“You have to tell the truth,” that is what Steve Jones, managing director at Wyboston Lakes Resorts says when questioned about how he upkeeps staff morale as the hotel emerges from a global pandemic. His ‘honesty is the best policy’ ethos appears to be working; in May the group ranked 45th in the UK’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list 2021 and the hotel boasts a 25% turnover rate for staff – compared to 45% average when looking at other hospitality groups.
Wyboston Lakes Resort, which currently employs 250 people, is one of the largest, independently-owned business and leisure destinations in Northern Europe. It includes a four-star hotel and two purpose-built venues for conferences and training events, as well as a spa, restaurants and golf course. It is sited on 380 acres of Bedfordshire countryside between Cambridge and Milton Keynes, at the edge of the historic market town of St. Neots.
‘Sometimes my cheeks ache from laughter’
Jones’ secret for cultivating a positive work environment appears to be based around humor. The company has remodelled it’s Friday two o’clock video meeting for senior staff to be one where employees must strictly share light hearted news. “[I said] if you’ve got something sensible to say or something to discuss, book another meeting, I just want to hear any good news stories, or anything silly that’s happened,” he says. “Sometimes I come off of those meetings and my cheeks ache from the laughter,” he adds. Jones believes that this more playful interaction between staff has helped eliminate some of the loneliness that comes with working in the post-pandemic era. “Some of the team will go a week without talking to anyone,” he says, making a nod towards Wyboston’s employees who work in electronic bookings or finance. “It has just made a big difference,” he shares.
Furthermore, Jones notes that being “compassionate” is another key factor for creating a happy workspace for employees. When the UK was under tighter Covid-19 restrictions, Jones says that the company helped staff navigate issues such as childcare for employees with young children. “We just worked around it and said come on guys we will deal with this together,” he shares. “In our values, we call that doing the right thing, even when no one’s looking. It’s one of the simplest values to adhere to in the world, if you’re doing the right thing, even when no one’s looking, that leads you on the right track,” he adds.
Capitalising on hybrid working
Wyboston Lakes Resorts caters largely to the corporate sector, providing spaces for overnight conferences, training days and team building events. However, as the world undergoes a remote working reformation, is he concerned that this will damage business? Jones admits that when he entered the sector 20 years ago as a conference manager 70% of the reason businesses decided to come to a venue was for what they would learn and “30% was for the food, bedroom and the niceties”. Today, Jones says that that has “flipped the other way,” noting that customers are now attending a conference for “what happens outside of the room”. “It’s for the meeting of their colleagues, it’s for that social event in the evening, and it’s a way to feel the culture of their company,” he says.
Jones shares that the facility is also keen to capitalise off the growing trend of hybrid working, with the group looking to open a new co-working space in its on-site hotels in February 2022. “We’re dedicating one floor to co-working, so people can buy monthly memberships or day passes, which I think will be a really interesting position to move into,” he says. Jones adds the decision to provide the service has come at the request of guests, and hopes it will “stand on its own two feet”.
‘We’re not going anywhere’
At Wyboston recovery from the pandemic appears to be going well, with the company now beginning to break even. “Two years ago, you would have laughed if I said that was our ambition,” Jones says. Looking ahead, Jones shares that Wyboston intends to invest heavily in sustainability and eco-friendly initiatives. “We are trying to arrange planning permission for wind turbines, for floating solar panels, and we are getting planning permission for a water source heat pump that will live in one of our lakes,” he says. Obtaining this planning permission would allow for Wybston to operate “completely off grid,” producing its own electricity and ceasing the purchase of natural gas and LPG. If successful, Jones shares that the resort could also export some of its resources to surrounding businesses in the area.
Wyboston hopes to see these services installed over the coming few years not decades, in terms of pricing Jones says that the company is looking to spend between £5m-£10m on the investment. “We are in this business for the long term, the ownership of the business hasn’t changed in 40 years,” he states. “So if we have to invest in something like this, and the payback is, you know, over 10 years, that’s okay, because we’re not going anywhere,” he concludes.