New Castle's Susan Malana on being proactive in HR

If Susan Malana had to sum up her views on human resources in one thought it would be: HR cannot exist in a vacuum. The regional director of human resources for Canada at New Castle Hotels & Resorts came to hospitality from a number of industries, from mining and financial services to retail, and brought with her a laundry list of “dos” and “do-nots” that she sticks to religiously in order to succeed.

“I’ve been in some departments where it is very corporate, where I was not talking with associates on a daily basis,” Malana said. “I prefer this environment more. I got into this job to work with associates!”

Susan Malana

Malana’s day begins at home, investigating her email to learn about any burning issues that may have to be addressed before she steps outside. “You never know in this industry,” she said. From there she has operational meetings at 9:30 a.m., which she is sure to attend every day in order to remain cognizant of what is happening on the floor of a hotel.

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Outside of operational meetings, Malana tackles her to-do list with frequent interruptions from employees, which she considers a good thing.

“I don’t always get to everything on my list, but I would prefer that to associates not talking with us,” she said.

Malana conceded that her role is slightly unusual. As area director of the Canada region, she oversees six properties at once, with an additional dual-branded hotel on the way. Most often she can be found working out of the Westin Nova Scotia, with infrequent travel to the other properties taking place as needed.

Her journey to New Castle was facilitated by a contact she had made over the years, company regional VP Guido Kerpal, who informed her of an opening in Halifax. Being from Vancouver, Malana was at first nervous about a potential move, but her friendship with Kerpal and his recommendation for her at the company made it an easy decision to make in the end.

The smaller, more local region Malana works out of now gives her an interesting perspective on the hiring process. She noticed in her transition from Vancouver that strangers were more apt to greet her in public and were in less of a rush. To a certain degree, this meant that it was easier to find employees for New Castle’s hotels, but hospitality’s ongoing labor shortage has proved to be a continual challenge regardless of where she goes.

“In Canada, there are 10,000 fewer hospitality students than there were a decade ago, and 80,000 fewer than in 1975,” Malana said. “Because of this, we as hoteliers have to work hard for people to choose us. There are lots of hotels out there and more always seem to be coming on board.”

Because Malana knows the industry doesn’t have an infinite pool of associates to choose from, she recommends forming relationships with hospitality, tourism and culinary schools in order to convince students to build careers at her properties. She said hotels often overlook students who are in the market for summer employment, which she said is a huge opportunity that can be tapped into by getting to know their instructors.

“Build relationships and make it affordable for people, especially for seasonal resorts,” Malana said. “At two of our properties, we charge less than $20 per week for seasonal residents, and meals in the staff cafeteria are on offer for $3 to $5. Make it easy for them, and they will come to you.”

Malana said it would be a great benefit for hotels to consider some of the tactics they use to garner guest satisfaction on improving employee culture, helping to retain them in the long term and build a better base for future recruitment.

“When you talk about hospitality, it isn’t just staying in a hotel; we are talking about creating memories,” Malana said. “Look for nuggets of people’s personal lives to draw on. People mention their birthdays, anniversaries. Take that information and make a ‘wow’ moment not only for a guest but an associate.”

Most of all, Malana laments hearing from associates about leadership being office dwellers, with associates often saying these leaders lack perspective.

“If you take the time to know associates, their backgrounds and who their families are, there is a benefit to that,” she said. “Where there are challenges down the road, they will more likely be comfortable having conversations with you. Otherwise, they’ll move on.”

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