Workshops to mix things up, keep things real
How do you promote harmony between managers and Gen Y staff?
Close to 40 per cent of Wing On Travel's 600 full-time and 300 part-time staff is young, between 20 and 30 years old. In the travel industry - and in travel agencies, in particular - turnover is quite high. With the entry of Generation Y members into the workforce, turnover has increased and problems between managers and staff have multiplied. To maintain high standards, we needed to find a way to bring the two sides closer, heighten the commitment of our young employees to their jobs and slow down turnover.
Keeping people happy
We are a happy industry. Our aim is to fulfil the dreams of our tour clients, dreams that only come true through high-quality products and service. Our company was founded 48 years ago, so we have much experience. We use personalised service and customisation to ensure the happiness of our customers. It has been important to train and engage our young employees to produce the high standards our customers have come to expect from us. It has also been a priority to streamline the service chain and make the working atmosphere enjoyable.
In the travel industry, we need a mix of talent. It is very important to recruit new blood, because it brings new ideas and we may not be creative enough without it. In the case of Gen Y, we have to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and what motivates them. We have introduced several programmes to meet this challenge. For example, we do a half-day obligatory workshop on "Communication with the New Generation" for our managers. We have already held six sessions for a total of 116 people. We provide games, video and role plays as well as theories, and they have to take a test at the end.
There are many questions managers want answered. For example, why do Gen Y members find it difficult to remember things? We explain that this is because they can search on the internet and get a much quicker result than their seniors. The solution is to ensure we provide them with the right tools.
We must also acknowledge that the "Employee of the Year" award has no significance for them. They don't want to wait for an entire year, they want instant recognition. Now, if we get sent e-mails from satisfied clients, we immediately send out a recognition award bearing my signature.
We teach the managers how to motivate the younger generation, be friendly, open, give them greater acknowledgement, and make their jobs more interesting. To make work more interesting, and propel personal interests, we also offer around 60 lifestyle-related workshops. We encourage staff to explore their interests, and hope that as a result, they will become better rounded professionals.
For example, we have a martial arts workshop. We established this after the Manila hostage crisis in which eight Hong Kongers were killed, including the tour guide. Afterwards, tour guides were worried about their safety and the families of some advised them to resign.
We offer consultations with psychologists and martial arts classes to instruct on how to get out of situations and protect yourself. This sent a positive message to the guides and their families and showed that the company cares. Risk for tour guides can be high as they often carry quite a bit of money with them, so for this reason it was also much appreciated.
Another initiative has been the photo workshops given in conjunction with Sony and other brands. Attendees learn how to use different types of cameras and to take pictures in different surroundings, such as the beach or icy environments.
At the "Magic Workshops", they are taught tricks and simple performance routines that they can do if and when the group is stranded at the airport or elsewhere. We also supply information on aromatherapy, which can be used if tour members have problems with sleeping, for example.
We always try to make our customers smile and ensure that staff enjoy their training activities. Ideally, they find their work interesting and feel that the company cares for them. Some workshops are connected to the company's Thematic Tours. We offer a wine tasting workshop and fine dining tours led by famous chefs.
All this said, we hope that our Gen Y staff will come to understand their supervisors better. We have organised two courses to explain why their managers behave the way they do, how behaviour is connected to upbringing and how Chinese culture and norms have changed in the past 50 years. We use examples from our professional lives in which they see themselves and laugh.
Both age groups claim they have a better understanding of each other and an improved comprehension of their children or parents. The seminar for Gen Yers has been so successful that we now include a shortened version of it in our induction for fresh hires. As a result, the atmosphere is more harmonious, the human resources department gets fewer complaints, the system is smoother and the turnover rate has eased.
Jo Jo Chan, director and general manager - Hong Kong, Wing On Travel Service