A recent Hospitality Daily poll said the #1 people priority for hotel operators in 2023 was retaining staff:
To help you understand how to do this through total rewards – the combination of benefits, compensation, and rewards that employees receive – I spoke with Dan Aswell, Senior Vice President of Total Rewards at Remington Hotels.
In this article, we’ll cover:
Why rewarding your people matters in hospitality today
My conversation with Dan started off with a discussion of why people matter in hospitality today. With all of the discussion on automation in hotels, do people still matter?
“Our associates have the ability to affect and steer how your vacation goes,” Dan told me. “Whenever you’re traveling, you’re often stressed out. Maybe the flight was late or I lost some luggage or something was weird with the rental car, or Uber dropped me off late, or I don’t know where to go. The kids are amped up and a little crazy. You’re stressed. It’s a part of traveling. The right associate can just make such a difference to make you feel like you’re home. You’ll be taken care of.”
If we take care of our associates, our associates will take care of our guests, and the rest will take care of itself.Dan Aswell, Remington Hotels
“We’ve got to find that right associate that has that spirit of hospitality and really treats the guest the way that we want to treat our guests so that they keep coming back. Having and keeping the right associates is really, really key for doing this.”
“People often tell us once they got into hospitality, they can’t imagine going anywhere else because it’s a tremendous opportunity to connect with others. One of the great things about my role and my team is we’re the stewards of the way we reward our people.”
“Our associates trust us to offer highly valuable benefits that are meaningful to themselves and their families. We have an opportunity to impact and positively affect the lives of our associates and their families.
“Every one of our hotels is fighting for talent. There may be a competing hotel across the street. We may be competing with a restaurant or another industry. We’re fighting for that same talent. Someone might go across the street and be offered a job that pays them 25 cents more per hour, but if we can tell the story of everything that you get by being an associate with Remington, that’s going to far outweigh the 25 cents. That’s why we’ve thought a lot about finding ways to tell our story in a way that resonates with different types of associates. That’s why we offer such a robust and diverse benefits package.
“We needed to offer multiple solutions for the same need so that you and I can both get a benefit that resonates with us. The goal is to meet the associate where they are. It’s an important part of our culture and what you get by joining Remington.”
“If we didn’t offer a comprehensive benefits package, we would be losing out on some really great associates. It’s really important that our hiring managers and GMs and field HR leaders understand our story around this and know how to convey it because we don’t want to lose a great team member for 25 cents when we have all these other awesome benefits that they can get with us.”
Dan’s career journey to leading employee benefits for Remington Hotels
Through working in a variety of roles across companies such as G6 Hospitality (the owner/operator of Motel 6), Dan discovered Total Rewards was the best match for his interests and skill sets.
“Working in benefits requires a lot of data analytics. My master’s degree is in organizational psychology, and in this role, I get a chance to apply my learnings on efficiency and data analysis to help people, which I find very cool and meaningful.
What Dan’s role covers leading Total Rewards
Dan’s role spans three core areas:
“The way Remington tackles total rewards is multifaceted. Historically people would look at benefits as what are you going to pay me, how much time am I going to get off, and do you have a 401k?”
“But there’s a lot more that we can do as an organization that makes us an employer of choice. A big focus of my team is thinking about how we can create value and what we can offer associates so that they choose to work at Remington Hotels and stay with us.
“We focus on designing a valuable and meaningful benefits package that is able to really affect the associates and their family members. It doesn’t just cover medical offerings: there are a lot of other benefits to affect every aspect of an individual’s life.
“We focus a lot on cost control because if you look at what most organizations spend in this area, it’s very significant. Benefits as a percent of payroll is a top metric that we all look at and track. We always try to make sure that we are providing valuable benefits that beat the competitor’s benefits, that our cost to the associate is lower, and then our cost to the employer, the owner is also lower.
“It would be easy with an unlimited budget to design the most impressive benefits package in the world, but that’s not how any business and industry works. You have the constraints of the budget. You always have to balance putting in meaningful benefits that keep us under budget and that the associates can afford.
“If you’re designing a benefits program in a reactive manner, you’ve already lost. We have to be extraordinarily proactive and we pride ourselves in actively managing our group health plan. We do that in a lot of ways which allow us to better control costs. If the benchmark indicates medical costs are going up by 8%, pharmacy by 10%, and so on – and we can renew at a fraction of that without degrading the benefits we offer our associates – we can pump those savings back into enhancing the benefits for our associates.
“A big part of what we do is risk mitigation. Unfortunately, not enough people working in benefits understand this work is about mitigating long-term risk. You need to do that in a way that makes your plan sustainable.
Understanding risk in an employee rewards program starts with looking at demographics.
“We spend a lot of time looking at the type of demographics of our population. Then you have to look at what are some of the predominant conditions that affect a particular demographic. Then you have to put in programs that assist with that particular condition or predisposition.
“If you have a predominantly male population that’s going to be very different than a predominantly female population. Age affects it and location affects predispositions.
“You have to understand this so that the benefits you put in place and how you promote those with the associate really start to affect your cost.”
Tracking internal benchmarks
In our conversation, Dan mentioned benchmarking a number of times, and I asked him what he was tracking.
“We look at everything. We look at the actuarial value of our plan to ensure the benefits are robust enough to beat our competitors, we look at the per employee per year cost of our plan for both the associate and the owner or employer, and we look at the amount our associates spend out of pocket on claims. We look at the total funding rate of the plan and how we stack up against others on plan costs at a very granular level. We then break down how much certain procedures, prescriptions, or treatment plans cost for both our associates and for us. We are very aware of the premiums we charge associates, and look at that for each plan offered and for each tier.
“You don’t want to be out of balance. You can have a slightly lower per employee per year cost but if you’re high on cost sharing to the associate, they’re not going to elect that plan. If you price your plans too high, the only people electing those will be the ones that really need them, thus driving up the average claim value and the risk profile of your plan. If you do that, your plan ends up in a death spiral where your renewals are out of control.
“You want to attract the next healthiest member into the plan because if you have an individual at high risk with unmanaged chronic conditions, there’s nothing you can do to keep them off your medical plan. No matter how high the rates are they will enroll because they need it. If someone is taking specialty medication that costs $1,500 per month they’re going to choose your plan, and that will mean the only people on your plan will make the average rates extraordinarily high. But if you can take that member with an unmanaged chronic condition and put in a program that helps them better manage the condition you convert that to a managed state, you’ve improved the health status of that associates, created a higher quality of life for them, and lowered the costs of your plan.
“The way we utilize the plan today drives plan design and rates for the next several years. We don’t operate on a one-year cycle. Every year we’re looking back 5 years and forward 5 years. We look at what we estimated and forecasted for utilization and where we are with actuals. Today we’re sitting at a 98.6% accuracy rate for the rolling 5 years which means the model works.
“The key thing to keep in mind is the type of risk you’re attracting. If you price your rates too high you only attract high utilizers. That’s not going to let you build a sustainable plan. You need members that have wellness programs at their disposal to maintain healthy lifestyles and you need non-utilizers that subsidize the high utilizers.
“This is where it comes back to understanding the underlying conditions and risks for different populations, and why we spend so much time in the data looking at emerging trends. You can’t wait for your trend to be above a benchmark. It’s really hard to change lifestyles. You have to first craft relevant and useful resources for associates. You’ve got to promote those resources and raise awareness. That doesn’t happen overnight. Changes take years. If you wait for your benchmarks to be elevated it’s too late.
“We look for pieces of data that have a strong correlation. For example, there’s a very strong correlation between preventative dental hygiene and medical claims. The members that get their scheduled preventative dental cleanings have lower medical claims. So to lower medical claims we enhanced our dental benefits and moved them from two cleanings to four cleanings a year. We also cover deep cleanings and brought mobile dentists on-site to our locations to make it easier to have the cleanings. It was amazing. I would sign up for them and they were great.
The key thing for doing this in hospitality is meeting your associates where they are.Dan Aswell, Remington Hotels
“You can’t just say these are the benefits and these are the dentists and doctors you should go to. You need to make them almost too easy to pass up. We try to be very proactive in the way we design these things. We all have very busy lives. It’s hard to take half a day and go to the dentist, so we’ll probably put it off.
“Aversion to care is one of the biggest drivers of claims. We have to find ways to make care easy because the aversion to care means that we’re not catching things at early stages. We’re not screening to find these other potential underlying risk factors because that’s what we need to design programs around.
“We do a ton of analysis on this. We look at things such as the standard benchmark for births in a population. How many of them have preexisting medical conditions? Then, out of these births, what percent have ICU stays? If any of these are elevated, we design programs to tackle that with the associates. We enhanced our healthy pregnancy program, increasing the incentives for healthy pregnancy programs, and then we promoted the heck out of those for those particular populations because those programs work. If you are in a healthy pregnancy program, you’re going to catch those risk factors early so that you do not land with a delivery that is in an ICU.
“We do the same thing around a lot of other conditions. Diabetes is a huge one. We track this carefully and put together specific programs for it. What we see over time is that we can take people who used to be dealing with the chronic condition in an unmanaged state to now managing it and understanding what this means for them and for us. After putting programs together for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol– were able to understand their PEPM before the program, and what it is now.
“We’re here to help our associates positively change their lifestyles, and we have to get into the data to understand what is affecting our populations. Every week, I look at conditions by diagnosis group so that we can start looking at some of those emerging trends and how we can help.
Benchmarking data sources
Dan uses a mix of data sources for benchmarking. “You have to look at the data from a lot of different angles. We have a broker that provides a lot of it. We are also members of a lot of different organizations that provide data. We participate in surveys that provide benchmarking data.”
“We also look at it from other management companies and benchmark ourselves against that. We look at things like benefits as a percentage of payroll. Benefits are a big part of what an organization is going to spend, and so this is a key stat to track.”
“We are a fraction of where others are because of the active and aggressive management of our healthcare plan. We do not beat the benchmark by devaluing the benefits. We still have higher than average value of our benefits, but provide this at a fraction of the cost of others.”
How data analysis works
Building a program like Remington Total Rewards requires a lot of data analysis, and I asked Dan if people on his team are doing the analysis or if there are separate teams doing this.
“It’s a mix. We have a wonderful broker team. You have to find a broker that is right for you, someone who understands your approach. Not every employer is going to be as data and analytics heavy as we are, but part of our success is rooted in that. You have to have a good partner, and you have to continue to challenge them and push them.
“You also have to continue to push your carrier to have the right relationship with them. They have to understand what you need out of the data they can provide. Our carrier creates a lot of custom material for me because of how needy I am with the data! We also use our team internally and cross-validate a ton of stuff.
What I try to teach my team is the data can tell a very powerful story if you simply know what questions to ask.Dan Aswell, Remington Hotels
“You have to learn what questions to ask the data, and how you look for red flags. A lot of times it’s about correlations.
“We throw a lot of darts against the wall and ask questions like, ‘I wonder what could be the cause of this? Can there be a correlation?’ You’re not going to get it right every time, but if you do enough of that, you’re going to find these meaningful data points that you can actually take action on. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for actionable data, but you have to spend a lot of time asking questions and digging.
“You can’t be afraid to push your partners for support because this is your data, these are your claims, and this is your budget. I want to provide incredibly valuable benefits, at the lowest cost possible. The way that I view it is the carriers and the partners owe this to me. I’m going to push them on the data to make sure that we’re digging deep enough to get me meaningful data that I can take action on.
Staying in touch with associates and their needs
I asked Dan what he does to stay in touch with his teams and their needs.
“We are continually begging our associates for feedback,” he told me. “It does us no good to put in benefits that are meaningless to them that they don’t want or they don’t care about. So we do a lot of surveys. We also have a tremendous connection with our leaders of people in the field to give us feedback. We have benefits inboxes that associates can email information to.
“We go out to properties and spend a lot of time with the associates. Every time we are with them we’re always asking, ‘What do you think about this? What can we do better? What do you want? What do you need? Do you have a benefit that maybe a spouse’s plan or a previous employer had or a friend of yours talks about? What do you want? What do you need?
“The other thing that we do is it goes back to benchmarking. We have multiple surveys that look at new and emerging benefits in other organizations. What have others recently put in, and what are others looking at for the next three years? When we see a benefit increasing in adoption from other companies we ask ourselves if it’s something interesting for us.
“A lot of it is trying to understand what is going to provide value to the associate because they need to care about what we are offering to them.
Encouraging healthy lifestyle changes
Part of what Dan and his team are doing is putting together benefits packages that not only are perceived as being high value to associates but actually help to drive healthy choices and change.
An example of this is the recent introduction of free access to fitness videos that associates and their families could do at home if they chose.
“This is a very long-term process. It takes time to change behavior and change lifestyle. In the end, it will affect claims and lower costs, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to invest in these programs. So we do a lot of that. Noom is a wonderful program rooted in psychology that helps with weight loss. Other programs tend to generate a rubber band factor, or boomerang. The members lose weight and it comes right back. With Noom, they step back and approach it from the psychology side of how do you change that behavior? So we pay for Noom for our enrolled associates and spouses.
“We have fitness membership discounts that are global, and it’s not just a basic weightlifting gym. It covers yoga studios, boxing studios, dance studios, because fitness means different things to different people. I can’t just simply put in a gym subsidy because not everybody’s going to want to go to the same gym.
Dan mentioned this goes back to Remington’s philosophy of meeting people where they are. “It’s a key part of what we have to do to make this successful.”
“We put in redundant benefits to make sure that we’re providing something for everyone. We also have a great free program Wellbeats, which we absolutely love. Our associates love it. It’s a great resource. It has those on-demand videos that you can watch with the family. The neat thing is it’s really more of everyday individuals that are leading these videos.
“They even have videos for kids like kids’ yoga. My kids absolutely love those. We provide these things free to our associates. They’re not cheap, but they are an investment.
“It all goes back to our culture and our belief in wellness. If we can provide enough resources to you, then we can start to change lifestyles and behavior in the end. It lowers our medical claims, and that’s what allows us to put more money back into benefits for our associates.”
Wellness challenges are another practical way Dan and his team encourage healthy lifestyles, and it’s something he’s seen Remington’s associates enjoy participating in.
“We do these each quarter and heavily promote them with our associates. One quarter it may be a steps challenge, the next it may be an activity minutes challenge or something of that nature to get associates moving and engaged in the wellness program.
“Sometimes we do individual challenges and sometimes we do team challenges. Either way, we like to get different leaders involved as sponsors or team leaders so that our message of wellness is supported from the top down. We need our associates to see this is part of our culture that everyone is committed to, even the top leaders in the organization. It’s also a great way for them to see and hear from our executives. Plus, they are a lot of fun. I guess it doesn’t hurt that we offer prizes, but the associates love them and we love putting them on.
“We have so heavily promoted these and achieved such high engagement that even though our wellness provider has employers that are 10 times our size, no one comes close to our engagement level on challenges. So much so, that in our last one, in a four-week steps challenge our associates actually hit 100 million steps – which was incredible. It actually set a record for the largest challenge our wellness provider has ever had out of any of their clients.
“We’ve very proud of our success here and each time we take over a new property it’s something that really gets the attention of the associates because they’ve never seen anything like it. In the end, our associates are maintaining a healthier lifestyle with resources at their disposal to be healthy in whatever way they happen to define that.
Providing mental health support
Beyond activities, meeting the mental health needs of Remington associates is another area of focus.
“During the pandemic, we added a number of new mental health resources because we knew the challenges our associates face. We added telemedicine options where people could have virtual therapy sessions. This was based on our understanding of demographics and data. Men are less likely to go see a therapist face-to-face. Once we added virtual therapy, we saw a massive uptick in men using these services, because they were much more apt to do it virtually than in person.
“Virtual therapy was just one offering we had in this area. We provided apps, chaplain services, and mindfulness and well-being tools with a lot of content so that no matter how people wanted to be helped we had something for them.
“We found in this area it was important to offer a range of support – from intensive, in-depth help to lighter things like a prompt to check in with your mood each day. We are trying to raise self-awareness of mental health.
Raising internal awareness of benefits offered
It’s not enough simply to put together a great benefits package. A key part of successfully implementing total rewards is promoting it to raise internal awareness. What I heard from Dan was a comprehensive internal marketing plan to raise awareness, and I asked him what was helpful in doing this.
“You can create the most powerful and impactful and robust benefits plan, but if you can’t get it to your associates, and they don’t understand it, they don’t know it’s there it’s never going to be utilized and do any good.
“We approach this from a number of angles. We developed in branded our wellness program ‘Strive to Thrive.’
“We created a social media presence and every day are pumping out content. We will share things like Mindful Mondays and we’ll give a little tip to associates there. We share little videos on things like ‘here are the top four health benefits of walking your dog.’
“It would be super easy for us just to publish four bullet points and that’s it. But what we do instead is engage the associate. We find associates that have dogs, and then we create a video with them walking their dogs talking about the health benefits.
“The content is the same, but we’re getting our associates engaged. We feature our associates wherever possible because we want them to understand this is their program.
“There are a million ways that you can develop wellness, and we have resources and programs for all of these, but we use a lot of social media that really tries to highlight the associates and what they’re doing.
“We do challenges. For example, we did a walking challenge recently and made it fun. Our associates absolutely love that.
“We use things like QR codes to share these and to make it easy for associates to participate. We still hang up posters and send emails, but try to make things bite-sized so that you’re not hit with a wall of text about this new program because you’re not going to read that.
“We do text messaging campaigns. Every once in a while we’ll send a text about a new benefit that just launched and how associates can participate. Instead of me just doing a benefits guide and posting it online, I actually record a video walking through the benefits and what’s changing.
“We encourage our associates to share programs with their spouse. We have associates’ personal emails that we send information to, as well as their spouses’ emails. We ask them to sit down with their spouse and watch the video because a lot of times, spouses are highly involved in the decision-making process. If you simply offer a paper guide, odds are that the employee may not take it home. They may just leave it sitting in the break room.
“We try to raise awareness in every possible way. You can’t just utilize one communication channel. You really have to open it up and do everything because you may get 15% of your people over here and 10% from that and 12% somewhere else. If you only do one of those, you’re hitting a small fraction. But if I can communicate through seven different avenues, I’m going to eventually reach a lot more people.
Making data-driven decisions for personalized care
“When we rolled out telemedicine we ended up at seven times the national average for utilization because of how we rolled it out. That showed up in our claims data. We were able to see the medical claims begin to come down because you have these people that were avoiding care now getting care.
“There are multiple studies that show that the vast majority of individuals in the emergency room are going in for things that are not actual emergencies. That greatly increases our costs. So if we can design and roll out programs that help you understand the importance of establishing a primary care physician, we want you to have that relationship and incentivize you to do that. When you have this, you’re not going to have to have the knee-jerk reaction of going to urgent care.
“If we see a massive spike in ER claims in one area of our business we ask what’s driving it. We start looking at conditions. If it’s not conditions, is it location? If not location, is it a role? Maybe we find this spike is happening among truck drivers. So what do we do? Well, now we sit down with the truck drivers and we put telemedicine apps on all their phones. Whenever we have a new truck driver hired, we’re putting the telemedicine app on their phone. We’re having a one-on-one conversation to help them understand their options when they’re on the road.
“It all goes back to understanding the data, having the patience to ask the right questions, and just keep pushing into the data until you find something that’s actionable. In the end, it pays off.
Measuring the impact of the benefits program
It’s clear Dan thinks and acts comprehensively about Total Rewards at Remington, and I wanted to understand some of the business impacts of all of this.
One of the first is addressing turnover. “There’s a real cost to turnover. There are hard metrics around what you have to pay in replacing a person. There’s downtime and increased workloads for the rest of the team, and it’s time-consuming and expensive to recruit and interview.”
Another area is in reducing healthcare costs. “The programs we’ve designed and implemented means we are well below the benchmark in what it costs the associate and what it costs the hotel owner.”
What I learned from Dan about employee benefits in hospitality today
A lot of people in the industry say they care about people. What I heard from Dan was a level of precision and thought around building infrastructure that actually does practical things around this. It wasn’t just lip service.
Throughout our conversation, I heard a lot from him about curiosity about what the data was telling him, and then creativity in the ways he could use insights from that data to serve his teams.
Providing employee benefits in the total rewards package like this takes a lot of work but is a practical demonstration of an associate-focused culture.
For more on this, follow Dan here on LinkedIn.