Strong culture can help overcome labor challenges
Strong culture can help overcome labor challenges
05 DECEMBER 2018 9:09 AM

In a tight labor environment, hotel companies are scrambling to fill positions with the best possible talent, but officials with Hilton and Hyatt—often lauded as among the industry’s best employers—say it’s important to take care of your people to achieve that goal.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hotel companies are literally in the business of taking care of people, but some executives with Hilton and Hyatt Hotels Corporation say it’s important to extend that to employees and not just guests.

Both of those companies recently ranked high in the Great Place to Work Best Workplaces list for 2018, which was based on feedback from individual companies’ employees. Hilton ranked second on that list and Hyatt ranked 14th.

Laura Fuentes, SVP of talent, rewards and people analytics for Hilton, said her company’s efforts to provide great benefits and opportunities to employees around the world is a “source of great pride and celebration” even without awards lauding them for that work, but noted external measurements like those awards are useful in terms of benchmarking their efforts.

The awards “are determined by survey feedback, so these are team members telling them about Hilton,” she said. “It’s great to know they feel valued and rewarded.”

Charles Coleman, Hyatt’s regional VP of human resources for the Americas, agreed it’s validating to see his company’s corporate culture applauded by an outside organization.

“Many in our industry see what we’re doing at Hyatt,” he said.

Investing in employees
Officials with both companies said they have ongoing programs designed to help employees flourish in both their professional and personal lives.

Fuentes said Hilton has several ongoing initiatives to help their employees, including:

  • Operation Opportunity, which seeks to employee veterans along with other members of military families;
  • expansive parental leave and adoption assistance programs, which helped the company earn the top spot in Great Place to Work’s Best Workplaces for Parents ranking;
  • the “Thrive@Hilton” wellness program, which is a partnership with former Huffington Post CEO Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, and is currently treated as the umbrella over all of the company’s employee initiatives; and
  • the company’s Thrive Sabbatical program, which gives Hilton team members four weeks and up to $5,000 to pursue some sort of philanthropic passion. Recipients of the most recent round of sabbaticals have done things such as assisting with training for athletes in the 2019 Special Olympics, building houses and facilities in Guatemala and teaching in rural South Africa.

She noted that all of these programs are available to employees across the board—including hourly employees at Hilton-owned or -managed properties—which she believes helps employees understand the benefits of Hilton aren’t reserved for just executives.

“It’s about creating a great workplace for all,” Fuentes said. “It goes back to the concept of diversity and inclusion, and a feeling of belonging should be an outcome for all team members. We’re not just creating exciting programs for our corporate workers.”

One program that Hilton and Hyatt have in common are benefits that allow company employees to have complimentary or discounted stays at their respective hotels across the world. Coleman said as straightforward as that perk is, it continues to be one of the biggest draws.

“We have some of the best hotels in the world, so it’s important (to) get the chance to partake in that,” he said.

Like Hilton, Hyatt offers parental leave for both mothers and fathers, which includes paid time off related to adoptions. The company also prioritizes education, offering “tuition reimbursement and supplementary training.”

Coleman said one of the perhaps overlooked benefits, especially at some international hotels, is subsidized or free meals during work hours. Hyatt officials have also talked lately about focusing on employee wellness, as guest wellness has been a priority in recent years.

Fuentes said Hilton’s next big push will be programs focused on the financial, physical and mental health of employees.

Culture as a draw
Ultimately, these investments in the companies’ workforces pay off as recruitment and retention tools, sources said, which are increasing more important in a tight labor environment.

Coleman said Hyatt enjoys significant retention because of the culture across the company.

“When we introduce people (to clients), often they’ll talk about their years of service, and it’s great to hear the responses from people who say they’ve worked for the organization for 10, 15, 20 or 25 years because that’s not something you hear about often anymore in the workplace,” he said. “So many people now have three to seven jobs in their 20s. So that makes me very proud.”

Fuentes said her organization is constantly engaged in internal surveying and benchmarking to make sure their programs are hitting the mark in making their employees happy. She said Hilton’s culture and history also make it easier to make the sales pitch to potential team members.

She said the company expresses to new employees that “we work really hard trying to change the world and in innovating, but we also want you personally as a team member to know your career dreams can come true here.”

Translating this to a franchising environment
One of the difficulties for hotel brands, including those under the Hyatt and Hilton umbrellas, is no matter how well they treat their employees, there are also franchised hotels in which the brands don’t control day-to-day operations but still reflect those companies to the greater public.

That also means that corporate employee programs don’t necessarily carry over because employees at those hotels work for third-party management companies.

Fuentes said the best way to address this is to show franchisees the benefits of the corporate employee benefits and why they pay dividends.

“Our owners are hungry for more (employee-focused programs) because we’ve demonstrated the virtuous cycle,” she said. “They’re good for your business and great for your people, and our owners have a sense for that.”

Steve Van, president and CEO of Dallas-based Prism Hotels & Resorts, said his company operates properties under both Hilton and Hyatt, and he strives for his company’s properties to be the best in the brand for any brand they represent. That includes taking care of the employees there, which he described as “practical common sense.”

“The brands have got great programs, and it’s about if you embrace and implement them,” he said. “And we do that. That’s just who we are. We like to hire people who are about people, then it’s easy.”

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