'Someplace Different' for 5,000 Workers
Employment Management Today
By Stephenie Overman
A new casino in Atlantic City began establishing its brand when the facility was nothing but a 'sand bar.'
When Charles Nicodemus spotted a billboard on the New Jersey shore that urged "Work Someplace Different," he took the bait and applied for a job at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. To Nicodemus, someplace different meant a venue where he could advance his career as a chef and get health insurance coverage.
The billboard's message also attracted Kelly Odee, who had worked at Trump Marina for 14 years. "That's what drew me in," says Odee. To her, someplace different meant that, "On the casino floor, they were going to care about me," she says. "They're going to look at me as a person, as an individual."
Both Nicodemus and Odee started working at Borgata on opening day—June 20, 2003. It was the first new casino in Atlantic City in 13 years.
To the nearly 65,000 other people who applied for jobs at Borgata, "someplace different" probably held a wide variety of meanings. And that's just what it was intended to do. It was part of a carefully considered employment strategy designed to appeal to a diverse workforce of nearly 5,000 housekeepers, food servers, table game dealers, pit managers and even executive vice presidents.
"'Work someplace different' hits home with everyone," says Cassie Fireman, vice president of talent at Borgata, a joint venture between the Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage Inc. "It's very simple. That was important to us. We wanted something everyone could relate to."
For Laura Drescher, a customer care team leader who oversees the telephone operators who take reservations for rooms and entertainment, someplace different was a company where she had a chance to move up from her previous position at Harrah's casino. But she also appreciates the perks, such as e-mail, voice mail and an employee garage on the property that allows workers to bypass the tedious bus service ride that is common for employees at other Atlantic City casinos.
Doing Their Homework
The recruitment drive at Borgata, which means "little village" in Italian, was launched even before the 40-story gold building was constructed. Its operating philosophy was based on four principles:
- Position. The brand.
- Product. The building and its amenities.
- Processes. Delivering superior customer service.
- People. The right employees.
To get a start on finding the right employees, Borgata relied on market research, including a poll of the local workforce. "It was a tough labor market to come into," says Fireman. "It was stagnant, with a lot of entrenched employees who had good benefits, solid wages and lots of vacation time."
In late 2001, the Cherenson Group/National Research Group conducted telephone interviews and focus groups of gaming industry employees to understand the employment landscape and determine "what the switching costs were," Fireman says. They asked questions such as, "What do you like about where you work?" "What don't you like about where you work?" and "What would be the difficulty in making the switch [to Borgata]?"
The research showed that:
- Employees wanted to deliver superior customer service but felt they had insufficient support and resources from management to do so.
- Employees did not believe they could openly communicate with senior management.
- Employees were frequently promised improvements to their work environment that weren't delivered.
The result was a "recruitment playbook" about each major employer in the Atlantic City gaming market, plus other selected U.S. gaming markets. By studying the playbook, Borgata recruiters could identify the dissatisfactions of employees at competing casinos and tell them, "Here's what you're missing there," Fireman says.
"You've got to get someone to convert. We looked at the other organizations and compared our benefits against theirs. For some people, the selling point is our vacation plan or the 401(k) plan. For others, it's our management style."
Fireman and her crew expected job security to be a key issue. New players in the service industry often over-hire, she says, and then lay off workers after the initial rush. Borgata moved 180 employees from their other facilities to help with the startup during the first six to eight weeks. After that, those employees returned to their home properties. That sent the message that "We're the new facility in town, but we have a lot of longevity," says Fireman. "The CEO has been with the company for 28 years."
Staking Their Claim
In October 2002, Borgata launched its web site (www.borgatajobs.com) with the slogan "Are You Ready?"
Fireman says that's how the company introduced itself to competitors and potential customers alike. "Then we followed up with 'Work Someplace Different,' " she says. "We advertised on rolling chairs on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to get our name and our web site out there." During the Miss America Pageant, the chairs were positioned for maximum visibility.
Borgata sought employees who could personify the Five F's—fast, fun, friendly, fresh and focused. One element that was most beneficial, according to Fireman, was using line managers in the hiring process instead of hiring temporary HR professionals.
"From an HR standpoint, I was a little skeptical going in, but in the end, it felt very good," she says. "These were people who had a stake in the game. The people they hired, they had to work with at the end of the day."
The company also worked with PeopleSoft to make the recruitment process as paperless as possible, Fireman says. During the initial stage, the company worked with public libraries and other public agencies to make the web site accessible to people who weren't online at home. "Are You Ready?" was the front page of the web site in the public library. Later, Borgata set up about 30 kiosks in its own employment center.
Nicodemus, who moved from a job in a nearby New Jersey town to the Metropolitan restaurant at Borgata, praised the ease of the online recruiting process. Without it, he says, "I would have had to drive to Atlantic City, fill out the application and drive back." The online process allowed him to complete the application at home.
The company also instituted the Atlantic City Jobs and Opportunities Program exclusively for residents. "We worked with residents to give them job training skills and the ability to complete applications online," says Fireman, adding that Borgata employs more than 1,000 Atlantic City residents.
Another element of the outreach was the Laptops & Lemonade Brigade, which went to churches and community centers in areas of south New Jersey with high unemployment rates. Mini job centers provided the opportunity to complete applications right there in the local community.
"It was a grassroots, door-to-door effort," says Fireman. "When people see that senior management is meeting with you, pouring you lemonade, they see we're really committed to this. It was very successful."
Teaching 'One Borgata Way'
Having hired nearly 5,000 people over a seven-month period in 2003, Borgata's branding efforts continued during the new employee orientation process, with senior managers talking to new hires about company values, Fireman says. "Our 'One Borgata Way' is more than our address; it's our way of doing business. We talk about trust, confidence, respect, support."
That's an easy message for Karen F. Brundage-Johnson, director of talent relationship management, to deliver. She retired early from the telecommunications industry and "never looked back. I wanted to do something completely different." She noticed the Borgata billboards, heard the buzz around town and thought, "Why not?" She was hired in May 2003, and part of her new job was helping to run the giant two-day orientation programs at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
"We talk about what our goals are, about creating a memorable, exciting experience for the customer," says Brundage-Johnson. It's done with a lot of visuals. New employees get a tour and see a presentation of photos, architectural drawings and video of Borgata's progress "from when we were a sand bar. We show them where we came from."
The presentation was used to introduce employees to One Borgata Way before construction was completed on the building. It's still used to introduce new employees to all aspects of the operation.
After the overview, a department orientation gives more specific details, Brundage-Johnson says. "If they're in table games, they see photos and videos of dealers at work, they see how things are set up. If they're in housekeeping, they see how that works."
The use of visuals is especially helpful in a diverse workforce where many people may have problems with English, she adds.
On the second day, employees are trained on benefits and taken on a tour to let them see what customers are experiencing.
Every aspect of employment was covered, says Odee. "You could not walk out of orientation without knowing what they expected of you. What they teach us as employees overflows to the customers. We can be personable to the customers."
Borgata also is proud of its "back of the house" facilities—a large gathering place, a darkened quiet lounge where employees can rest, a computer lounge where employees can check e-mail and a convenience store complete with Starbucks coffee.
"We believe in on-the-spot recognition. If you give superior customer service, I might buy you a Starbucks," says Brundage-Johnson. "You might receive a letter that entitles you to dinner." After moving so many employees through the orientation process simultaneously, the next step, says Brundage-Johnson, is to provide more specific training for skills development. For example, Nicodemus, a graduate of culinary arts school who has already received one promotion at the casino's restaurant, plans to continue his studies using Borgata's tuition assistance plan.
Borgata also emphasizes individual coaching, according to Drescher. "If somebody gives a comp room when they shouldn't, I go over it with the person, find out what the person was thinking" and help them to understand what they should have done.
Borgata uses its brand every day to retain employees, says Fireman. "We're doing an employee survey basically on a daily basis, asking, 'Is this someplace different? Do you get respect? Have you been on-boarded properly? Are you informed of happenings throughout the facility?' We try to do all the things we had heard weren't happening" elsewhere.
So far, retention efforts have been successful, according to Fireman. "The average turnover in this market is 30 percent. In the first year, we're trending just above 20 percent, and with mass recruitment you would expect it to be a little higher. There's room for improvement, but given the industry average, we feel good out of the block."
Reprinted with the permission of HR Magazine published by the Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org), Alexandria, VA.