Please select your preferred region.
Please select your preferred region.

Emirates Leisure Retail ANZ

Published 15 Jul 2021
5min read

Jen Graham is the head of HR for ELRA and ELRNZ and Ops Manager for NZ for Emirates Leisure Retail, a collection of over 300 airport-based restaurants, cafes and bars across Asia, The Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. Jen spent the last year helping almost 300 staff across Australia and New Zealand navigate everything 2020 had to throw at them. 

Two female staff members ready to greet customers at Heineken House.
Staff at Heineken House in Sydney



Few industries have been hit as hard by COVID as the hospitality industry. For those restaurants, cafes and bars operating in Australia and New Zealand’s airports, it’s been even tougher. Each government directive brought with it a mountain of action items that Jen and her team needed to digest and communicate to their employees.

Transitioning to remote work

Emirates Leisure Retail’s support team is used to working together remotely. While Jen is based in NZ, and HR coordinator Olivia is in Melbourne, together they manage 300 staff across both domestic and international airports in two countries. When everything moved online, Jen and Olivia were ready. 

“We’ve all been in really good contact. We have operations meetings once a week, leadership meet once a week, plus a huddle once a week for social get togethers and spotlights on staff.”

But even though the infrastructure was there to support them, the sudden switch to remote work was challenging. While the support staff were grateful to be able to work from home, it was a shock to the system.

“Our Support Office Staff had to suddenly move their entire work systems from a bustling office of 40 to work in their own homes in isolation. Everyone has managed really well, but we were concerned there could be wellbeing issues arising from this isolation. Fortunately, we had the right tools and support from our leadership team to keep in close contact with everyone.”

Supporting employee wellbeing

“We have lost a lot of our staff and  many of our sites are still closed, along with a big chunk of our business. In NZ we had just finished a 3 year project of building 4 new restaurants. When we went into lockdown, and then realised it was going to be some time before international tourism recovered, we went from our original 80 employees to 20.”

For those who have since returned to work in Auckland’s international airport, the measures in place to protect staff from COVID (including PPE, regular testing and strict social distancing) is a constant reminder of the very real danger we still face. 

“Life’s pretty much returned to normal for many of us in New Zealand. Then you go into the airport and you remember there is a global pandemic happening. Because we’re through security, we’re working on a level 1 alert. We still need to wear PPE and have COVID tests every two weeks. It’s tough on the staff and we’ve had to closely support them through this time.”


International travel restrictions haven’t just had a huge impact on ELR’s normal trading operations. Like many hospitality businesses, ELR relies on working holiday makers to staff their venues. Many staff chose to find alternative employment instead of enduring indefinite stand down. Recruitment will be a big focus for Jen moving into 2021.

“It’s going to be a tough environment trying to get good staff,” explains Jen. “The borders aren’t completely open, so we need to look at different types of recruitment; something more than just the ad.”


It’s certainly been a quieter year than usual for ELR, but Jen and her team haven’t let 2020 go to waste. They’d have been using Employment Hero to streamline their HR processes for close to two years, but used the past year as an opportunity to transition more processes to the cloud-based platform. 

“For the past couple of years it’s only been used by HR, but we’ve rolled out operational practices to get the managers to use it. We were really keen to implement, but getting the managers to do it was another challenge. We said, ‘the plan was to go paperless, so let’s do it now while everyone is on stand down. When we stand up again, it’s all really easy to follow.’”

Streamlined onboarding

Jen’s hard work paid off in spades. The old back and forth between HR, hiring managers and new starters has been replaced by a 100% paper (and pain) free onboarding experience. “Our old way would be to fill in the form and send it to the manager to send to HR and to payroll, then going back to try and find the paperwork. It normally would take so many resources and emails and paperwork… Now we have everything on Employment Hero.”

Transitioning to cloud-based employee onboarding meant utilising Employment Hero’s built-in HR onboarding and offboarding checklists. These checklists create tasks for any employees or managers that have a role to play in ensuring new hires have everything they need to be productive from their first day. Whether that’s getting new hires’ equipment ready (like laptops or uniforms), or collecting assets when staff move on (like security passes and equipment), Onboarding and Offboarding Checklists make sure nothing is overlooked. 

Company-wide transparency

Tasks can also be used outside of employee onboarding and offboarding. Tasks can be created and assigned by all employees and across different teams, supporting cross-functional alignment and making sure nothing gets overlooked. “Even rate changes or managers requests, they can be set up as Tasks in Employment Hero.”

And with COVID restrictions changing without notice, having a central and accessible source of truth for managers and support operations working across Australia and New Zealand has been invaluable. 

“In one week we might have 50 people ending the stand down. If it was all through email, our inboxes would be inundated. Now we can see all the tasks clearly in Employment Hero and see where it’s up to. I like that you can assign collaborators: payroll has to do this, the manager has to approve it, and I need to set up the contracts. You can go in and clearly see what needs to be done and if things go off track.”


ELR can now effectively and efficiently manage its people across multiple locations and functions using one cloud-based platform. Operations staff and managers can easily communicate important information to teams or the entire organisation via their mobile or desktop device, significantly reducing their reliance on emails and manual processes. 

Committing to a paperless people management solution has also given Jen and ELR’s managers visibility over areas of the employee lifecycle that have previously been less accessible. By giving their managers the tools to be more effective, ELRs employees have been better able to succeed in their roles. 

Explore by industry