A few years ago, while in downtown Cleveland for the opening of a brand-new Hilton hotel, Chris Nassetta had a chance to try on the staff uniforms. “I put on a housekeeper’s jacket and I’m like, Wow, this is heavy,” the Hilton CEO told Fortune recently. “It didn’t feel very comfortable or flexible, and I’m thinking, We got this wrong—we’re not giving them the right clothing to wear.” Nassetta and his team decided that changes were in order; in early 2018 the company launched a partnership with Under Armour to have the sports apparel giant redesign lighter, more comfortable work wear.
That’s just one of several employee-focused changes that have crowned the 100-year-old Hilton as the Best Company to Work For in America. It’s sweet validation for Nassetta, who upon taking the reins at Hilton in 2007 found an organization that “had lost our way a bit,” he said. “We forgot that we are a business of people serving people, and the corporate environment got very disconnected from the front line.”
Under Nassetta’s guidance, Hilton has launched an expansive program to upgrade “back-of-house” areas used by staff to make them as spiffy as the areas guests use. As seen on a recent visit to the New York Hilton Midtown, renovated employee spaces featured better lighting and more comfortable furnishings, as well as an updated cafeteria (free for most employees) with TVs and even massage chairs for folks on break. The company has also established a free program enabling employees to earn their GEDs and formed Hilton University where they can enroll in workshops and training. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, Hilton outperforms when it comes to satisfaction among typically more disenfranchised “line-level” workers, such as cleaning and kitchen staff.
With the stock up 274% from its IPO price in 2013, investors are no doubt cheering the employee-first changes too. Says Nassetta of his staff, “I am obsessed with taking care of them.” Sounds like a formula for a long stay as a Best Place to Work. —Rey Mashayekhi
Read the Great Place to Work review here.