Dominika O’ Sullivan and Catherine Monahan from Action HR Services talk about what they do and why they think the hospitality industry is poised for real change
The people that work in the hospitality industry make it. Each member of a hotel’s staff is an essential part of the whole, and so building, nourishing and retaining a great team is crucial if a business is to thrive. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to meet with Dominika O’ Sullivan and Catherine Monahan from Action HR Services to gain their valuable perspective on hospitality recruitment and learn more about how they are helping hospitality businesses with their bespoke consultancy offering.
Action HR Services works across a range of industries but specialises in human resources for hospitality, and Dominika and Catherine have almost 30 years combined working on the ground in the hospitality industry. Dominika got her start working in operations for Hilton Worldwide in Dublin, and quickly progressed into HR. During her time with Hilton, she worked across all Hilton hotels in the city, and was responsible for the HR function in the five-star Conrad Hotel in Dublin. From there, Dominika joined Choice Hotels as HR Manager, which went on to transition to Dalata Hotels.
Then came another exciting opportunity, one that Dominika could not turn down: “The previous HR director worked with in Hilton asked me to help with the opening of Adare Manor and of course I couldn’t say no,” she says. “It was the most exciting thing happening in hospitality at the time and a dream come true for any professional.”
Action HR Services is a division of Action Recruitment, a renowned agency that has been in business for 50 years, Dominika tells us. When Managing Director Noel Cafferkey saw a gap in the market for HR consultancy specializing in advice and support for hotels, he contacted Dominika and offered her the opportunity to lead Action HR Services. “Noel is a great manager who has empowered me to set up this division on my own and that’s something I’m really proud of,” she tells us.
During Action HR Service’s recruitment, Catherine’s name came up, Dominika says, due to her extensive experience and well-renowned reputation in the industry. Catherine’s career in HR has been dynamic and exciting, and it’s clear when talking to her she’s passionate about what she does. Catherine worked across a wide variety of industries, including healthcare, pharmacy retail, theatrical and television, and hotels, and one point, was HR manager for Irish cultural phenomenon Riverdance. From a hospitality perspective Catherine worked for 11 years in the five-star Lough Eske Castle in Donegal, from pre-opening until 2018.
“I loved it,” Catherine says. “The hotel was managed by the Capella Hotel group, whose founder, Horst Shulze, was a founding member of the Ritz-Carlton Group. I was honoured to work with him and it made a big impact on me and my career. I joined the Action HR Services team last year as HR consultant. I work with lots of different companies which is great, but really, we are focused on hospitality. It’s our area of expertise and no one can replicate what myself and Dominika have. Hospitality brings its own unique challenges and we understand the space from direct experience as opposed to books and theory. That’s our niche and we’re very passionate about it.”
Hospitality certainly has its own challenges right now. Attracting and retaining staff is an issue across the board, and while Catherine and Dominika recognise these difficulties, they see them as an opportunity for the industry, a catalyst for much-needed change. The changes needed are two-prong Dominika tells us: the industry itself needs a rebranding to show how fun, dynamic, and rewarding it can be to work in, and work-life balance for staff needs to become a priority for employers.
“We can’t afford not to make changes,” says Dominika. “Employer branding is so vital now to attract staff. It goes beyond job descriptions and is about being creative and telling a story. The larger hotel groups have talent acquisitions experts that head this area, but you can see a lot of examples of lower budget employer brand storytelling on social media. For example, you have managers recording fun videos on Tik Tok with employees to give potential candidates a sense of what it’ll be like to work in that place.”
However, Dominika adds it’s vitally important the experience or story being communicated is reflected in the reality, after the individual commences employment. This of course makes sense: attracting workers is the first hurdle, but consistent effort and care needs to be put into retaining them. “The challenges the industry faces are not new, but we are at a crossroads, particularly after the last two years,” she says. “We need to focus on why people are leaving the industry and find tangible solutions. Work-life balance is so important. There are international hotel chains looking at things like producing monthly rosters where people can plan their lives, and others that are banishing the ‘always on call’ culture. It’s about changing the mentality so workers can have the benefits other industries offer them, but in our own way, as hotels still need to be open 24/7.”
According to Catherine, employee retention goes back to people being happy in their work. “It starts with your employees. They need open communication, respectful feedback, and an opportunity to learn and develop. A big thing that is so underestimated too is a simple thank you. Thank them and thank them with meaning.”
“There have been so many studies on the link between employee recognition and retention. We need to trust employees, not micromanage them, and give them autonomy. They need to have a sense of purpose. They need to know and understand the companies’ vision, mission and objectives and their role in contributing to ensuring these objectives are met. Their individual and team goals need to be directly linked to the organisation’s goals to enable them to have this sense of purpose. We need to make changes and that has to come from inside and the top down.”
Providing training is something Dominika and Catherine are passionate about. Action HR Services delivers a wide range of training for hospitality, covering areas like guest service, problem resolution training, people management, performance management, Dignity and Respect at Work, employment law, and workplace investigations. The company has also been awarded contracts to deliver training for major hospitality and education bodies, including the first City and Guilds Diploma in Hospitality Management in Donegal on behalf of Donegal Education and Training Board. “I think businesses must have a learning culture as it keeps employees engaged and encourages them to develop their skills,” Catherine says.
While offering advice, support and training is an integral part of Action HR Services, the company also acts as the HR department for clients that don’t have that function in-house. Dominika explains: “For some businesses it’s not cost-effective to have a HR department, so, for instance, we work with the director of operations who calls or emails us daily for advice on anything that is employment law or HR best practice related. For example, if there is a grievance, we dispense advice based on the specific circumstances and support them with tailored documentation.”
Dominika and Catherine also offer advice and support on employment law and policies. There have been many legislative changes over the past two years, they tell us, and there is also a lot in the pipeline that employers will need to consider, for example changes on statutory sick pay, tips legislation, the Right to Disconnect, whistle-blowing legislation, and a European directive on predictable working that will be transposed into Irish law. “We read a huge amount of case law,” says Dominika. “This is really important for Catherine and I as our advice has to be tailored to each client and up-to-the-minute. Any changes or decisions can have major implications.”
Catherine and Dominika also deliver guest lectures to hospitality students to speak about their on-the-ground experience and share updates regarding trends and upcoming legislation. They say it’s always exciting to deliver the lectures as they’re passionate about promoting the industry and keeping people interested and engaged. Perhaps that’s where the industry “re-brand” Dominika spoke about needs to start – by educating young people about the industry. Catherine agrees, and says this education needs to start in schools with guidance counsellors, and through initiatives that give young people a chance to learn what it’s like to work in a hotel.
It’s clear, despite the industry’s challenges, Dominika and Catherine are hopeful and excited about the future. “There so many positive stories about the industry that need to be promoted,” Dominika says. “It’s such a fun and vibrant industry that suits all kinds of personalities. It’s extremely rewarding and you can build you career quickly. With hospitality the sky is the limit!”
For more information on what Action HR Services offers you can visit www.actionhrservices.com and book a no-obligation discovery call. Alternatively, you can contact Catherine or Dominika by email at [email protected].