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Exceptional people deserve exceptional experiences People Awards 2019 | Employee engagement | The Grand Brighton | Andi Hirons, People Director

How can an independent hotel make every one of its employees feel engaged and valued?  

In 2014 The Grand Brighton became an independent hotel when former owners, DeVere Hotels, sold it.  Hotels do change hands, and with that comes the reality of losing the brand and the advantages of group strategies and initiatives for engaging and retaining employees.  Annual surveys by DeVere showed strong engagement, connection and pride in their brand.

Brand Loyalty?

The question facing The Grand Brighton, winner of the 2019 Employee Engagement Award “were people engaged with the DeVere Brand and everything it stood for or were they connected more so with The Grand?’   

Engaging and retaining team members had always been at the heart of The Grand’s culture but the change of ownership highlighted the significance of engaging and retaining its people.

Meeting the Need

The Grand family consists of 35 different nationalities and an age profile where 25% of employees are under 25 and 24% are over 40. Engaging this diverse team couldn’t be a one size fits all strategy.  It needed to be all encompassing, touching all sectors of the workforce, evolving and changing constantly.

Listen to Your People

We asked Andi Hirons, People Director, how The Grand Brighton had won hearts and minds? ‘We set out to create a culture where employees felt they could be themselves, be proud of their employment and feel connected to the hotel on all levels’.

‘Understanding what linked the team to the brand was paramount in creating the right culture. Bi-annual surveys that focused on what was important to each employee were created to allow the journey to begin’.

Management Buy-in is Key

Andi continued, ‘Engagement is a two-way street and to feel engaged, employees needed to feel respected and trusted by their managers. Most engagement activities fail at the first hurdle when there is no management commitment, so Senior Leadership Team buy-in was essential to a successful and lasting engagement strategy.

We knew we wanted to create a ‘something for everyone’ approach, with platforms that could host all the initiatives, creating a one-stop shop for employees.   Ease of access was key to our success, keeping it simple, with a focus on the whole employee journey’.


The hotel implemented ENGAGE – an all-encompassing communication platform across all levels, combining a live communication newsfeed, links to training, policies and vacancies, WhatsApp style department groups and an employee to employee messaging function were also created. ENGAGE also hosts custom groups that everyone can access, supporting a culture of trust and inclusiveness. Ideas pages allow team members to post their suggestions on business improvements.

Wide-ranging Benefits for Everyone

To sit alongside ENGAGE The Grand created a flexible benefits programme that includes paid days off to volunteer, charity match-funding, flexible working opportunities and free health assessments. 

Andi is enthusiastic about the benefits on offer, ‘we launched the Grand Recognition Incentive Scheme where employees are recognised with “Grands” for living our values and delivering exceptional hospitality. Employees can exchange Grands for 35 reward options including cash payments, cinema tickets, theme park passes and hotel experiences connecting them with our brand.

Every 6 months, employees earning 25 Grands, are entered into a draw to win an all-expenses paid 2 nights break – recent destinations included Amsterdam and St Tropez’.

Exceptional People Week

The Grand Hotel hosts an ‘Exceptional People Week’, held 3 times throughout the year, offering teams members opportunities to participate in whole-hotel team building events (quizzes, beach volleyball); knowledge days (showcasing all platforms, departments, products and offerings); wellbeing activities (yoga and mindfulness); healthy eating initiatives; local cycle to work programmes and top prize experience draws culminating in an all-inclusive paid holiday’.

Andi’s top 4 tips

We asked Andi what her top tips would be for businesses thinking about how to engage and reward their teams.

  1. Define what your brand values are and make sure they resonate with everyone involved.
  2. Engagement strategies should be careful, well thought out, processes that spark a connection with everyone who will benefit.  Involve every level within your organisation. Get their opinions before making any changes.
  3. Make your programme public, not hierarchal, and celebrate success, letting everyone in your team be part of the story.
  4. Incentives do not need to be money focused to be successful.   Create a strong programme tied to your brand.  In the last tax year, 71% of Grands were redeemed for experiences, not cash.

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