Cornell Roundtable Finds Strengthened HR Policies Help Offset Recession's Negative Effects

Mar 24, 2010

Contact:  Jennifer Macera, 607.255.3101, 

Cornell Roundtable Finds Strengthened Human Resources Policies Help Offset Recession's Negative Effects
Ithaca, NY, March 24, 2010 – Participants at the recent Cornell HR Executive Roundtable focused on how to generate light for employees in the midst of economic gloom. Held during the February 2010 HR in Hospitality™ Conference in Las Vegas, the roundtable comprised two sessions focused on key HR issues for hospitality managers: changes in HR law and the difficulty of maintaining a balance between brand management and controlling costs. The roundtable conversation then continued with participants leading drill down discussions where all conference participants were invited to join in and ask questions.

The first session of the roundtable, chaired by David Sherwyn, associate professor of law at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, looked at prospective changes in employment law and regulations. Cornell professor Bruce Tracey chaired the second session, addressing employment brand management challenges. The roundtable was produced by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research in association with the Cornell ILR school and HR in Hospitality™ Conference. By special arrangement, all conference participants could attend the roundtable, which drew more than 150 observers.

Although hotel companies would prefer not to reduce staffing levels, the economic reality is that reductions in demand have forced unpleasant decisions, including eliminating programs and layoffs. Participants in the brand management session said that they have reinforced employee-focused programs, including open and honest communication, making employees aware of business levels, improving training, and making sure that employees know that their efforts are appreciated, even though salaries will not rise.

Employees have been appreciative of these efforts. For example, Debbie Brown, vice president of HR at Four Seasons, stated, "Our engagement scores have remained fairly high, due primarily to the openness and honesty of our communication with our staff." In the same vein, Carolyn Clark, senior vice president of HR at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts said, "We've been extremely conscientious in making sure our employees understand how the economy has affected our business, and we have gone to great lengths to keep our employees motivated and performing to the best of their abilities."

Loews is one of the firms that has emphasized training. Alan Momeyer, vice president of HR for Loews pointed out that employees at his firm and many others are being asked to take on additional responsibilities. "As such, we need to provide our employees with learning and development opportunities to ensure they possess the knowledge and skills that are necessary to remain effective," he said. In addition to training, Diane Turek Pire, senior vice president of HR at Wyndham, noted: "People need to know that we appreciate their devotion and performance, especially during these difficult times."

In the HR law session, Sherwyn pointed out that proposed law and regulation changes at all levels have created considerable uncertainty for hospitality managers, for example, in sexual harassment claims. "Some states have reduced the standard for sexual harassment or they are holding employers strictly liable for the actions of their supervisors," he explained. "Our panelists urged employers to be careful when examining claims." One panelist observed that the "standard letter" stating that a supervisor's actions violate policy may actually constitute an admission of guilt in some jurisdictions. Instead, based on his observation of court cases and experience, Gregg Gilman, a partner at Davis & Gilbert, urged employers to do the right thing and investigate claims thoroughly for both legal and employee relations reasons because courts are results oriented.

As was the case in the brand management session, participants in the HR law session concluded that the key to employment law issues is to create a culture of trust and maintain a reputation for honesty and fairness.

In addition to the Cornell roundtables, the fourth annual National HR in Hospitality™ Conference & Expo featured a keynote address by Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, who also focused on the critical importance of maintaining employee involvement in a difficult environment. The conference, which drew more than 400 registered participants, is produced by Human Resource Executive Conferences™ in partnership with Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and ILR School. Registration will open in September for the fifth annual National HR in Hospitality™ Conference & Expo, scheduled for April 4–6, 2011, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, in Washington, D.C.

About CHR Roundtables
CHR roundtables are a meeting place for invited senior-level hospitality industry executives and Cornell faculty members. Each roundtable lasts one day and is divided into four or five sessions. Sessions begin with a short research presentation (by a Cornell faculty member, faculty from another institution, or an industry leader) that lasts five to ten minutes. Immediately following, one or two industry discussants either support or contest the researcher's hypothesis or conclusion. The conversation is then opened up to the entire roundtable for discussion. For more information on roundtables, please visit:

About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's 79 corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. The center also publishes the award-winning hospitality journal, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit

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