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Hilton is hiring refugees, human trafficking survivors, and the formerly incarcerated to combat hospitality worker shortage

October 14, 2022, 11:56 AM UTC
Laura Fuentes
Laura Fuentes, chief human resources officer of Hilton.
Courtesy of Hilton Hotels

Good morning!

Perhaps no industry has experienced as great of a rollercoaster ride as hospitality throughout the pandemic. Thanks to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions in early 2020, the leisure and hospitality sector experienced the greatest job losses of any industry. Now, companies in the industry are fighting to hire workers as demand for travel soars. Hilton is one of those companies. Despite the current economic turmoil, Hilton is hiring at a rapid pace to keep up with travel needs.  

Laura Fuentes, Hilton’s chief human resources officer, says one of her biggest challenges in an employee-driven market is providing the desired flexibility for workers in an industry that depends on in-person work. Instead, she’s offering employee perks like a travel discount program and prioritizing internal candidates for leadership roles. Internal candidates fill 57% of positions at the corporate director level and above, and 40% of Hilton’s employees have been at the company for more than 10 years. 

The hotel chain ranks number two on the Fortune World’s Best Workplaces list released Thursday. Fuentes sat down with me at the Great Place To Work For All Summit this week to discuss how she’s thinking about talent strategy and the precarious nature of the hospitality industry. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Fortune: You’ve been at Hilton almost nine years. What is different about your work now than when you entered the company?

The work is deeper, more meaningful, more challenging. Nine years ago, we were doing all the right things to build the right culture systematically: building the foundation, then differentiating, then building to sustain high performance. We built the roof while the sun was shining. I say this repeatedly because we didn’t know what would hit us, so we created this virtuous cycle of how do we get people to want to work here, stay with us, grow with us, move around with us? 

When COVID hit, it accelerated conversations around flexibility, equity and inclusion, and mental wellness. It’s not like we woke up and suddenly realized we needed to have a diversity and inclusion strategy. But we needed to take it to a deeper level of more courageous [and] vulnerable conversation and try to almost be a better ecosystem than the world our team members were living in outside our company’s walls. 

Our team members have wanted the same things all along. They want to feel included and like they are part of a healthy organization. They want to grow and be connected to a purpose.

How has your talent strategy changed post-COVID—after you had to lay off and furlough many employees?

We’re actively trying to rebuild our employer brand in the market and do that in a way that appeals to today’s generation of workers who maybe haven’t considered hospitality. We’re looking at broader talent pools and asking how we teach people outside hospitality and upskill them. We’re also looking at survivors of trafficking and refugees, and we’re looking into second-chance hiring. 

How did you show up for your employees during the pandemic?

We were laying off thousands of people and so we partnered with other companies that were hiring and propped up a website for workers to find new jobs. We asked those companies if they wanted to post their jobs because other companies were facing surge hiring during that time. They were snapping our team members up. 

Have you seen a lot of those people come back?

We have. It’s really interesting because we had some really hard years in hospitality, so employees would get wooed away for more money, a sexy industry that’s on the rise, or factors like hospitality or crisis fatigue. I have heard from those people, sometimes within weeks or days of resigning, saying they got caught up in the moment and they want to come back. 

In some cases, we are able to bring them back. And certainly, from the ones that we had to furlough and lay off, we’ve hired a lot of people back. In some cases, we can’t bring them back right away, but we are seeing that Great Resignation turn into regrets and reflection.

What are your go-to levers to retain talent?

We compete on comp, but the things that truly connect and engage people are much more than money. If you’re only asking for a paycheck, I can’t win, and I’m not even going to try. We counter-offer at times, but I want to win on the things that matter most: building an inclusive culture, having healthy and sustainable practices, and having leaders focused on caring for you. 

We want to build caregiving platforms for all team members, their families, pets, and relatives. We want to encourage them to embrace the love of travel. We offer an enormously popular travel discount program, and team members have used 22.1 million Go Hilton room nights since May 2016. It’s those meaningful things that make employees want to come back.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

Reporter's Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

Fortune released its World’s Best Workplaces in 2022 list in collaboration with Great Place To Work on Thursday. The list identifies the top 25 global companies based on a survey of 4.5 million employees worldwide and features businesses that are clearly investing in their employees. Of the surveyed workers, 87%, on average, said they would recommend their workplace to friends and family, while 85% said they wish to work for their organizations long-term. Here are the top 10 companies on the list:

1. DHL Express
2. Hilton
3. Cisco
4. Salesforce
5. Millicom
6. AbbVie
7. Deloitte
8. Hilti
9. SC Johnson
10. Stryker

Read the full list here.

Around the Table

- A series of local laws aim to curb paying workers who earn tips subminimum wage. New York Times

- Some Apple employees in Oklahoma City will vote this week on whether to form the company’s second unionized store. CNN

- The video game developer Activision Blizzard is being sued for sexual harassment. The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of similar cases that take aim at the company’s “frat boy” culture. Tech Crunch

- At Exxon, what started as a tense Q&A during an awards ceremony became the breaking point for a toxic workplace with an outdated, hierarchical culture. Bloomberg

- The two scariest words a boss can utter are “pls fix.” They can ruin evenings or entire weekends. Wall Street Journal

Watercooler

Everything you need to know from Fortune

Service inflation. The costs of wages needed for services are driving inflation, meaning the only way to reduce inflation is for unemployment to go up. —Christopher Rugaber

Quick quitting. Leaders are leaving jobs after less than a year faster than ever before. It’s part of a trend called “quick quitting.” —Jane Thier 

Think of your mother. Instacart’s CEO Fidji Simo says many of the company’s workers, particularly mothers, want to remain classified as independent contractors because of the flexibility the designation offers. —Alexandra Sternlicht

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