We talk employee wellbeing, competition for talent and watching baby turtles hatch on the beach with Ashley Babey, Director of HR and Training at Six Senses Laamu, in the Maldives.
Although I’m based on a beautiful tropical island where people come to relax, my day still starts at 7am as it always has done.
My role is a busy one, heading up the team that looks after all the employees in the resort – which is 400 strong. I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle to work and the office is only a minute-and-half away by bike, so it’s not exactly a difficult commute!
I start my day by reading through the security team and Night Manager’s reports to see if there has been any drama overnight.
Then, I prepare for daily briefing with the other heads of department. We talk through all the activities of the day such as guest arrivals, departures and key events; this is my chance to highlight any HR initiatives taking place.
Here in the Maldives my lifestyle is different from that in the UK, but each working day is what you might typically expect as an HR Director elsewhere.
I try to evenly divide my time between ongoing strategic projects and initiatives while dealing with a steady stream of visitors to the office. I have a team of five which interestingly includes the resort doctor. He’s here to assist any resort guests but also staff as well, I think every HR department should have one!
Our team of hosts is made up of 29 different nationalities so there are some interesting cultural challenges when it comes to keeping everybody happy and motivated.
For example, the chefs in the host canteen do a brilliant job catering for all of the different preferences and providing healthy and tasty options. I am impressed at how they follow the same ‘Eat with Six Senses’ principles for the hosts that we have for our guests.
As we’re an island, we need to entertain the hosts outside of work, so we have a really good activities calendar. We offer sports, quizzes, fitness, yoga, bingo, dolphin cruises and my favorite – participating in the turtle nest watch team.
We take turns to watch the nests for an hour in the early evening and early morning and wake the guests at any sign of activity. Together with a Turtle Biologist, we gather to watch the turtles hatching and then release them immediately to scamper into the sea. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the guests, which I’m lucky enough to witness over and over again during hatching season.
I work a six-day week whilst on the island and then take extended vacations. Most of the overseas staff tend to work for 3-4 months straight then take 3-4 weeks off, which seems to work well in this sector. For my next break, I’m heading back to the UK to catch up with friends and family, including my nephew who is just starting school.
I’m sure many HR Directors would agree that recruitment and retention remains the biggest challenge right now, wherever you are in the world!
Here in the Maldives, there are numerous luxury hotels and resorts and more opening every week, so there is huge competition for good people. We try to give our hosts, whether local or expatriate, reason to see that they have a career here and they can develop with us.
A large percentage of our hosts are attracted here by the emphasis we place on sustainability and protecting our environment and I believe this gives us a competitive edge with our recruitment. It’s a fantastic feeling when someone applies to us because of this and you can see they will be a great fit.
Along with sustainability, wellness is the other main pillar of Six Senses.
We’re just launching a huge initiative called Mission Wellness which will see us put host wellness at the forefront of everything we do. Mission Wellness focuses on areas such as the hosts’ physical and mental health, but also several additional aspects including financial, spiritual and social wellbeing.
As an initiative, Mission Wellness has been given huge importance in the company and HR have been charged with making it happen.
People in HR used to say that employees should leave their personal problems at the door when they arrive at work, but part of Mission Wellness is accepting that this is just not realistic.
A better approach is to accept that as employers, we should have systems and structures in place to help our people feel supported and find balance in their lives. The research shows that if you look after your staff holistically, they will perform better which transfers to our guests’ experience.
I believe this is the way HR is going and I’m privileged to be part of a company that truly believes that, too.
Every company argues that its people are its greatest asset, but the successful ones practice what they preach. It’s a mentality that has to come from the top.
For example, we’ve just won the ‘Travel and leisure best hotel brand in the world’ for the third year running and, at the ceremony, our CEO dedicated the award to our hosts. He even had our email sign-off changed to say: “Six Senses, we’re feeling the love. Thank you to our hosts, the heart of our brand.”
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