Strategic focus on employee engagement keeps workers, customers happy at Niagara Casinos (National HR Awards)

Winner: Best Employee Engagement Program

Strategic focus on employee engagement keeps workers, customers happy at Niagara Casinos (National HR Awards)
Niagara Casinos' HR department keeps busy planning new and interesting ways to keep employees focused. Pictured: Rose Lundy. Courtesy: Niagara Casinos

As a business that sells fun and excitement, Niagara Casinos also believes in doing fun things for employees.

“Employee engagement has always been a strategic focus for us here at Niagara Casinos, because we know that it is really pivotal to our business success,” says Colleen Falco, director of HR services in Niagara Falls, Ont. “That’s just sort of our HR mantra: If our employees are happy, then they treat the customer well.”

One of the strategies to increase engagement at the 4,200-employee strong casino operation is providing regular surprises during the shifts, she says: “We did an ice cream pop-up just to thank our employees during the summer months with an unexpected ice-cream trolley.”

“We’re really all about making the employee experience something that is fun and memorable, primarily because we have a lot of long-service employees who are in very routine jobs and to keep the excitement about where they work, which is a fun hospitality-based gaming resort — we want them to have a fun experience when they’re here.”

As a business that runs year-round on a 24-7 basis, the HR department keeps busy planning new and interesting ways to keep employees focused.

“We bring a variety of games into our hallways and cafeterias, and a variety of prizes are available to be won. And it’s like a pop-up where they’re not expecting it,” says Falco.

“Our goal is simply to keep our key messages alive while providing some fun doing it. And people always love giveaways and prizes.”

The casino, which runs two locations in Niagara Falls, also offers a multitude of networking opportunities for its employees. One is called ncWomen, involving a variety of educational events for the 1,900 women who work at Niagara Casinos.

“We really have tried to support (employees) with big annual events so each year we’ve done something different, but we’ve called it ncWomen ignite, ncWomen bloom, ncWomen shine,” says Falco. “We bring in speakers and we bring forward issues and discussion. But some are somewhat controversial; for example, we did touch on the #MeToo movement.”

The group’s goal is to “simply build awareness of how women united together can help them overcome some of the barriers or challenges that they face in the workplace,” she says.

ncWomen also offers opportunities that are more light-hearted, says Falco.

“We send a group of 10 women every year to ‘the Art of Leadership for Women’ in Toronto; we have done fun stress-relieving activities, from building blocks right through to axe-throwing.”

Niagara Casinos’ engagement efforts are “10 years in the making, with each year setting out an annual plan on how we can engage the employees a little bit more, a little bit better, a little bit differently,” she says.

“Everything’s embedded in our values and our values include providing remarkable service. So, from an HR perspective and from a management perspective, we try to ensure that we are providing remarkable service even to our employees at all levels, whether it’s through the benefits that we provide to them, the programs that we offer, the training that we offer to develop them personally and professionally, and then getting into some of the super-fun initiatives.”

“The goal is to create a sense of community overall with Niagara Casinos, but also to try to find different things that appeal to different people, and we are doing that.”

To measure the results of the engagement efforts, the company does regular engagement surveys each year and the “results continue to be a source of pride for us,” she says.

“We benchmark against top employers and we benchmark against top hospitality employers, and when we compare our top box results against those companies, we fare really, really well.”

“It’s through those results that we see where we’re doing exceptionally well in blowing up the benchmarks.”

But when the company asked employees about how best to communicate the engagement messages, it discovered workers preferred an old-fashioned method, says Falco.

“What we actually found, ironically, was as we moved more and more towards electronic communication and direct communication through either scheduling systems or email blasts, things like that, people want paper,” she says.

“So, we said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we want, we need to start communicating in the ways that matter most to our employees, and if they want paper, then so be it.’”

Niagara Casinos has also highlighted its diversity as another engagement tool.

“We did a diversity map where people self-identify where they come from, or what their family roots are, and we attempted to try to count all the different countries, and we had over 180 different countries that are employees have roots from,” says Falco.

All departments work together to focus on employee engagement, which helps to bring in more ideas, she says.

“Where in a lot of organizations that I’ve worked in previously, you have a very siloed approach and the communications team who is working on certain programs, or maybe it is the training team depending on how the organization works within HR — and our HR management team, we work together collaboratively to say, ‘What can we be doing better? What can we be doing differently?’” says Falco.

In the future, Niagara Casinos will continue to offer many new and different engagement events, she says.

“Some of the more exciting initiatives that we’re working on is what we call our CX sustainment, CX being customer experience. We have a number of things planned for the fall around customer experience which helps to support our values and sustain them.”

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