The Grand Brighton reinvigorated benefits package upon becoming independent


Luxury seafront hotel The Grand Brighton reinvigorated the benefits and reward package offered to its 300 employees, to align with new corporate values developed when it became an independent entity in January 2018.

This change in status empowered its HR and benefits team to revamp its reward offering and set a strategy tailored to its workforce, rather than one delivered from the top down via a corporate umbrella.

Andi Hirons, head of people at The Grand Brighton, explains: “It has allowed us to be entrepreneurial with benefits and to reach out to look at different areas that perhaps we wouldn’t have done before.

“We’ve been able to steer benefits more closely towards the needs we know we have within our workforce profile.”

A new approach

Quarter one of 2018 saw The Grand Brighton introduce a raft of new benefits, as well as enhance some of its existing provisions.

“The key for us is to make sure our benefits are very diverse, are appropriate across all levels of the business and are very transferable across lots of different means, so they’re not all paper-based and they’re not all internet-based,” Hirons says. “They’re all-encompassing, to make sure that everybody has something that is relevant to them.”

In January 2018, the business enhanced its maternity leave policy. New mothers with at least one year’s service can now take up to 10 weeks of fully paid leave, rather than relying on the statutory provision previously offered.

It also amended discretionary sick pay. “It’s based on contracts and length of service, so really recognising those employees that have a great commitment with us,” Hirons explains.

Prior to this, in April 2017, when The Grand Brighton changed payroll providers, the business enhanced its employer pension contributions for managers and supervisors; this became a matched contribution, paid by employer and employee, at 1% more than the statutory minimum. Currently, this enhanced rate is set at 4%.

Enhanced offering

February 2018 saw the business launch benefits offered via operational remuneration arrangements (Opra), wich includes salary sacrifice, and a new health cash plan, in partnership with providers Perkbox, Enjoy Benefits and Westfield Health.

These include a bikes-for-work scheme, a car parking benefit, and technology, mobile phone and workplace nursery. Employees are also able to buy and sell holiday, provided it does not take them below the statutory minimum.

The health cash plan, which is employer-paid up to £200 for all individuals contracted to work at least eight hours per week, enables staff to access optical, dental and chiropody treatments, to name a few.

Employee feedback

In order to effect these changes, it was important to first gain feedback from staff. In quarter four of 2017, The Grand Brighton conducted face-to-face surveys and focus groups, involving approximately 50 employees from across the business.

The hotel also spoke with its staff consultation committee, Think Grand, which collected anonymous feedback from employees to present to the management team.

“We did quite a lot of research in terms of the things that make this a great place to work and the things [employees] enjoy and want to see,” says Hirons. “We used that to make sure we ticked all the boxes in all areas where people feel they need a contribution from us.”

Reward and recognition

One element of The Grand Brighton’s reward offering that it refreshed, rather than introduced anew, is its reward and recognition scheme, which it has operated for around nine years.

Historically, this was a paper-based system; managers awarded staff cheques for demonstrating organisational values or displaying good hospitality. The prizes included cinema tickets, theme park vouchers or money.

In February 2019, the recognition programme became app-based. Each employee now has an account through which they can receive both peer-to-peer thanks and top-down rewards.

Peer-to-peer praise is visible via a news feed on the app, while top-down recognition sees managers award employees with between one and 25 ‘grands’, the hotel’s internal currency, from a set monthly budget.

Grands can be used to purchase rewards centred around the hotel’s facilities; for example, drinks at the bar, a spa treatment, an overnight stay, afternoon tea or dinner in the restaurant.

“[Using hotel services as rewards] connects the employees to the brand, so most of [the rewards], other than the cash rewards, are experience-led,” Hirons explains. “Lots of our employees choose those rather than the cash in wages, because they want to be part of that brand and Grand experience.”

The recognition programme is also available via The Grand Brighton’s online communications platform, if staff do not want to use an app.

Between February and July 2019, 1,300 messages of thanks were sent via the recognition scheme.

Celebrating staff

The Grand Brighton also hosts an annual award night every January; typically, around 200 employees attend.

The awards, which have been running for the past three years in this fashion, are held at the hotel, with senior leaders serving during a drinks reception and a three-course dinner.

“That’s what [staff] do for our guests on a regular basis, so to be able to give back that experience to our employees is really important for us,” Hirons says.

Managers contribute to the award shortlists, while senior leaders review the final entries. The awards include: Business contribution, Excellence in service, Best newcomer, Rising star, Team of the year, Employee of the year, Manager of the year, Best supporting act and Unsung hero.

At the event, The Grand Brighton also draws one of its twice-yearly Golden Grands, which were introduced in January 2016. Any staff member that earns 25 grands within a six-month period is entered into a prize draw to win an all-inclusive holiday to Europe. Previous winners have traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, St Tropez and Venice.

Organisational values

The organisation has three core values: individual, inclusive and progressive. Key behaviours align with each value; for example, taking the initiative and being creative comes under the progressive category.

Hirons says: “When [we] became a fully independent business, [we clarified] those values. They’re the values we’ve always had, but [this was] to really define those and make them visual and meaningful in the business.”

Hirons uses analytics from the recognition app to track what values and behaviours are being embodied, because these must be selected by managers in order to deliver rewards to staff.

Centred on staff

The Grand Brighton further celebrates its staff through its ‘exceptional people’ weeks, which are held three times a year in April or May, July and December.

These weeks feature team-building activities, such as beach volleyball, barbecues and quizzes, as well as talent top-up days, which enable employees from different areas of the business to teach colleagues new skills. For example, health and beauty staff might teach fellow employees how to give a basic massage.

During these weeks, Hirons and her team use online games to facilitate benefits-related question-and-answer sessions with staff, while push notifications advertise whether any benefits are being enhanced in conjunction with the events taking place.

The exceptional people week in spring is typically wellbeing-focused, incorporating yoga classes, mindfulness sessions, brainteaser quizzes and healthy eating initiatives.

Between 20 and 30 staff participated in the first exceptional people week five years ago. In 2018, 100 employees took part.

Employee engagement

So, has this benefits invigoration process had the desired effect on engagement and retention?  For Hirons, the answer is a clear yes.

The percentage of employees with at least one year of service stood at 47% in 2014, but for 2019 this has rocketed to 71%. Results from the organisation’s 12-question bi-annual employee survey, conducted in April and October, reported a 90.6% engagement rate for 2019, compared with around 81% in 2014 and 2015.

“Everything links together [so we] get more of an inclusive strategy,” Hirons concludes. “People understand the connection between their behaviour and how that links to the customer. The key is connecting benefits, reward and recognition to our values.”

At a glance

The Grand Brighton is a seafront-facing hotel situated on King’s Road, Brighton. In addition to accommodation, it operates a restaurant, bar and terrace area, and caters for meetings and events, such as weddings.

The Grand Brighton employs 300 staff across 18 departments. There are around 80 different job roles within the organisation, including kitchen porter, room attendant, director of marketing and director of finance.

As at June 2019, 25% of employees at The Grand Brighton are under 25-years-old, while 24% are aged over 40. The majority of the workforce is aged between 26 and 40.

In terms of tenure, 70% of staff have more than one year of service, 37% have completed three years, and 25% have worked at The Grand Brighton for five years.

Business objectives

  • To re-establish the foundation of the business following refurbishment work; this is the first year since 2016 where major works have not taken place.
  • To deliver a three-pronged business strategy, which focuses around people, service delivery to customers and financial delivery, in terms of sales and profit.
  • To upgrade hotel facilities, such as the spa, restaurant and the in-room offering.

Andi HironsCareer history

Andi Hirons, head of people, joined The Grand Brighton in January 2006. Initially, Hirons was hired as the organisation’s deputy general manager, tasked with leading the hotel’s refurbishment. She moved to her current role in August 2014.

Hirons’ career to date has centred on operational job roles within the hotel sector. This includes positions such as director of operations, food and beverage manager, and restaurant and bars manager.

Hirons’ proudest career achievements are linked to external industry recognition. For example, in July 2019, The Grand Brighton won the Best employer award at The Cateys, an industry-specific event organised by hospitality publication The Caterer. The hotel also won the Leadership in recruitment, retention and development award at The Caterer’s annual People Awards event in October 2018.

The refurbishment work that Hirons led is also close to her heart. She says: “That was a significant achievement here and, as part of that, we re-launched a new restaurant concept, which I was heavily involved in as the deputy general manager. That was really successful and we managed to grow our revenue by almost 100% year-on-year in our first year of opening.”