Prioritizing the Team Member Experience

Published on : 7/17/23
  • Providing the level of service Sodexo Live! is known for means attracting, supporting, and retaining the brightest in the industry. "There's a lot of competition out there to be the employer of choice," explained Mele Penitani, Human Resources Director at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. "We would not be successful in creating a positive environment where team members want to work if our staff didn't feel recognized and appreciated."

    For Sodexo Live! team members, creating unforgettable moments for guests is more than just a job. Here's a look at how our teams make engagement and appreciation an integral part of workplace culture.

    Orange County Convention Center

    Sodexo live event young woman receiving gif pink balloonsWith over 7 million square feet of convention space and 1,200 employees, the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) averages nearly 200 events a year that attract more than 1.5 million attendees to the region annually. "We have a lot of team members that work for us but also for the other huge hospitality companies in the area," said Penitani. "They may have just worked a 10-hour shift, but when they step foot in our building, they know that management recognizes how hard they're working."

    OCCC has implemented a program to formally recognize staff, including Team Member of the Month, Manager of the Quarter, Team Member of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards, based on nominations from peers, supervisors, and managers. "We have personalized cards handmade for each recipient, and we set up a full breakfast with our entire management team. Winners are rewarded with a beautiful crystal trophy engraved with their name and a monetary award," explained Penitani. "But since we take the time to build relationships, we know our team members. We know if they enjoy reading or playing golf or traveling, so we also give them a special gift card for something they love to make sure they treat themselves."

    Throughout the year, OCCC also hosts wellness fairs, financial seminars, massage stations, and even a Pumpkin Carve-Off competition. For Penitani and the entire OCCC management team, "It doesn't matter what your position is. To our team here, you're family. We're always thinking about what we can do next. How can we enhance what we already have in place?"

    Intern turned HR and Banquet admin Jazmin Morales was awarded Team Member of the Month in 2022. "I'm a full-time team member and a full-time student. I was balancing work and schoolwork and just focused on doing my best and paying for tuition. I really didn't expect it!"

    "I've always been interested in hospitality, but this job renewed my passion," Morales explained. "I don't feel like just another employee. They make every effort to make me feel part of the team."

    Museum of Science and Industry

    From delighting visitors in a new, expansive food court to customizing catering menus and creating special touches for weddings and other special events, the team at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) puts guests first. Bonnie Paganis, Sodexo Live! General Manager at MSI, feels like it's just as important to elevate her team members' experience. 

    "It's a hallmark of what I do. Engagement and job satisfaction are very high on my list," said Paganis. "There are a lot of little things we can do to create a vibrant, engaging workplace and let our team know we care about them not just as workers, but as people."

    MSI is known for sourcing fresh, local ingredients for guests, and Paganis wanted to give team members the same access to healthy food. She worked with MSI partner T. Castro Produce, a small business in Chicago, to create a box of seasonal produce each team member receives every two weeks, completely free. "We wanted to let our team know we care about their well-being and encourage them to try new things. Sometimes it's easier and more budget-friendly to go to a convenience store than a big grocery store or farmer’s market. We wanted to make it simple to access fresh fruit and vegetables."

    The response was more than Paganis even expected. "We never provide recipes, so our team shares the meals they prepare and text each other pictures. In our last box, there was a bag of shredded cabbage. One team member made coleslaw; another used it as a traditional topping for Mexican soup. It encourages interaction between people from different cultures."

    In addition to encouraging her team to try healthy new foods, Paganis enables them to experience new sides of the industry. "We have five supervisors with over 20 years of service, but they all started here as something else. Cross-training so team members can learn something new is really important to me. We build up their skills and then focus on promoting from within. When the team sees their peers getting recognized and promoted, it keeps them engaged and motivated."

    With an average tenure for workers in leisure and hospitality of 2.3 years per job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the team at MSI beats the odds. "I would say 80% of the staff has over five years. Our grill cook has been here for almost 40 years. He comes in singing every day. Everyone loves the camaraderie and environment we've built here together."

    boxes full of fruits and food