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“Let's leave behind our old certainties”

Interview with Victoria Harel, Director of Talent & Culture at Hôtel Plaza Athénée. She takes a look back at the path the hotel has followed in order to adapt to a world of work in constant renewal.

Corporate culture

This is a translation of the momentum that is being created by the Dorchester Collection. Since the birth of the collection, management has emphasised an employee-oriented corporate culture. Caring is at the heart of our interactions with employees. For example, during the pandemic, we were the first hotel in Paris to announce that we would maintain our salaries at full pay throughout the closure period. Of course, in France, we had the particularity of benefitting from State support.

The establishment employs about 550 full-time equivalents, including about 40 apprentices.

Absorbing the shock of the crisis

Within the institution, we also had the objective of allowing all employees with permanent contracts, who so wished, to 100% secure their position. Several factors influenced the departure of certain employees. After the departure of Chef Alain Ducasse and the announcement of a new strategy for our restaurant areas, a number of employees did not wish to keep their positions within the hotel. Others moved abroad or left Paris, this was a movement that benefitted largely from the various confinements and the rise of working from home.

Managing this period has proved to be complex, especially in 2021 when the business started up again. We had no way of anticipating the hotel's occupancy rate. It was at this point that the recruitment difficulties became apparent. We were short of apprentices because we could not commit ourselves to a long-term contract due to a lack of visibility as regards our future activity.

In my discussions with hotel schools, I have noticed that some of them have a real enrolment deficit. This is an important factor because we are currently having difficulty recruiting, so what will happen in the short and medium term to supply the job market in our sector?

Although we imagined that this crisis would leave its mark, we did not anticipate it being to such an extent. We are still measuring the impact of this pandemic.

An initiative to support employees' purchasing power

Hôtel Plaza Athénée has always been innovative and creative when it comes to its employees. We have decided to implement an agreement, initiated by the Dorchester Collection, which significantly increases the purchasing power of all our employees, regardless of their level of hierarchy or seniority.

The aim here is to increase our rates in order to redistribute the revenue collected fairly. 5% of each customer's expenditure on accommodation and catering is now collected and redistributed.

The other agreements, and in particular the profit-sharing, were based on objectives and we wanted to get out of these uncertainties. This was because the various crises we have experienced since 2015 are cyclical factors that systematically affect our activity independently of our performance and the quality of the service we provide.

The objective of this initiative, during our discussions with the head office over the course of 2021, was to retain the talent that we train and recruit and to value their work. This applies to all employees who have been with us for more than a month.

This requires educating our employees who are confronted with questions from customers on this subject.

If we want to deliver a quality service to our customers, in line with their requirements, it is important that our employees can work in the best conditions. This also allows us to be much more attractive in terms of recruitment.

We belong to a sector of activity that has many constraints - working hours, salary scales, etc. - that were already present before the pandemic. This crisis makes recruitment even more complex, but we know that these constraints must be adapted to the current market in order to revitalise the hotel and restaurant industry.

This lack of interest in the sector is not only due to salaries, there are many other factors involved. We are doing a lot internally to take into account the expectations of younger people but also of older people. We have to be flexible and agile.

At Hôtel Plaza Athénée, we are lucky to have employees who have been with us for 30 or 35 years. In addition, we have young recruits. And it is essential for us to create a synergy between these different generations. We are coming to the end of a cycle with many people retiring, and it is important that the transition and especially the handing on of the reins be done in the best possible conditions.

Attracting the younger generation to Hôtel Plaza Athénée

It is true that our hotel has a very statutory image, which is nevertheless evolving. We are fortunate in our hotel to advocate taking the initiative and respecting the personality of each person. There are indeed a framework and "essentials" to respect because we are a palace that does have a certain necessary level of exigency. We nevertheless defend the right to make mistakes.

This philosophy is also reflected in our induction days and the training courses we offer our employees. We capitalise on the presence of the Le Meurice hotel, which also belongs to the Dorchester Collection, to develop training together with it. We are putting in place numerous modules on CSR issues and diversity and inclusion in line with our employees' expectations.

We are also increasingly adapting to the immediacy of needs with a greater individualisation of responses.

Attracting and recruiting not just on salary

For many years now we have been providing social benefits over and above remuneration. For example, we are extremely attentive to the mutual insurance/health insurance coverage we offer.

The need for a balance between professional and personal life is a recurring theme. To meet these expectations, the hotel needs to adapt significantly. It also requires a great deal of work on the part of the manager to satisfy these demands by listening and dealing with them on a case-by-case basis. However, we are also responsible for ensuring a certain degree of fairness for the teams. This leads us to think differently. For example, we are currently working on eliminating cuts in certain departments. We can't just sit back and let our guard down. We are certainly open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but that is no longer an argument in itself.

We offer two consecutive days off, schedule outside activities, and encourage meetings between departments, all to create a social and interpersonal link within the company. It is essential for the Dorchester Collection to live its values through actions and not only through words.

Targeting new candidate profiles

We are indeed facing a paradigm shift. We are therefore choosing to take certain risks by turning towards other profiles. For example, we are paying more attention to candidates who want to change careers, even if it is difficult to find them. The "palace" effect can be a deterrent and potential candidates do not dare to turn to us.

As long as these people have good interpersonal skills and a certain sense of service, they can flourish with us.

We have recruited profiles that we would not have even considered 2 or 3 years ago and which have turned out to be real talents. We bet on personality and support. This is how we recently recruited one of our new bartenders. He was not familiar with the palace world, but after a period of adaptation, it is working out very well. We have to put our certainties aside!

We have called upon our employees for co-optation recruitments, including even for profiles that do not come from the hotel/restaurant industry. At the same time, we have re-evaluated our co-optation bonus and after a period of implementation, this system is beginning to bear fruit.

We are now also actively working on social networks. On these media, whatever they may be, the younger generations do not necessarily go looking for us but rather expect us to go to them.

The good thing about the hotel and restaurant industry is that we are still one of the sectors where you can evolve and grow even without academic training. All this is possible through development support, training and peer-to-peer transmission. We must capitalise on this transmission, which is very present in our field.

For example, we have programmes for young hotel school graduates who want to become managers. Supervised training is provided directly by the Dorchester Collection.

We are also fortunate to have Mrs Bloch and Mr Delahaye as directors as they have the courage to recruit different profiles and to have confidence in them. This is also what keeps us going.

A message to your peers

Let's leave behind our old certainties. This is a mindset that more and more of us are adopting. During the pandemic, Mr Delahaye regularly reminded us that: "the only certainty is that we are no longer sure of anything". This state of mind enabled us to bounce back and find solutions.

A message to the younger generation

Keep the flame of passion alive, and our profession requires a lot of it! It's not just for those who have been in the sector since their school days. We have people who join us and excel even though this was not their profession initially. They are driven by know-how, precision, and service.


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