How World’s Best Workplace Hilton Showed Creativity in Caring During COVID-19

 Masked Employee
Masked Employee

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COVID-19 was an unwelcome guest in the hospitality industry.

As the virus spread across the globe, hotels saw business dry up virtually overnight. In the United States, for example, room occupancy rates plunged, revenues tanked and hotel and leisure companies laid off roughly half their workers.

Hotel giant Hilton, with 6,200 properties worldwide, was not immune. The question was, how would the company respond? How would Hilton, which ranked #3 on the 2020 Fortune World’s Best Workplaces list, preserve its high-trust, egalitarian workplace culture and values including hospitality, integrity and teamwork?

It would do so with care and creativity.

A hard choice

Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta described the effect of the COVID-19 crisis in epic terms earlier this year. “Never in Hilton’s 101-year history has our industry faced a global crisis that brings travel to a virtual standstill,” he said.

Chris said those words in June, amid a hard choice he and other company leaders made. The company said it was cutting 2,100 corporate jobs globally – about 22 percent of its total corporate workforce – as well as extending previously announced furloughs, reduced work hours and decreased corporate pay.

Hilton was far from alone in taking such actions. Still, Chris said the move was painful.

“Hospitality will always be a business of people serving people,” Chris said, “which is why I am devastated that to protect our business, we have been forced to take actions that directly impact our Team Members.”

Caring in hard times

It’s not unusual for business leaders announcing job cuts to make high-minded remarks about caring for employees. It’s another thing to back up those words with actions. But that’s what Hilton has done for its people.

To support furloughed Team Members globally, Hilton created a partnership with leading companies with job openings.

The worldwide initiative connects displaced Hilton employees from hotels and corporate offices to more than a million short-term jobs created by the pandemic.

As of mid-September, Hilton had placed thousands of team members in temporary positions around the world. Some of the partner companies include Albertsons, Amazon, CVS, Lidl, Wegmans, and Walgreens.

“Thanks for your help securing this position while I was on furlough. I spent the last 18 weeks as a ‘.com Grocery Shopper’ at my local Safeway, earning about $10,000 – quite a nice sum to make during my furlough with Hilton. Enjoyed very much being part of the Safeway team who previously I only knew as a customer. I am heading back to Hilton now, but look forward to seeing all my new friends when I return to shop at my neighborhood store.”

—John, a Hilton team member from McLean, Virginia, USA

Caring continues

In addition to the job placement program, Hilton demonstrated care for furloughed and laid-off employees in other novel ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Activated its Team Member Assistance program to distribute cash aid to those who suffered a direct impact from COVID-19
  • Continued to provide health coverage to furloughed employees throughout the pandemic
  • Reduced executive committee pay by 50% for the duration of the crisis
  • Paused the CEOs salary completely in late March
  • Provided access through its Alumni Talent Network to permanent full-time opportunities at 60+ partner organizations
  • Provided personalized outplacement services for a number of alumni
  • Planned to give first notification of new Hilton jobs to Hilton alumni and created an expedited recruitment process for when Hilton is able to rebuild its workforce

Extending care to the community

Hilton has not only come up with innovative ways to support displaced employees, but also improvised in the way they serve the wider community—turning unoccupied rooms into a vital resource during the crisis.

In April, Hilton announced a partnership with American Express to donate up to 1 million hotel room nights to frontline medical professionals leading the fight against COVID-19.

In May, Hilton extended this important work through a $1 million contribution from American Express to World Central Kitchen to provide healthy, fresh meals to healthcare heroes who were staying at participating properties.

The road back

During a devastating year for the hospitality industry, Hilton felt the pain along with its peers. Throughout it all, though, they worked hard to remain true to their mission and values.

In particular, the company has demonstrated creativity in caring for its employees and the wider community.

That care and Hilton’s wider high-trust, inclusive culture are likely to help the iconic brand bounce back as the pandemic eases.

Chris Nassetta is confident Hilton’s culture will allow it to thrive on the other side of these challenging times.

“Our company’s spirit has always been grounded in a culture that supports our Team Members and delivers hospitality for our guests. We will keep that spirit alive, and when the world begins to travel again, we will be ready to welcome them back.”

Read our full report: World’s Best Workplaces 2020: Rising to Historic Challenges

Ed Frauenheim