Kristina Vaneva on Employee Engagement as The Key to Organizational Well-Being

This article is a lightly-edited summary of the key takeaways from our speakers’ appearance on our podcast, “The Shape of Work.” If you haven’t listened to our show yet, be sure to check it out here. These speakers have an incredible stable of startup experiences to draw from, the kind of stories that are unbelievably helpful for HR/people managers to hear.

We welcomed Kristina Vaneva, the Director of Employee Engagement & Internal Communications at Atlantis Resorts, Dubai on ‘The Shape of Work’ podcast. Kristina is on a mission to create hope and positivity in people’s workplaces and personal lives. In the span of twelve years at Atlantis Dubai, Kristina has successfully managed the Employee Engagement Department, part of the HR Division and has received several personal as well as team industry awards.

A passion for employee engagement and internal comms

Kristina’s passion for employee engagement and internal communications was developed in childhood. She describes how she enjoyed creative writing and was in the literature club when she was a child. While in high school, she was a part of the school newspaper’s team and later in charge of the yearbook. In her university, she was a member of the university magazine team and then went on to work as an investigative journalist. During this time, she was living in Malta and embarked on a project to examine the effect of adopting the Euro in Malta. She visited many countries in the Eurozone. She interviewed politicians, journalists, and people on the streets to see how adopting the Euro had affected them. This solidified Kristina’s love for journalism, and her passion for communicating and getting messages across. It was this passion that made her join Atlantis Dubai in 2008 where she manages the entire employee engagement process and internal communications.

Creating positive, thriving workplaces

Interestingly Kristina runs her own YouTube channel ( where she shares her experiences in employee engagement. This could be helpful for those looking to create an Employee Engagement/ Internal Communications department, or to revamp strategies for something already in existence in order to help create positive, thriving workplaces all over the world.

She believes that if the place you work has great camaraderie and a sense of belonging, then the 8-10 hours a day will fly by and you will consider it less as work.

The challenges of diversity and employee engagement in the hospitality industry

Kristina replies that it’s actually the challenges that keep her engaged. She enjoys ensuring every day at work is different and that every project, campaign and engagement strategy, involves a diverse set of expectations. Some people have worked in the organisation for over 10 years and don’t want to see old information which has just been regurgitatedThey want to be surprised.

Hospitality, in general, is in the business of creating amazing experiences and everlasting memories. S The question lies in how can internal employee marketers generate this experience for their colleagues?

According to Kristina, the secret is care and connection. If you connect with the people around you in a genuine way then you’ve opened that first door.

Part of the challenge is adapting r communications such that it’s fun but also understandable for everyone – what looks like a straightforward message can be easily misconstrued. People have different preferences for communication- some may prefer written communications and others may go for video channels such as YouTube. You have to be careful and adapt to different styles of communication.

Adapting to people’s various styles is one of the challenges

The other main challenge is the 24/7 nature of the organisation, that is, it has to reach people at all times of the day. So how does a message reach all of them? The organization has to make sure it has engagement and communication champions in every department.  It doesn’t just push communication, it also pulls communication. Two-way honest and open communication should be built to create that sense of engagement. Everyone is responsible for good engagement, not just one person.

Briefings at the start of shifts are crucial. They consist of important communications for different departments. These briefings are the responsibility of the team leaders. Meetings should be organized with influential people within the departments of the hotel.  The key is to make sure that what you’re communicating is understood.

Unstructured communications such as impromptu meetings are also important as they have authenticity, and you can get immediate, informal feedback.

Demonstrating care through actions

Kristina shares a quote which really resonates with her:

 “If you care less about your people, they start to become careless”.

 If you show a sense of engagement with your employees, through caring for them, they share this with the guests. There’s a certain type of person who fits well within the hospitality environment- caring , warm and loves making personal connections.

Recruiting and keeping the right employees

Anoop asks Kristina how they ensure that their employees are a good fit for their organisation. She replies that they are lucky to have many people from all over the world willing to work there. Atlantis has a great customer brand name and also a good employer /employee brand name and reputation thus welcoming a high number of applicants. This, in turn, allows them to select someone initially who has the right attitude and then adaptable to the required skills if necessary.

According to Kristina, keeping employees engaged needs to be a multi-prong approach from different levels. For example, the senior leaders in charge of employee engagement as much as the HR team, the team leaders and the departmental managers. Everyone who is in charge of someone, at any level, can engage or disengage a person.

A strategy for engagement

The Atlantis engagement strategy is created a year ahead with a calendar of activities and a programme of events. It has three different areas of focus:

1. Cultivating a sense of belonging using internal communications:

This is achieved using town hall meetings ( recently, virtual), newsletters, videos from the senior leadership team, digital notice boards and print magazines. A lot of the campaigns are displayed on a giant billboard. They also display long term service awards and loyalty recognition for employees.

2. Rewards and recognition:

It’s important for any organisation to celebrate a win, be it big or small. Atlantis has won a lot of industry accolades. Thus it’s important to recognise the people who helped achieve those awards.

3. Activities:

These may be mental, physical, social or cultural activities that can help people bond with a sense of community and belonging.

Once you have created a sense of community and pride in the place of work,  the employees will show genuine care for their guests. They feel connected to their guests on an in-depth level.

Then comes learning and development, talent management and career progression which all form part of employee engagement and the employee experience as a whole.

Keeping people engaged through the challenges of the pandemic

Kristina shares how she has kept people engaged through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. She explains the last 10 months as a rollercoaster ride but working for Atlantis resorts prepared her for that. One day you could be helping organize the biggest live-stream concert, another day you could be setting up the ballroom for a local artist to display their work. “Every day is a huge challenge but a fun challenge so it’s within our DNA to be prepared and resilient and expect the unexpected.”

When the pandemic hit, the communication style completely changed particularly in terms of frequency. Previously weekly newsletters became daily and sometimes twice daily. As people couldn’t see each other, they started a weekly 20-30 minute video newsletter where the news was read out like a genuine broadcast. They organized competitions and interviews with people. It was made fun of and something that people would look forward to. 

Priya Bhatt

I cover Employee stories at Springworks.

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