Ellen Dubois du Bellay
Ellen Dubois du Bellay is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Jumeirah Group, the global luxury hospitality company and a member of Dubai Holding. Ellen’s goal is to create an employee-driven culture and an environment that encourages empowering leadership and strong customer-focused outcomes. She believes in partnering with all aspects of the organization to create innovative ways to source, hire, develop, lead and inspire people to be their best selves; deliver industry-leading business results; and ensure the highest standards are achieved.
Like all hospitality businesses, Jumeirah had to quickly adapt in response to this unprecedented global crisis. That meant changing the foundations of our guest service model we had built over the last 20 years and adjusting our operational practices and resourcing model. The nature of this pandemic has demanded a responsive and dynamic structure that can support fast changing trends in demand with very limited visibility and minimal exposure to risk from a financial and reputational standpoint. The HR team played a central role throughout this period and continues to be integral to the continuity of the business. Globally, HR teams are considered essential workers and for good reason. We have not only redesigned workforces to maintain productivity and efficiency but also supported our colleagues’ emotional and physical needs at a time of great uncertainty.
Moving into the post-pandemic era, an engaged workforce will be more important than ever, especially as we have no definitive answer as to when business will return to its former level. HR will be the lifeline of the organisation and will need to address this sense of “COVID fatigue” to re-energise teams, to connect and engage in motivational moments and to ensure there are enough people doing the right jobs in the right places, resulting in a workforce that feels well looked after, motivated and well utilized.
However, while HR teams play an integral role in steering organizations, the effects of the pandemic on an organization’s workforce cannot be solely managed from a central office – every single leader in all areas of the business has the responsibility to drive initiatives that respond to the needs of their teams, in particular their wellbeing. Jumeirah acknowledges the correlation between wellbeing and productivity and in 2019 launched an Employee Wellness Programme which delivers a complimentary service, offering professional support 24-7 on almost every aspect of their work and personal life, whether it be legal, financial, health, or life-coaching, all of which can be accessed anonymously.
As the emphasis on manpower and motivation continues, HR’s place at the management table has naturally taken pole position and their exposure to the business in general has grown, resulting in a greater involvement in the decision-making process. Post-pandemic, this dialogue needs to continue.
Previously, it was difficult to think of the hospitality industry as one that could operate remotely or from a distance, given that human interactions play such an integral role in operations. This notion has been disproven in past months, calling for newly defined roles, more versatile structures and new ways to interact with guests. As a result, HR leaders will have to respond with more creative workforce and training solutions. It would be beneficial for HR leaders to contribute to the national workforce conversation, steering towards an overarching flexible model, through the adoption of a flexible visa for example. Such measures would be of use if adopted globally, aiding responsive resourcing strategies.
From a corporate standpoint, HR divisions have taken on the role of health custodians for employee physical and mental wellbeing. In light of the adapted working systems, there needs to be new ways to ensure employees feel safe in office spaces when facing pandemic-related uncertainty, as well as other issues such as feeling isolated working from home. The best way to tackle this would be through championing inclusion and reflecting on the positives within current working conditions. These include resilience and adaptability shown by employees, to be able to upskill and take on increased responsibilities, as well as modify working norms to suit new consumer needs- all examples of irreversible learnings. HR leaders also need to understand their teams’ capabilities and offer training irrespective of limited budgets. This can be done digitally to cut costs, a tactic that has proven extremely effective worldwide during this time.
On a personal level, I have been delighted with the resilience of our teams and am proud of the speed in which they have adapted to the fluctuating work conditions. People have quickly taken on new roles across different departments and environments than what they’re used to – as such, I’ve learnt that flexibility is a trait that should not be underestimated. A lot of learning has happened on a personal and team level, which calls for reflection across the board. HR teams find taking this time to reflect so important – we need to stop and acknowledge how people have adapted, upskilled, and taken on more responsibilities. People have also shown immense creativity in putting in place enhanced hygiene and safety measures that limit disruptions to operations, yet another point to note by HR teams.
Another key learning is that flexible working is possible. As already mentioned, pre-pandemic the idea of the hospitality industry being able to work remotely was implausible, however, this is no longer the case with people now wanting to work from home more frequently. Given the productivity that we have seen in the past months, HR leaders should seriously consider offering more flexibility to their workforce. The nature of social interaction has also changed, calling on organizations to reevaluate their structures to favor more varied tasks and opportunities than what we are used to.
The most important advice to heed at this time would be to evaluate the digital culture adopted worldwide during the pandemic and look at how this can be organized to suit your corporation’s needs in the best possible way moving forward. Brands need to learn how to exist digitally and offer a corporate culture in the digital space for colleagues to feel the brand values online when working remotely. It is vital to establish this culture digitally to keep people connected and engaged.
We as HR professionals also need to be mindful of the real impact of COVID fatigue. Now eight months in and no definitive end in sight, it is crucial to get employees on board with the idea that this might be the new normal for the foreseeable future. This notion needs to be reiterated with care, highlighting the positives that can be taken and motivating teams through challenging times by connecting on a personal level. This means that we have to ensure our teams get the chance to disconnect, rest and socialize to combat the sense of isolation that are a byproduct of the various lockdowns.
From a leadership perspective, we need to stay strong ourselves and be careful not to project any kind of negativity, as employees look to their management for hope and a sense of positivity. Managers need to evoke a sense of solidarity and show their teams that working together is key. They should also highlight achievements made under such extraordinary circumstances to boost morale.
Here at Jumeirah, we strive to treat each other with the same level of respect and care extended to our guests. We take our responsibility to our colleagues extremely seriously and have implemented various measures to make them feel safe and comfortable as they start to return to the office. These include ensuring spacing through Perspex dividers in between workstations, offering food packages in the corporate office and encouraging unscripted acts of kindness from leaders that come from a place of empathy. We have also ensured that our GMs host regular team meetings to grow a sense of solidarity and transparency within teams and ensure everyone is informed and involved.
For HR professionals it means being an integral member of the leadership team and an active participant in key business decisions versus simply being a recipient. It also means leading innovation on people practices, being able to sell those practices as a viable investment of both time and company resources and being able to execute them effectively.
About Ellen Dubois du Bellay:
Ellen brings more than 25 years’ experience as a senior HR leader to the company, and was most recently a founding partner of Inside Out International, a consultancy collective working with companies across the globe to drive performance through people. Prior to this Ellen was Senior Vice President of Global Talent Management at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Ellen grew up in Australia and has lived and worked in Thailand, the UK, the US, France and Canada. She has a Master’s degree (with distinction) in Coaching and Consulting for Change from INSEAD in France, where her research focused on the psychology of the modern workplace.