Festivals for employees and families

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