Building A Sustainable Workforce: case study Anantara & Four Seasons Resort and Spa

Anantara Dhigu Maldives

A lot of how sustainable your business model is, whether that be environmentally or financially, should start with how you interact with your local community including how you treat your staff and the opportunities you give them. 

“Focusing on building a sustainable workforce is a must if a company aims to connect and produce results authentically and successfully. Sustainability starts with the people behind the scenes. It unites them to create a better work culture, work-life balance and contributions to customers and the world” Forbes Magazine

Or as Jordan Peterson more directly puts it “If you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” He emphasises managing what you can actually control, before championing larger causes predominantly out of reach.

“How can you go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your own room organized.” Jordan Peterson

Both his suggestions can easily transfer to businesses. If you want your business to be successfully sustainable in the boarder sense, it has got to start on the ground level. You need to look at how you organise your business from the inside before you start looking outside. If you want to change the world for the better, start with your own business model first.

Reef restoration projects in the Maldives

Here I am going to focus solely on the social side of things, using two companies I have worked with as examples; The Four Seasons and Anantara in the Maldives. 

On the outside, both resorts appear extremely successful and both locations are exceptionally beautiful. They’ll both cost you an arm and leg to visit, and both and from reading online both appear to have a strong focus on developing sustainability. But how do they compare on the inside and does this affect their ability to focus on larger issues?

At the Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa Maldives

Disclaimer: This blog is based on my own personal experience at the Maldives locations and may not be representative of the companies as a whole.

1. Focus

One of the most immediate and obvious differences between working with both companies was their focus. 

When we attended managerial meetings at Anantara each morning the discussion started with the previous day’s revenues. How many rooms were occupied, how much they were either down or up. We sat and listened to each department run through their figures one by one. 

In contrast, our morning meetings with the Four Seasons could not be more different. There was never a discussion of profit or loss as the sole focus was on guests, staff and what we could do to improve their day. 

At Anantara Dhigu Maldives

2. Accommodation

Staff accommodation is always a challenge when you’re living on some of the worlds smallest islands. 

Anantara’s staff area was a bit run down; some colleagues were living in shipping containers stacked on top of each other and there was a stark contrast between the standard of managerial accommodation and that of lower-level staff. This created a much more divided atmosphere amongst the team. The staff area at Anantara was, as with most hotels, mostly shut off to guests and kept private. 

At the Four Seasons, again the accommodation was nothing to rave about. It was simple, clean and tidy but the average standard accommodation was much higher. Importantly, the differences between rooms was less obvious as you moved up the staff ranks which created a more united feeling throughout the team. 

In contrast to Anantara, the Four Seasons staff area was open to guests. Guests could visit and see how we lived and operated behind the scenes at any moment. I think this was a great way of keeping the company accountable for how they treat their staff as they were so transparent about it.  

3. Food

Anantara’s staff food budget, at the time, was around $2-3USD per person per day. The Four Seasons was double that. As you can imagine we were happier when we were fed well. 

On Anantara senior managers -including us- could eat out at the resort restaurants most days, so we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to eat a lot of amazing food but it also created more of a divide as we ate less with our team members. At the Four Seasons, we could eat at the resort restaurants far less often which meant we spent more time in the staff canteen with our team, where the food was still great. 

Eat out at Anantara Dhigu Maldives

4. Events and social 

Anantara did run some social events while we were there- they were the usual staff parties for events like New Years etc. A lot of effort went into planning these events and they were fun to attend. 

However, the Four Seasons put as much, if not more, effort into planning the staff events that they did for guest events. At any opportunity for celebration, no matter how small, they would jump at it and do something truly extraordinary for the staff. They would even put on events for no reason at all other than to make us happy. The food and drinks provided were also the standard any guest would experience on the resort.  

Guest NYE party at Anantara Dhigu Maldives

5. Mistakes

At Anantara, if a mistake was made it seemed to be treated like any other business, they were never publicly announced so I didn’t really hear about them on a daily basis. At the Four Seasons, however, mistakes were shared between the team daily. We were all aware of what had happened and were all shared the responsibility to help fix it. It took a lot of pressure off you, made it easier to try new things and you were less afraid to fail knowing that the whole team was behind you and it would be seen as a learning experience for all.

6. Staff Happiness, Productivity & Retention

Guests would consistently approach us while working at the Four Seasons and ask us how much we were paid to smile and be nice to them. We would always reply that it was simple, they treated us well and it made us want to smile. Staff seemed genuinely happier when we were at the Four Seasons.

As staff at the Four Seasons were happier, this seemed to have a massive impact on how they went about their work and interacted with guests. Staff were happy and willing to go above and beyond their call of duty, whereas at Anantara I rarely saw this happen.

Since we have left the Four Seasons in the Maldives, many of our friends who worked there have left also, however, most of whom have moved internally to other Four Seasons locations. Friends that worked at Anantara have also left, but none that I know are still within the company. 

The Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa

Building a sustainable workforce

According to Gallup, 85% of employees are functioning below their potential both in terms of both their value to employers and the sense of fulfilment they derive from their work. How can we focus on larger global issues when in some sense the bedrooms of our businesses are still so messy?

Just as our global efforts towards a sustainable future need to start with good governance and the way we treat our societies, as successfully seen in the Nordics regions, businesses working towards sustainability need to start with their internal leadership and look at how they treat their employees. 

The Four Seasons in Doha was awarded a Green Globe in 2018, albeit Anantara has won similar awards but not since 2011. Both companies are making tremendous strides towards developing sustainability but I can’t help wonder if the impact would be larger for some if they turned the focus internally first.

Personally, no other company I have worked for has encapsulated and executed that concept as well as the Four Seasons. I think this quote from them sums it up nicely;

“Whether you work with us, stay with us, live with us or discover with us, we believe our purpose is to create impressions that will stay with you for a lifetime. It comes from our belief that life is richer when we truly connect to the people and the world around us.”

Thanks for reading, if you have a comment let me know by posting below! 

See you in the water,

Check out my similar post: why happy surfers make for better workers