SeaWorld HR chief: lessons from the deep

From recruitment of oceanic experts to mitigating blowback from PR nightmares, it’s never a boring day for SeaWorld’s VP of HR, Christine O’Neal.

SeaWorld HR chief: lessons from the deep
More than five million visitors travel to SeaWorld Orlando every year, requiring 7,500 employees to keep the theme park running smoothly. These positions range from food vendors and maintenance workers to biologists and oceanographers, and Christine O’Neal, VP of HR, oversees them all.
Although this wide-ranging employee base could potentially be difficult to manage, O’Neal insists that worker passion for the brand provides a sense of unity in the workforce. This starts with an orientation called “Connections,” where employees are encouraged to learn about the company’s commitment to marine and aquatic life.
The company then makes it a point to continuously educate workers about conservation and rehabilitation, to sustain that early emotional connection.
“We want to reinforce their experience with the part of the company they love, such as rescue and rehabilitation. It’s important to make sure people get exposure to the animals, they get facts about the animals, and information about what we’re doing for conservation regularly so they can then talk to our guests about it,” said O’Neal.
This line of communication came in handy when SeaWorld faced significant backlash from the documentary Blackfish, which painted the park in an extremely unfavorable light.   Although many of its claims have been disputed, the negative publicity still lingers in many viewers’ minds.
“There’s a simple answer to that: the truth is simple, and the truth is in our parks and in our people every day,” said O’Neal.
Part of this truth lies in the extraordinary care that animals receive from her engaged workforce. Again, communication plays a prominent role in maintaining the high levels of job satisfaction.
“We live in a world now where nobody has to ask for information anymore,” said O’Neal. “That’s what makes employees feel engaged – they belong and are inside the circle. We all want to belong to something we care about.”
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