Director of Human Resources & Training at Six Senses Laamu.

Rizan Afeef began his career in tourism when he joined the Four Seasons family in 2006 as human resource officer. Twelve years later, after working with brands such as Anantara and Starwood here in the Maldives as well as in Malaysia and the Seychelles, he now serves as the Director of Human Resources & Training at Six Senses Laamu. With Rizan, we discuss topics such as managing diverse workforces, upcoming HR trends and the Maldives’ unique HR situation.

Hotel Insider: Shall we begin the interview by discussing the major HR concepts and practices you have at Six Senses Laamu?

Rizan Afeef: As you know Six Senses Laamu is located at quite a geographically remote location. In fact, it is the only resort currently present in Laamu atoll. Hence with substantial logistical limitations, we obviously would need to think out of the box to maximize engagement and redefine our practices to attract potential employees.

Six Senses Laamu has rolled out a number of programmes to help employees thrive both personally and professionally. Benefits related to parental leave, discounts privileges, complimentary stays, appreciation programmes, and ongoing learning and development resources, and more. One key initiative we recently launched is the partnership between Six Senses Laamu and Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB). Under this collaboration, our employees are provided with flexible financing options on household items, reducing the hassle of traveling all the way to the capital city to process a loan, and handling the entire administration process by the Human Resources office on the island.

As for the overall HR ideology here on the island, I believe we have a very grounded and localised approach and a big part of this comes from the Six Senses brand placing high value on host wellness. Over the years we have seen an increase in resources and benefits for all hosts, and we believe that these increase guest satisfaction, which is the ultimate goal. It’s about doing the right thing, giving the right tools to our employees so they can optimize the quality of their life while they are optimizing their health. It’s all about having a work-life balance and giving them opportunities so that they will feel better and be better. Our year-to-date turnover last year was only four per cent, this is in indeed a positive reflection of a great brand and our general manager’s efforts towards a positive work environment, which is indeed appreciated by all.

Hotel Insider: Like most resorts in the Maldives, Six Senses Laamu too has a one-resort one-island concept. And this often means employees, both local and foreign, spend long durations away from their homes and families. Do you have any policies in place to reduce the effect of this for your employees?

Rizan Afeef: It is true that the work life balance in our property is something that has been executed and managed very well by the leadership team, I believe this is one of the reasons why employees who have left the company return back. This year and last year alone we’ve had over twenty five previous employees (managers and non-management level) returning back to work with us.

Flexible leave schedules and instalment purchases of air tickets have proven to be additional benefits for our hosts.

Hotel Insider: How would you describe the labour force available in the Maldives? Do you think the talent pool delivers enough qualified persons to fill out the required roles?

Rizan Afeef: When you compare the current labour force with that of ten years ago, I believe we have quite a few talented locals in the market. However, attracting local talent from other atolls is a challenge, largely due to logistical difficulties pertaining to the distance and travel to Laamu Atoll. With that being said, we have quite effective internal succession planning in place and we have witnessed quite a few amazing career journeys of employees. For example, an IVD Order-taker taking up the role of F&B manager, and a housekeeping supervisor taking over the role of an assistant executive housekeeper.

Hotel Insider: As we understand, the team at Six Senses Laamu is quite multicultural. What goes into managing such a varied team? Are there any challenges? 

Rizan Afeef: We have over thirty nationalities on the island and I think everything is tied to benefits. We don’t differentiate between expats and locals, in terms of salaries for example, but rather have benefits based on levels. With such a fair and ethical system in place, the potential for discrimination is minimised to almost zero. We also work hard to really understand people and their individual situations. We employ people from many countries, so we make sure that they are not feeling isolated or lonely. We look at people’s journeys day-to-day, to make improvements for all concerned. Of course, the best way to find these things out is to speak to them, find out what they feel, and be mindful of people’s emotions. Our leadership team maintains a 100 per cent open door policy and the employees are comfortable enough to approach anyone at any given time.

Hotel Insider: We have a segment in our magazine that highlights women working in the hospitality sector; as we understand, women account for just a small fraction of the tourism workforce, and many circumstances come into play here. What are your thoughts on this? 

Rizan Afeef: Though we have evolved over the years when it comes to recruiting women, I believe a large part of the challenge boils down to the culture. Maldives fares significantly better than many countries when it comes to gender equality, for instance the number of Maldivian women attaining university degrees is at par with that of men. However, the number of women employed in the hospitality sector is comparatively less due to varying reasons. There are several challenging factors restricting local women from working in the hospitality industry. Findings reveal that culture, education, women’s role in family, safety, geographical features, transportation and awareness adds to the factors for preventing local women from seeking employment. Nevertheless, in today’s era, Maldivian women have overcome these challenges and have proven that they can perform extremely well. As a result, working populations of local women in the Maldives tourism sector has been increasing at a rapid rate. Today women hold positions from manager-level to supervisor to line staff in various departments of hotels across the industry.

Hotel Insider: As with everything else these days, we’ve been hearing a lot about the use of technology in human resource management, and it’s forecasted as one of the trends that’ll take place in the coming years. Are there anymore HR trends we should be anticipating for the near future, especially for the Maldivian tourism industry?

Rizan Afeef: The race towards digitalising HR is on top of the list. Technology & social media has been advancing at a phenomenal pace, hence the need to keep up with the race to support the transformation to a digitalised world quickly. Millennials and Gen Y employees are on the look out for organizations that support personalized HR service via technology (e.g., using apps via smartphones). Another critical area is reflected at instant gratification. Gone are the days when ‘employee of the month’ was considered a substantial recognition scheme. Employers would need to start evolving out their recognition schemes to exciting new heights involving the use of modern technology in order to attract and create engaged candidates.

Hotel Insider: Since we’ve reached the end of the interview, is there something you’d like to add? 

Rizan Afeef: We as an island paradise have been blessed with sun, sand and luxury. The described elements attract high end tourists and our wonderful resort paradises can afford to recruit the best talent the world has to offer. I believe working with talented individuals from the world over stands us in good stead, and us locals having lived and worked with this diversity for decades, combined with our positive attitude towards life and our positive work ethic in making tourists feel at home in our personal paradise, makes me have nothing but feelings of utopia for the HR industry in the Maldives. It’s our responsibility to ensure that this culture of HR and L&D and mobility runs through the organization – consistency is what makes the strides and doing it every day with everybody is the challenge, some people know what they want, others don’t and both of these categories are of equal importance in the great scheme of things.