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HUMAN CAPITAL Property & Hospitality

Why Raffles Hotel Singapore Is One of the Best Companies to Work for


This article is a part of our Influential Brands® 2019 series, where we highlight the most influential brands in Asia. Learn more about these brands at Brandzbeat, a video channel by Influential Brands®.

Raffles Hotel is a Singapore icon. A luxury colonial-style national monument that first opened in 1887, it has been featured in Hollywood rom-com Crazy Rich Asians and hosted the likes of Michael Jackson, Queen Elizabeth II, and probably anyone who’s anyone during their visit to Singapore. Recently, the brand’s flagship property completed its three-phased restoration (led by interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud and architecture firm Aedas), which began in February 2017, unveiling an updated look that nonetheless retains a sense of nostalgia and classic sophistication.

Along with the facelift is the introduction of various new dining establishments and “lifestyle experiences”, where guests are treated to a welcome fruit platter, which they can enjoy as they explore the hotel’s lush verandas, and admire the Peranakan-style baths and warm teakwood floors. Best of all, there’ll be butlers at your beck and call, ready to deliver the kind of top-notch service that’s always been synonymous with the Raffles brand.

Undoubtedly, a stay at Raffles Hotel—pre-renovations or post—is unlike anything else. But how much do we know about the people behind the establishment, who are responsible for delivering the top-tier service that has shaped the Raffles brand? A significant reason for the success of the hotel can be attributed to the souls that work tirelessly behind the scenes, and what drives their work ethic is none other than the company culture.

A values-driven workplace culture

Jennifer Tan, director of talent and culture whose experiences are a testament to Raffles Hotel’s excellence, affirms, “It doesn’t feel like I’ve been working at Raffles for 19 years as there’s never been a dull moment.” Key to that is the culture of the organisation, which, instead of being defined by a few leaders, has been crafted collectively by its 500 full-time and permanent part-time employees.

“Before the re-opening of the hotel, we invited our long-service colleagues across all job grades from senior leadership to line colleagues to a culture workshop to define the culture of Raffles Hotel Singapore,” Jennifer shares. “At the end of the workshop, our colleagues in their own description through a Mentimeter exercise defined our culture with these words—family, respect, trust, passion, excellence, fun and inclusive.”

Roslee Bin Sukar, the hotel’s historian concierge, chimes in, “Working at Raffles Hotel Singapore is like working as a family where there is a very high level of respect and trust. I believe that this culture is possible and strengthened by the hotel constantly initiating colleague-related best practices over the years. I am privileged and blessed working in an organisation that constantly looks after our welfare and values colleagues and talents.”

The offices and workstations of Raffles Hotel employees may have been refurbished with spanking new facilities, furniture and lounges to match their newly designed uniforms. Without the foundation of a values-driven culture that informs a company’s DNA, however, the surface-level embellishments are meaningless. Raffles Hotel understands this, and thus emphasises on basing the staff’s work ethic on the company’s values. A healthy workplace culture not only sets the stage for good work but also determines how patrons are treated. As such, it’s mandatory for all employees at the Raffles Hotel to go through an orientation on the hotel, and the Accor and Raffles brand.

Part of the process is the Heartist® Journey, “our cultural transformation journey with the objective to provide our guests and colleagues with exceptional experiences that will turn them into raving fans,” says Jennifer. Through this programme, the staff will learn how to create a stellar, comfortable experience that makes guests feel welcome and heart-warmed, as well as pick up skills on creating the optimal employee experience, where each employee feels valued and part of the team.

Diversity and inclusion

No successful company in the 21st century is filled with employees of a single gender, age group and ethnic background either. As an advocate of inclusive hiring, Raffles Hotel makes a point of embracing candidates of all nationalities, races, ages, and education backgrounds. It is even more pertinent to a hospitality joint, which serves people from all walks of life, to have a workforce that reflects its customer base.

One of 11 members that formed the inaugural team of national diversity and inclusion champions in 2013 (organised by the Singapore National Employers Federation), Raffles Hotel does not dismiss individuals from a less privileged background, candidates with mild intellectual disabilities, single mothers, or those with minor mental and physical health issues. The early adopter of the extension of the retirement and re-employment age also recruits anyone from students to retirees past the age of 62. Even within the company, a committee has also been set up to organise events to promote inclusion and diversity in conjunction with World Diversity Day, the Purple Parade, and the He for She campaign.

How to engage and retain talent

When it comes to attracting talents, it’s easy, especially for high-profile, media-savvy corporations with truckloads of staff benefits. The trick is to make them stay. For this, dangling fat cheques in front of employees isn’t going to work if they’re not satisfied with their jobs. It all starts with maintaining open communication, so that both employees and managers are on the same page at all times and any issues can be promptly nipped in the bud. For Raffles Hotel, this means holding daily operations briefings, follow-up conversations with new hires, breakfast meetings with night shift colleagues, monthly sessions where the general manager meets the staff, quarterly colleague communication sessions, and one-on-one discussions between managers and colleagues at least twice a year.

Next, making sure employees feel happy and valued at work. Jennifer explains, “The hotel takes employee engagement very seriously and follows up annually on employee engagement survey results and action plans. While it’s been proven that engaged colleagues are productive, this goes beyond the goal of raising the bottom line. It’s about prioritising the emotional well-being of the people that propels the business, because they are just about your most valuable assets. The HR veteran adds, “Senior managers and section heads are trained in leadership and supervisory modules to drive colleague engagement. The hotel has consistently achieved high employee engagement results, the last before hotel reopening being 97% by Aon.”

Another reason that makes Raffles Hotel a great place to work is that it recognises well-performing employees. “Raffles Star, our in-house programme that promotes a culture of spontaneous colleague recognition by managers, recognises colleagues who exceed internal and external guest expectations,” Jennifer says. “We also nominate our colleagues for industry, national and international competitions and awards.”

Besides the need to feel appreciated, staff members are more likely to stay when they’ve been given opportunities to grow. Whether it’s cross training or multi-skilling, Raffles Hotel offers its staff a plethora of options to upgrade their skill set or pursue another field they’ve set their sights on. In fact, each employee has a personal learning and development plan—70% of it composes of experiential learning of technical skills, 20% goes into relationship learning from a buddy and through coaching and mentoring by managers, and the last 10% comprises formal learning such as workshops and e-learning.

Investing in their growth and developing their competencies, in turn, helps top-notch employees to progress their career in the company—a foolproof strategy to retaining talented staff. Each year, more than 20 per cent of Raffles Hotel’s employees rise in their career from within the company. High-performing employees are also managed and mentored under the Talent Review programme, which prepares them for succession planning and career progression within the global Accor firm that boasts over 30 brands and 3,500 hotels. “There have been many success stories of colleagues and fresh graduates joining the hotel at entry positions, and being talent developed and progressing into leadership roles such as section and department heads,” attests Jennifer.

Progressive employee benefits

Of course, it’s not all work and no play at Raffles Hotel. Employees get to participate regularly in a slew of team building and corporate social responsibility activities that fall under its eight pillars of workplace health—community, education, environment, family, health, recreation, safety and sports. On top of that are additional benefits such as complimentary duty meals at the colleague dining room, and hotel discounts. As one of the most progressive establishments in Singapore, Raffles Hotel happens to also be the first hotel in Singapore to implement wage restructuring, introduce family-friendly shifts, and most importantly, provide portable medical benefits (which offers lifetime hospitalisation and surgical insurance coverage and benefits beyond employment and retirement).

Jennifer recalls, “Two colleagues, years after their retirement and leaving the services of the hotel, were diagnosed with cancer. After their treatment and recovery, they returned to our Talent and Culture department to thank the hotel, expressing that without their portable insurance coverage, they would have been a financial burden to their family members. It was heart-warming to receive such appreciation and feedback.”

It’s also one of the first in the hospitality line to implement a five-day work week across all positions. “Flexible work arrangements such as permanent part-time work is extended to colleagues who could otherwise have left the workforce for family or domestic reasons,” Jennifer continues. “Subject to the suitability of the role and operational requirements, office colleagues are given approval to have staggered commencing time or to work from home on a case-by-case and ad-hoc basis.”

Ultimately, as Jennifer offers, “The most important element that makes a great workplace is leadership.” As the bedrock of all successful organisations, it’s what defines a company culture and drives engagement, retention and attraction of talents. Knowing just how important it is to have good leadership, Raffles Hotel is unflinching in its commitment to grooming managers and supervisors. “To support them in their roles in ensuring a great workplace with fair, responsible and progressive employment practices,” says Jennifer, they undergo training programmes that help them lead better and learn more about skills like game thinking, delivering feedback, and building trust.

As Raffles Hotel continues to benchmark and enhance its talent and culture practices, there’s no doubt the Singapore icon lives up to its reputation by extending the way they treat their guests to their employees—fully earning its place as one of Singapore’s choice companies to work for.

This interview is part of Influential Brands® series. InfluentialBrands® recognises Brand Excellence & Leadership in Asia. The article was developed in collaboration with High Net Worth.