Hotel News Now: Hilton Doubled Down on Supporting Team Members During Pandemic


May 24, 2022 9:16 AM


While the pandemic led to tough decisions around layoffs and furloughs at Hilton, the company has doubled down on its retention and recruitment efforts during the crisis, seeking to convince job seekers that they can come to Hilton and thrive.


Laura Fuentes, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, has been with Hilton since 2013 after a varied career as an engineer, consultant and human resources executive. She said Hilton had been working on building a culture that focused on taking care of employees years before the pandemic, but with the arrival of COVID-19, her department shifted to “reverse recruiting,“ trying to help associates find positions elsewhere.


Many workers decided to retire or found positions outside hospitality. But now, she said, in the face of dramatic labor shortages, “we are fully activated on our recruiting engine — on campuses, in professional circles and with executive hiring.”


Thousands of new people have been onboarded to Hilton’s worldwide workforce that now numbers about 365,000 employees, she said.


In addition, turnover is lower than in 2019, particularly for corporate team members, Fuentes said. There are pockets, however, where labor shortages persist. Some short-term associates saw higher turnover, but Hilton’s focus is on making sure the recruitment process is simple, that it’s widely known that Hilton is hiring and that its value proposition is better than ever.


A crucial element in that value proposition is the [email protected] program, which aims to support employees so they in turn create “meaningful experiences” for guests. For some, [email protected] might mean more flexibility to work around children’s schedules or adoption assistance to help start a family; for others, it might mean gaining a GED equivalency or strengthening leadership skills through development courses. [email protected] could also mean taking time off to travel, possibly using discounted rates at brand hotels.


On an industry-wide basis, Hilton is working with groups like the Hotel Association of New York City (HANYC), American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and others “to make sure we have a collective stance” around positioning hospitality as a preferred career, Fuentes said. That includes initiatives like AHLA’s “Hospitality is Working” campaign. But Hilton is also looking to differentiate itself in the broader competitive landscape, she added.


Hilton is doubling down on its initiatives around team members. These efforts coalesce around several pillars:


  • Inclusion, or the idea that all members will be welcome and that there will be diversity at all levels. Hilton is tapping into many pathways of talent, has set representation goals and is posting them, Fuentes said.
  • Wellness, insuring a healthy, flexible environment. A mental wellness campaign has been launched to make resources available around the world with the goal of destigmatizing mental illness. As part of those efforts, Hilton is using technology to enable employees to choose and swap shifts. Years ago, Hilton launched a parental leave program that was far ahead of regulatory changes, she said.
  • Growth. Hilton believes in the value and power of career mobility, Fuentes said, giving all team members the opportunity to reach their full potential. In January, Hilton was the first to announce a partnership with Guild Education to provide debt-free education resources. The program provides coaching and customizing of career pathways with learning modules and curricula to help associates advance in dozens of fields, including culinary, business, data analytics and technology, as well as toward college degrees. This partnership, she said, “will be a big win for us.”
  • Purpose. Hilton is leading with purpose, partly through storytelling, Fuentes said. In recent years, team members were viewed as heroes and were recognized as such through awards, including a $10,000 CEO Light and Warmth Award that celebrates team members who bring the company’s values to life. A Hospitality Heroes award was launched in 2020 and spotlights those who performed remarkable instances of hospitality during the height of the pandemic.
  • Those pillars constitute Hilton’s value proposition for current and prospective associates, Fuentes said. She stressed that all of these efforts were not something that Hilton suddenly decided to do in the face of a crisis. However, a decision was made during the pandemic that this was not the time to back away, but instead to lean in harder than ever with new programs and renewed commitment.


The results are solid. Hilton was ranked #1 on Fortune’s 2021 Best Big Companies to Work For, and it was recently inducted into the DiversityInc. Hall of Fame, recognizing the nation’s top companies that hire, retain and promote women, minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ and veterans. A commitment has been made to achieve global gender parity and 25% ethnic diversity in the U.S. at corporate leadership levels by 2027.


Fuentes herself was recently honored by The Hotel Association of New York City at its annual Red Carpet Hospitality Gala and accepted the award on behalf of Hilton, which was praised in part for its commitment to the city’s tourism industry.


“We feel like what we are doing is working, and it starts with taking care of our team,“ Fuentes said.


Although a strong foundation had been laid, Fuentes said some approaches have shifted through the pandemic, including an even stronger focus on diversity and inclusion and a decision not to retreat on mental illness initiatives. New partnerships like with Guild Education and BetterUp — which helps companies transform their cultures through coaching — involve leveraging best-in-class partnerships and their technologies.


“These are not necessarily new concepts for us,” she said, “but we are activating them in new ways and being more rigorous about it.”


Looking ahead, Fuentes said Hilton is exploring more shift flexibility, trying to create a kind of marketplace for that function. There will be even more emphasis on mental wellness and caregiving. Appealing to young people will also be key in the form of new pathways of reaching out, Fuentes said. In fact, Hilton currently has its largest class of internships ever.


In an atmosphere of increasing union activism, Fuentes said that Hilton has “very constructive relationships” with unions in markets where they represent workers and shares common goals with those organizations.


Fuentes said one of the challenges she faced when she joined Hilton was to truly understand and embrace the complexity of such a global workforce while learning a new business. She said she had to rely on key “truth tellers” who were generous in their coaching and open in their feedback and were not afraid to tell her when she was misguided.


Today, Fuentes continues to make the most of feedback from employees through several mechanisms — including surveys, resource groups, town halls and more where she seeks the honest assessment of associates.


“This has helped us identify our gaps and enabled us to have authentic conversations,” she said.