Employers keep workers coming back for more
Park City businesses, like those in any resort town, have to deal with "peak season" and "off season" trends. In order to save money, they generally downsize during the slow times and go through a hiring spree before the busy ones.
"Basically, the way it works is: when you have your ski season that’s when the bulk of your business comes and, as such, you have to hire for the increase in tourists that come to the town," said Chuck Saccio, who co-owns Hungry Moose Grill with his wife Patti. "This is when most of the restaurants, hotels and resorts start hiring, with the intention of putting most of the people on by Thanksgiving and middle of December."
The problem with that scenario, he said, is that the majority of staff members during the busiest time of the year are newly-trained, inexperienced employees who might not even be from the United States, much less Utah.
This leads most companies to work hard, and even to give added bonuses, to get the same seasonal workers from the previous year back for the current one.
"In the last three years we have had 25 percent repeats and the rest are new blood," Saccio said. "The majority of them will be from out-of-state or out-of country. The resorts bring in the out-of-country people and we use them for the night, when they aren’t working for the resorts."
Re-hiring the same workers, he said, saves time and expense for training, lends to the experience of the staff and increases the overall guest experience. That’s why he trys to make sure his employees have a good, enjoyable environment to work in and that they feel welcomed back the following year.
"It’s a good environment here, that’s our goal," he said. "Most of them get ski passes from the resorts, so if you provide a good working environment then they’re happy to come back. We also do our best to work around their schedule."
But even when he doesn’t have a slew of returning employees signed up by September, Saccio said he doesn’t get too concerned about there not being enough workers to staff his restaurant.
"They’re usually like the swallows of Capistrano somebody will show up," he said.
Doug Whitlock, front office manager at the Goldener Hirsch Inn, said he usually sees about 30 percent of his seasonal employees return the following season, and, in order to keep that number high, the Inn gives returning employees a raise and the possibility of getting benefits.
In order to qualify for health insurance, employees must be in at least their second season of employment, while it takes at least two seasons to be eligible for paid vacation time.
The Inn has a different approach to the off season then Hungry Moose, however. The Inn closes for six weeks from mid-April to the start of June, which gives its employees that time off each year. The workers choose what to do during that time, with some using it as vacation, others find temporary jobs before starting again in the summer, and still others go to work for a summer resort before coming back the next winter.
"They can decide for themselves what to do for those six weeks," Whitlock said. "We are open winter and summer, and I think a lot of them don’t come back for the summer but go to another summer seasonal job before coming back for the winter."
Kim Mayhew of Deer Valley’s human resources department said last year they had 65 percent of the previous year’s 1,700 employees return. She said this year is shaping up to be the same, partly because the resort works hard to keep them coming back for more.
"Generally there is an increase in pay for the returning employee, but what really is the key here at Deer Valley is that retention is ongoing," she said. "Our managers here understand the benefits of retention within their departments so they keep recruiting the people they already have. If you do that, retention is easy."
"People don’t work for a company, they work for a manager," she continued. "I believe our retention is due to those front-line employees who work with them and get them coming back."
Mayhew said they try to make their employees feel important and at home. When the workers have feedback, the company listens. When there is a problem, the company works through it with the individual. And then they use positive feedback to encourage them to come back the following year.
"We send out job offers to the previous years’ staff between June and August and the response to that has been great," she said. "They generally have a couple of weeks to respond to that to let us know if they’re coming or not."
Mayhew said having such a high retention rate has helped to keep Deer Valley at the top of the annual rankings for service.
"They tend to know and understand our guests better than a brand new person would," she said. "They enjoy what they do here and pass that on to the new people, and that’s such a great benefit to have people who are willing to take the new guy under their wing. That is such a wonderful benefit for us."
Chris Lampe of Park City Mountain Resort human resources department said they have about 50 percent of their 900 employees return, giving them a base on which to build their service team. Giving them incentives is one way to help keep retention high, he said.
"We hope to do that through our management practices, recognition, parties, being able to ski the other areas and associations with other team members brings them back," he said. "And I think a lot of that hinges on the management aspect."
"We definitely celebrate retention," he continued. "Our employees who have been here for five years or more get a dinner and there is a pin they get for every five years. The first five-year pin is silver with a ruby, the 10-year pin has a single diamond, with 15 years having a diamond and a ruby. There actually people who have a pin with four diamonds, which means they’ve been here for 40 years, pretty much since we started."
Lampe said having returning employs at PCMR hinges on the employees having an enjoyable time on and off the mountain. He said the resort tries to make them look forward to their winter job.
Donna Gold of The Canyons human resources department feels the same way.
"From the minute they walk in the door we try to treat them like they’re important, which they are to the success of our business," said Gold, who retains more than a third of her employees from year to year. "It starts at first impressions from that first call or email and continues through their time from when they walk in the door to when they end up leaving."
Gold said they offer a raise, pins and parties to returning employees, as well as a refer-a-friend program in all departments, meant to entice employees to "spread the word about a great winter job."
"Ski school probably has the greatest retention, which is a great testament to that department," she said. "Right now we probably have a couple hundred committed. There are quite a few in ski school who have been here since the beginning. We try to offer flexibility. We understand people have a life outside of The Canyons and I think the employees appreciate that."
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