How Gaylord Rehired After Nashville’s 100 Year Flood

A Conversation with Shawn Smith, VP of Human Resources

For our health care and hiring blog series, I interviewed Shawn Smith, VP of Human Resources at Ryman Hospitality, and she shared the nuts and bolts of how Gaylord Entertainment (now Ryman Hospitality) rehired 92 percent of their staff after Nashville's 2010 flood. By reading this blog you will be able to:

  • Experience a rare hiring challenge through storytelling
  • Get practical tools for employee retention
  • Gain personal inspiration for work in human resources

Chad Harrington

Shawn Smith. Image credit: Ryman Hospitality.

Shawn Smith. Image credit: Ryman Hospitality.

The day after Nashville’s 100 year flood, Shawn Smith took five hours to drive to work. Actually, I talked to a Nashville flood plain prospector, who said it was a 100 year storm on one day followed by 100 year storm a few days later. That's a 10,000 year rarity, he said.

Saying it was a "100 year flood" is, therefore, an understatement.

The company Smith worked for at the time—Gaylord Entertainment Company, which is now Ryman Hospitality Properties—was under 10 feet of water in some places. 

Gaylord had to let go 1783 employees from their workforce that week. Within 24 hours Gaylord department heads made their way to work and set up a call center in order to answer questions from their nearly 2,000 employees.

Smith came in that day to help put to a massive plan together. That’s an HR nightmare! What they did was amazing, something which kept most employees around for rehire.

Nashville’s other music city miracle

What was amazing? Ninety-two percent of the 1783 hotel employees that were let go stuck around to get rehired by Gaylord. 

So what exactly did Gaylord Entertainment do to keep all those people around for rehire? 

In a word, communication. Here’s what Smith told me:

“We just stayed in constant contact, because again, the intent was to rehire most everyone we let go. It was amazing. I can’t remember the exact percentage—I want to say 92 percent—we hired back. Some just took jobs with other companies and didn’t come back. You have some attrition. The majority came back.”

Smith explains it in full here


How Gaylord retained 92 percent of employees

Here’s a few actions Gaylord did to retain such a large workforce:

  • Extended pay up to eight weeks after the flood
  • Continued healthcare coverage, including keeping deductions frozen at the current rate when they left the company
  • Called themselves “Stars” and had “All Star” meetings
  • Had special events as a company during the Opryland Hotel rebuilding period. For example, Nashville Shores, participated in the American Heart Association annual walk, Nashville Sounds baseball event.
  • Hosted a GRAND rehire event
Shawn Smith. Image credit: Ryman Hospitality.

Shawn Smith. Image credit: Ryman Hospitality.


What Smith learned professionally

“All of our employees meant something to us. Our housekeepers, our ushers who are greeting the folks who come into the venue and creating that experience. We’re not who we are without everyone, and it’s not centered around a few key people—it’s centered around the entire organization and how you treat people.

“A culture can take on many forms but at the end of the day, it’s that foundation that always sustains you and holds you. It’s just us having very engaged employees, and they were satisfied with the work they were doing and what they were a part of. That loyalty just lends itself just to persons believing in the company. They love to be a part of our organization.”

What keeps Shawn Smith going personally

“There’s been such great growth over the past couple of years in both our venues—the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium—and today when we have openings, in particular the full-time capacity, we’re never short of applicants, Chad, that want to work for us. While we don’t have a ton of openings, we’ve had several just due to various promotions and new positions that have come open this past year. It just continues to solidify for me personally that people want to work for us. That to me brings it all home.”