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Taking a break makes a team

Published on Friday, 29 Jun 2012
Travelport staff celebrate their efforts after taking a break from work to tackle the challenge of hiking part of the MacLehose Trail.
Photo: Travelport
Travelport staff relax at the Hong Kong Global Geopark of China.
Photo: Travelport

It made perfect sense for Travelport’s Hong Kong office to take time off to be spoiled a few weeks ago. Every quarter, the global travel distribution system and airline IT-solutions provider offers its staff a break for a spot of rest and relaxation, some fun and camaraderie.

A sizzling hot summer and an intense spell of work made massage the unanimous choice this quarter. More than 50 per cent of staff took up the offer of either foot or body massages.

The past months had been a tough grind for staff under pressure to achieve targets. The firm, headquartered in New York, serves 170 countries and has a presence in 42 markets with sales, service and support offices. It boasts a global workforce of 3,500, with a Hong Kong operation manned by 39 people. A matrix organisation, Travelport teams are often virtual and span the region and the globe.

“We had been working very hard to meet our KPIs [key performance indicators]. My hours were irregular because I had to communicate with people not only in Asia-Pacific but also in other parts of the world, like the UK and the US,” says Abigail Lee, Travelport’s product support manager for Asia-Pacific.

Part of the seven-member team supporting the region, Lee is the one based in Hong Kong, with the others in Singapore and Australia. “There were late nights and weekends. So, the massage came at a good time, helping us to get rid of all the accumulated stress,” says Lee.

Employee-wellness initiatives, such as massage services for staff, are an important part of Travelport’s human resources policy. “It’s part of the value we give our employees,” says Lee Golding, executive vice-president and chief human resources officer for Travelport. Not only do these activities make staff happy, but they are also a driver for retention and teambuilding, Golding says.

In March this year, the Hong Kong office teamed up for a hike in Sai Kung. “We did part of the MacLehose Trail,” says Lee. “I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It was expected to take an hour and a half, but we took about two-and-a-half hours. I am slow ... I like to take photographs. We were all panting ... we had a good workout.”

The outing helped Lee to bond with colleagues. “It’s an opportunity to get to know people better, and bond with those you might sometimes have differences with when working under pressure in the office,” she says.

Travelport’s wellness programme is two-pronged, says Golding. There is the health and fitness focus and there are the flexible work practices. The former is tailored to cultural and demographic differences in its various offices.

For example, the Singapore office, which is predominantly female, prefers massage or acupuncture, Australia takes a weekly yoga lesson and fortnightly massages, the US staff participated in a 10-week healthy-eating and exercise plan, while the Hong Kong office tend to pick an outdoors activity.

In addition, in Hong Kong plenty of other social activities are built into the working week, such as dim sum lunches and football – the company has its own team.

The flexible work practices allow staff to balance work and life under the pressures of working for a global organisation. “We do find we have demands on our people to work non-standard working hours, and so the flexible work practices allow work-life balance. That is more of a global policy that is standardised across the business,” says Golding.

“Flexitime helps because of the irregular hours. If I have to work at night, I can come in earlier. The company is very accommodating, as long as we meet our targets,” says Lee.

Travelport’s flexitime arrangements are adjustable. Staff can come in late, or work from home on days when the hours may stretch out. Productivity is an indicator of the efficiency of the arrangement. “We assess the productivity of the individual. We set objectives that staff have to deliver. Managers are expected to oversee their staff. Productivity hasn’t been an issue,” says Golding.

“Actually, we find that when people work from home, they tend to work longer hours, because they do not have the travel time, so there is more productivity. Of course there will always be some who take advantage of the arrangement, but in time we will identify them and they will have to leave,” he adds.

Travelport’s value statement is encapsulated in CHOICE – customer first, honesty, ownership, innovation, collaboration and execution – built into the employee performance rating. Learning to manage virtual employees is an important aspect of the management training programme.

The wellness programme was introduced in November 2010 to reduce attrition.

While it is still too early to ascertain its impact, Travelport has recorded a 12 per cent drop in attrition, from 28 per cent to 16 per cent, over the period from November 2010 to November 2011.

On a broader scale, the company’s annual employee engagement survey has shown a 44 per cent increase in engagement in the past four years. The most recent survey showed a 90 per cent participation rate, indicating that Travelport’s employees are engaged in the business and committed to making Travelport a great place to work, says Golding.

Travelport offers employees attractive benefits, such as a comprehensive medical scheme covering hospital, outpatient and dental treatment for employees and immediate dependents.

The company has a well-developed system of internal transfers and succession planning. Lee says the performance-management system includes performance reviews twice a year, and plenty of training, mentoring and coaching.

“We have a high rate of internal promotions,” says Golding, adding that around 28 per cent of openings are filled through internal promotions.

Abigail Lee is something of a Travelport veteran, having been with the organisation for 17 years. She started out in Singapore, moved to Hong Kong five years later, and has been with it ever since, moving around its various departments. “I’ve been around, in sales, account management ... I am fortunate that the company allows this kind of exposure and that they are willing to nurture staff,” she says.

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