In an extraordinary journey of change, Peermont Hotels, Casinos and Resorts overcame the challenges of the pandemic to build a culture of empathy, resilience and engagement. Malebo Mpepele, Group Training and Development Manager of the award-winning hospitality and entertainment company reveals how they, in her words, ‘rode the waves of the pandemic with the Staying Strong toolkit’, using this initiative
to transform the way they lead and engage with employees.
Staying Strong to fulfil their purpose
“Promoting awareness and support in the workplace has always been a passion of mine," Malebo begins, highlighting the critical need for such measures during the pandemic. The hospitality sector faced the daunting task of shutting down and reopening under tough conditions, a once unimaginable scenario. "Our CEO joked that we had to look for the locks and keys," Malebo recalls, emphasising the severity of the situation.
Attuned to their people’s needs, the Executive Team grew increasingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on employee wellbeing and their ability to uphold the company’s purpose of ‘creating exceptional memories by delivering relaxing stays and exciting times’. They understood that regardless of people’s commitment, it is challenging to focus on others when you are feeling overwhelmed.
“Those were unprecedented times that called for coping mechanisms,” says Nigel Atherton, Group Chief Executive Officer.
In response, the Executive Team identified the need for an employee wellbeing programme to build resilience and agility – key attributes required to live the Peermont Way. To meet this need, Free To Grow’s Staying Strong programme and toolkit were selected.
A customised and phased approach
The project's scope was ambitious, reaching every corner of the company's vast operations.
"It was crucial that the programme wasn't just a one-size-fits-all solution and could be adapted to fit each region's needs," notes Malebo. This ensured that it was relevant and effective, regardless of location.
The implementation unfolded in three phases.
Phase 1: Equipping leaders for their role
In preparation for Phase 1, Peermont initiated a communication campaign to spark interest and raise awareness about Staying Strong.
"The campaign was themed 'The Peermont Way' and we adopted the tagline #WinningTeam. We wanted to maintain a steady stream of communication across the organisation to convey messages of resilience and solidarity," Malebo explains.
To ensure leadership engagement and to model the way from the top, Staying Strong was launched with the leadership team. Free To Grow conducted a virtual presentation of the Staying Strong programme to 750 leaders across 12 locations in South Africa and Botswana. This session offered leaders, ranging from Executives to Supervisors, the chance to prioritise their wellbeing before assisting their teams to do the same.
The leaders deeply valued this opportunity. Approximately 70% rated every aspect of the programme, including its personal and business value, with scores of 9 or 10 out of 10. To support the implementation, Free To Grow introduced Pulse – a tracking tool designed to monitor the progress and engagement of managers and employees across the business units. This tool enabled real-time monitoring of the programme's application, offering insights into its impact, and identifying areas needing support. It also allowed the Executive Team to gauge employee satisfaction and assess how managers and departments were performing.
Phase 2: Rolling out the Staying Strong toolkit
The second phase focused on equipping leaders with the skills to use the Staying Strong toolkit effectively. This toolkit, designed for brief yet impactful wellbeing conversations, includes 15 short videos, each delivering a powerful message on various aspects of wellbeing. Leaders were provided with a straightforward guide to facilitate discussions about each video's message, helping team members apply these insights to their lives and work.
“The toolkit is user-friendly and accessible. Our people loved it. It empowered even those who were hesitant to speak in front of others. We reassured them that it wasn’t about training their teams, but about having meaningful conversations. Our extensive rollout reached 322 managers and 1610 employees. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Departments continue to use the toolkit, with many saying it was the best resource they’ve ever had for connecting with their teams,” Malebo recounts.
Phase 3: Sustaining the momentum
“Our journey didn’t stop there,” says Malebo, discussing the ongoing efforts to sustain the positive changes initiated by Staying Strong. “The programme revealed various challenges our employees faced, leading us to introduce additional support initiatives," she explains. Among these, were mindfulness sessions and financial services workshops to assist employees facing financial difficulties.
"In 2021, we launched what we call 360 wellness. It's a holistic approach to employee wellbeing, encompassing everything from mental health to financial stability. We now offer professional counselling and therapy services to all staff," Malebo adds, highlighting Peermont's deep commitment to employee wellbeing.
Staying Strong has had a profound and lasting impact on Peermont's organisational culture.
"We've changed our management approach. There's now a strong emphasis on empathy and caring, which is a significant shift in our traditionally tough work environment.”
She notes the programme’s transformative effect on both managers and staff.
"Managers are now dedicating time to their teams, making employees feel valued and heard. This has fostered loyalty and commitment among the staff, with many choosing to stay despite other job offers."
The programme has also improved staff morale and interpersonal dynamics.
"Managers have begun to understand the importance of relationships and see their teams as collaborators rather than just subordinates. This shift is evident in how they handle situations like lateness, choosing to understand the 'why' behind the behaviour before jumping to disciplinary actions," Malebo observes.
Feedback from the staff further highlights the toolkit's effectiveness.
"Sessions have been eye-opening for many, especially for those who don’t typically speak up. The toolkit ensures everyone's voice is heard, creating a more inclusive and engaging environment. The phrase 'Stay Strong' has become a part of our daily language, helping people to navigate and handle challenges more effectively. It's more than just a programme; it's a mindset shift towards resilience and self-belief. One that has helped us to achieve better results."